Wendy Whelan spoke with Balanchine legends Allegra Kent, Kay Mazzo, Gloria Govrin and Merrill Ashley. Eduardo Patino.NYC, Courtesy NDI
George Balanchine famously wrote, that ballet "is a woman." Four of his most celebrated women—Allegra Kent, Gloria Govrin, Kay Mazzo and Merrill Ashley—appeared onstage at Jacques d'Amboise's National Dance Institute Monday evening to celebrate his legacy. The sold-out program, called "Balanchine's Ballerinas," included performances of excerpts from ballets closely associated with these women and a discussion, moderated by former New York City Ballet principal Wendy Whelan. Here are some highlights of the conversation, filled with affection, warmth and fond memories.
Photo by Jeff Eason, courtesy of Dance Films Association
At the Dance on Camera Kickoff Gala on July 16, Dance Films Association honored two beloved dance artists from different generations: Jacques d'Amboise and Trey McIntyre.
After a composite of d'Amboise's charismatic dancing was shown, Jacques regaled us with stories. He didn't talk about dancing for Mr. B, he didn't talk about his dazzling turns in the movie Carousel, or how dashing he looked in the emerald green shirt in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. He talked about Tanaquil Le Clercq in Jerome Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun (1953)—a tiny clip of it was in the montage that DFA showed in tribute to him. Apparently both Jacques and Tanny thought the other had gotten permission from Robbins to make a film about Afternoon of a Faun in Toronto, but they hadn't. Jerry was furious when he found out about it. And then…Tanny came down with polio. And Robbins was soooo happy to have a bit of her gorgeousness on film. When Jacques gives her that slow kiss, which she accepts with a glowing stillness, a moment froze in time.
Edward Villella, Arthur Mitchell and Jacques dAmboise. Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for National Dance Institute
After 50 years, George Balanchine's New York City Ballet male dancers—Jacques d'Amboise, Edward Villella and Arthur Mitchell—were reunited. The one-night-only event at the National Dance Institute in New York City (founded by d'Amboise in 1976) provided a rare glimpse of what it was like to work with Mr. B. during ballet's golden years at NYCB.
The three men, all in their early 80s, discussed everything from their ballet beginnings: Villella being dragged with his sister to class, to dancing with "Balanchine's gals" (as d'Amboise referred to them), several of whom were in attendance, including Patricia McBride and Suki Schorer. Sprinkled throughout the discussion was video footage of the three men performing memorable roles choreographed by Balanchine. Current NYCB members Joaquin de Luz, Sterling Hyltin, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Teresa Reichlen, Daniel Ulbricht and Ask La Cour Rasmussen also performed live excerpts from Prodigal Son, Agon, Apollo and Tarantella.
When Jacques d'Amboise talks about dance, his eyes light up, his chest opens and his famously handsome smile takes over his face. It's immediately clear that the former New York City Ballet star, now a spirited age 83, has a love of dance that doesn't tire.
Today, he's creating new generations of dance lovers through the National Dance Institute. He founded the program in 1976 out of a desire to teach dance to public school students. Now led by Ellen Weinstein, NDI reaches 6,500 students every week, not only in New York City, but across the country and even in international cities like Shanghai. And d'Amboise's dream of inspiring others through the art form he loves so much continues as strong as ever.