January 21, 2007

Blissful Tribute

On March 13, dance luminaries celebrated Sally Brayley Bliss, retiring after 11 years as executive director of Dance St. Louis, in A Bliss Full Affair, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center in St. Louis.


Speakers included Carla Maxwell, Victoria Morgan, Tom Mossbrucker, David Parsons, and Edward Villella, who said, “I got to know her artistry first, but it’s her humanity that finally moves you.”


Performers included Elizabeth Parkinson and Stuart Capps of Movin’ Out, Maia Wilkins and Willy Shives of the Joffrey Ballet, Tina LeBlanc and Gonzalo Garcia of San Francisco Ballet, Brian McGinnis of Parsons Dance Company, Antonio Douthit of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and Kim Cowan and James Jordan of Kansas City Ballet.


Former American Ballet Theatre dancers Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner, who performed an excerpt from Tudor’s Leaves Are Fading, summed it up: “Sally’s been so generous with her commitment to dance. Being here is our way to give back to someone who’s given so much.”

Bliss, a Canadian, joined the National Ballet of Canada in 1955. She performed as principal dancer with the Metropolitan and New York City Operas, and as guest artist with ABT and the Joffrey Ballet. In 1969 she co-founded The Joffrey II Dancers, serving as artistic director until 1985 when she was appointed to the National Council of the Arts. At Dance St. Louis, Bliss expanded education and outreach programs and established an endowment.


Bliss will continue to administer the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, a position created for her in Tudor’s will. She says, “To me, Tudor is the great choreographer of the 20th century. When today’s dancers perform his works, they become better artists, which makes me proud.” —Alice Bloch


Bocca’s last bow at ABT

I first heard praise of Buenos Aires-born Julio Bocca around 1984 from Fernando Bujones, who had just seen him dance in Rio de Janeiro. In 1985 the 18-year-old Bocca won the gold medal in the International Ballet Competition in Moscow, and a year later he joined American Ballet Theatre as a principal dancer. Although Bocca is gifted with a remarkable technique, with impeccable beats and seemingly limitless turns, his physique isn’t that of the born premier danseur. He has had to devise a category of dramatic/classicist, unique almost unto himself. He’s been outstanding as Albrecht, James, Romeo, and—the role in Manon in which he makes his ABT farewell—Des Grieux. He will partner his beloved Alessandra Ferri in the role on June 22 at the Metropolitan Opera House. Bocca has also guested with great ballet companies around the world (including his Lincoln Center rival, New York City Ballet); started two companies of his own, Ballet Argentino (1990) and BoccaTango (2001); and his inquisitive feet have found time for the Broadway show Fosse. But most of all he has left his insignia of excellence on ABT’s classical repertoire, and his accomplishment as the troupe’s greatest male stylist provides a banner-mark for all who follow him. —Clive Barnes



She has been the nearest thing to royalty in the British ballet world for the past 19 years, a household name known by bus driver and banker alike. And now, at the peak of her professional life, Darcey Bussell, 36, has decided to retire. “I have always wanted to end my full-time career while dancing the classical repertoire at the standard to which I aspire,” she says.


Bussell’s unforced, silky-smooth technique and well-developed characterizations made her the model of the British ballet establishment. Born in London and trained at the Royal Ballet School, she was a member of Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet before being plucked at the age of 19 by Kenneth MacMillan to create the leading role in his Prince of the Pagodas. Bussell became MacMillan’s muse and the darling of Covent Garden goers. Three months after her Royal Ballet debut, she was promoted to principal.


In addition to her impeccable English schooling in the classics, Bussell delighted in works by Balanchine, Forsythe, Tharp, and Robbins. For her fresh face, wonderful smile, and genuine interest in other people, the British public adored Bussell, whose portrait hangs in London’s National Portrait Gallery. For the 2006-07 RB season, she will dance intermittently as principal guest artist. She will devote the remainder of her time to her husband, Angus Forbes, and their two daughters. —Margaret Willis.


Stephen Legate
, principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, retires from the stage in June. Legate, who joined SFB in 1991 after dancing with the National Ballet of Canada, plans on enrolling in chiropractic college and spending more time with his wife, Evelyn Cisneros, former San Francisco Ballet principal and current education coordinator for the company, and their two children.


Maggie Wright
, a principal dancer with Ballet West, is retiring this month after the birth of her second child. Wright joined the company 19 years ago.


Brian Fisher
, dancer and assistant to the choreographers at ODC in San Francisco, retired in March. Fisher has appeared on Broadway in La Cage aux Folles, and in the national tours of The Music Man and The Wizard of Oz Live. He was awarded a 2002 Isadora Duncan Award for outstanding ensemble performance.


Brandon “Private” Freeman
, dancer with ODC for 10 years, retired in March. He started dancing in college and continued while serving in the Army National Guard. He is a principal dancer in the movie Matrix II: Reloaded, and is a recent recipient of an Isadora Duncan Award.



Peter Hamilton
, a lead dancer in the Humphrey-Weidman Company in the 1940s, a guest artist with Weidman’s Theater Dance Company until 1960, and a successful choreographer, died in January at the age of 90. Hamilton won a Donaldson award for his work in Broadway’s Sing Out Sweet Land.


Rodney Strong
, former dancer and founder of Rodney Strong Vineyards, died in March at the age of 78. Strong trained at the School of American Ballet and was an associate professor at San Francisco State College, teaching drama, dance, and film.