Jock Soto, whose final performance with New York City Ballet is June 19th, has danced myriad roles since joining the company in 1981. His repertoire includes ballets by Balanchine and Robbins. Many choreographers have created roles on him, including Peter Martins, Christopher Wheeldon, Lynne Taylor-Corbett, and Kevin O’Day. Soto has appeared on Broadway in Ziegfeld Follies (choreographed by Wheeldon), and teaches partnering and men’s class at the School of American Ballet. A 2003 Dance Magazine Award recipient, he co-wrote Our Meals with former NYCB dancer Heather Watts, published by Riverhead Books in 1997.
There are only a few dancers who have a kind of generosity which distinguishes not only their artistry but who they are. They keep a focus on the larger picture, becoming anchors of integrity not only to the choreography, but to their colleagues. Jock Soto has defined this kind of integrity with his work at the New York City Ballet for 24 years.
A pioneer in the art of partnering, Jock has cultivated his skill to an unparalleled level of expertise. Like a great magician, he is a master of illusion. His performances are seamless miracles that blend brute strength with silken sensitivity tailored to the lines and needs of his ballerinas, each of whom he presents as if she were a rare and exotic orchid.
To his fans in the audience, Jock is a charismatic master, the last of Balanchine’s chosen men. He is one of the special ones, a powerful presence of dark, refined elegance. As one of his many partners, I can say that dancing with him has been the experience of a lifetime. He has taken us to a purer form of the dance, allowing us to feel the glide of angels and giving us each a small taste of heaven.
—Wendy Whelan, NYCB principal dancer
Victor Castelli, an expressive soloist with NYCB who later became a ballet master with the company, died at the age of 52 on February 8 from complications due to liver cancer. A favorite of both Robbins and Balanchine, he created the jaunty solo role in the “Gigue” section of Balanchine’s Mozartiana. Castelli also excelled as the doomed Poet in La Sonnambula, as the easy-going “green boy” in Dances at a Gathering, and as the frustrated Door in Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir.
Jean-Pierre Frohlich, a fellow NYCB ballet master and a close friend of Castelli’s, recalls the dancer’s joi de vivre, as well as his elegance, beautifully elongated lines, and patience. “One of my strongest memories is watching him learn Prodigal Son from Balanchine,” said Frohlich. “It was fascinating, because Balanchine explained everything to him. Near the end, when he is leaning against the table, Balanchine used to say, ‘Think of Jesus Christ on the cross.’ ”
A dancer whom Robbins relied on to experiment with his choreography, Castelli later became a valuable assistant to the choreographer, working with him on Jerome Robbins’ Broadway and traveling to the Paris Opéra Ballet to stage Robbins’ works there. Castelli was appointed ballet master in 1990, when he retired from dancing. “He was always true to the creator, to get the look that the creator wanted,” said Frohlich. After Robbins’ death, Castelli served on the advisory committee of the Robbins Rights Trust. New York City Ballet dedicated its February 13 performance of Mozartiana to the memory of Castelli.—Joseph Carman
William Lawrence Boyette
William Lawrence Boyette, dancer, teacher, and Denver dance pioneer, died in March at the age of 80. Boyette performed with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. Then, in 1959, he founded the Ballet Arts Center in Denver and later the Foundation for Public Education in Ballet Arts (now called Ballet Arts Theatre). In addition he opened the Ballet Arts Boulder Studio and taught and choreographed at the University of Colorado until 1991.