NEW YORK CITY | How often do we get an opportunity to get to receive insider’s coaching from a bona fide principal ballet dancer for the great master George Balanchine? Make that a New York City Ballet danseur whose 35-year career started when he was 17 years old. During that period of time, Balanchine choreographed more ballet works specifically for him by than any other dancer.

Impressive, right? The closest source you’ll likely find would be Jacques D’Amboise, the great American ballet dancer with his laughing eyes and his shock of white hair and his long stewardship of the National Dance Institute in Harlem which he founded in 1976.

In a new archival video filmed on November 26, 2018, D’Amboise was seen, heard and photographed while he coached several New York City Ballet dancers. He showed them how to take on principal roles in “Stars and Stripes,” “Episodes,” and the male variation from Tchaikovsky‘s Pas de Deux. This last piece was Balanchine’s thrilling, virtuoso dance for two. Nancy McDill, solo pianist with New York City Ballet was the accompanist, and journalist Alastair Macaulay interviewed d’Amboise at the conclusion of the session, which took place in New York at a studio in Lincoln Center.

The taping was supervised by Paul Boos, Video Archives project associate, and aided by Nancy Reynolds, Video Archives founder; former film professor Virginia Brooks; and filmmaker Gus Reed. Macaulay has been the chief dance critic of The New York Times since 2007. He was previously the chief theater critic of The Financial Times in London (1994-2007) and the chief dance critic for The Times Literary Supplement (1996-2006), founding editor (1983-88) of the British quarterly Dance Theatre Journal, and a guest dance critic for The New Yorker (1988 and 1992).

Ballet: APOLLO
Coach: Jacques d’Amboise 
Interviewer: Alastair Macaulay
Taped: July 13, 2016
Project: Balanchine Foundation Video Archives


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ne of Balanchine’s most famous maxims, for better or worse, was “ballet is woman.” Yet at New York City Ballet, he produced a number of extraordinary male dancers, including d’Amboise and Arthur Mitchell, both 85, and Edward Villella, 83 — American treasures who overcame stereotypes about men and ballet and, Mitchell’s part, racism, to devote themselves to the art form and to Balanchine.

George Balanchine Foundation (GBF) filmed d’Amboise sharing stories about what it was like to dance for Balanchine. The purpose of GBF’s Video Archive Series is to document insights of the originators or important later interpreters of key roles in the Balanchine repertory, so as to pass on this knowledge, particularly including references to Balanchine’s ideas at the time of creation, and make them available to the dancers, scholars and audiences of today. The d’Amboise video will become part of this series, which now numbers over 50 films, and is available world-wide through educational institutions and libraries. The interview segments can be viewed on GBF’s YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/blnchn.)

In 1958-1960, three creatively fecund years at NYCB, Balanchine chose d’Amboise to star in three astonishingly diverse new ballets.

Doris Hering wrote in Dance Magazine of the patriotic 1958 “Stars and Stripes” to Sousa marches “… a delightfully witty ‘soldier’s sweetheart’ duet for d’Amboise and Melissa Hayden. His pompous General Grant stance and her steely imperviousness were bright bits of flavor in spectacular dancing.…” D’Amboise coached Indiana Woodward and Roman Mejia in this pas de deux.

The following year a polar opposite muse inspired Balanchine to devise the stark black and white leotard ballet “Episodes” for Diana Adams and d’Amboise (music by Anton Webern). Critic John Martin, writing in the New York Times, called it “an exquisitely grotesque, heartbreaking pas de deux in the briefest of broken graspings. It is two souls struggling for identity, in a realm without orientation, no procedural logic or precedent, no sequence or reaction to action – only snatches of affection.” Teresa Reichlen and Jared Angle were the dancers for this coaching session.

Ballet: “Who Cares?”
Coach: Jacques d’Amboise
Interviewer: Alastair Macaulay
Taped: 2016 New York City
Project: Balanchine Foundation Video Archives


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o music originally intended for Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Adams and d’Amboise were Balanchine’s first choice subjects in his 1961, now ubiquitous, grand pas de deux. An injury to Adams forced a cast change and the premiere was danced by Violette Verdy and Conrad Ludlow. D’Amboise and Ludlow ’s solo variation is exceptionally different from what is currently performed, including a musical repeat of the opening phrase. Dancer Anthony Huxley showed both the former and latter version of the male solo.

Jacques d’Amboise now leads the field of arts education with a model program that exposes thousands of school children to the magic and discipline of dance. In 1976, he founded National Dance Institute in the belief that the arts have a unique power to engage and motivate individuals towards excellence. He is the author of Teaching the Magic of Dance and his recent memoir I was a Dancer. For previous Balanchine Foundation archival videos he coached leading roles in excerpts from Apollo and Who Cares?

Jared Angle became an apprentice with NYCB in March 1998 and joined the NYCB corps de ballet later the same year. He was promoted to soloist in 2001 and to principal in 2005. He has performed many featured roles in ballets by Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, and Peter Martins. Roman Mejia, New York City Ballet corps de ballet member as of 2017, was coached in Tarantella for the Video Archives by Patricia McBride.

The George Balanchine Foundation (www.balanchine.org) is a not-for-profit corporation established in 1983. Its mission is to create programs that educate the public and further Balanchine’s work and aesthetic with the goal of advancing high standards of excellence in dance and its allied arts.

Jacques d’Amboise with George Balanchine in Seattle in 1962. Photo by John Dominis
Jacques d’Amboise with George Balanchine in Seattle in 1962. Photo by John Dominis

 

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