Jacques d’Amboise: Apollo at 83

Jacques d’Amboise: Apollo at 83

But what about the men? While female dancers are usually front and center in Balanchine works — the men, as partners, are responsible for making them shine — the men don’t always take second place. The repertory has plenty of shining opportunities for them too, like the title roles of “Prodigal Son” and “Apollo” and parts like the Phlegmatic variation in “The Four Temperaments.”


Jacques d’Amboise, rehearsing with George Balanchine in 1963.

John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection, via Getty Images

Mr. Danchig-Waring said that as a male principal at City Ballet “there’s so much space for self-expression.” And that he sees, in part, as a testament to Mr. d’Amboise.

“It’s interesting because he’s like this ‘bro,’ Mr. Danchig-Waring said with an affectionate laugh. For the Balanchine men, he continued: “There’s this machismo that is sometimes required onstage — that bravura, that swagger, that confidence, and we all have to learn to cultivate that and yet it’s such a huge canon of work. Within that, there are poets and dreamers and animals. Jacques is a reminder that all of that can be contained in one body.”

This isn’t the first time Mr. Danchig-Waring has participated in the Art Nest series, an intimate performance showcase that Mr. d’Amboise started in 2011. For this one, he’ll perform a section of “Apollo,” which Mr. d’Amboise — a revered interpreter of the role — has coached him on.

“He just brings the dances to life,” Mr. Danchig-Waring said. “They go from being steps that you’ve learned to authentic expressions of your personhood.”

And while spending time with someone with such direct lineage to Balanchine is a gift, it’s also just fun, Mr. Danchig-Waring said, to have an 83-year-old friend who is “tirelessly enthusiastic.”

Certainly, that part is true. As he talked about the coming program, Mr. d’Amboise narrated bits of his career, which has included decades at City Ballet, where Balanchine created dozens of works for him. Hollywood beckoned — he appeared in films like “Carousel” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” — but he always remained loyal to City Ballet and to Balanchine. While still a principal, in 1976, he created the National Dance Institute to engage children with dance, no matter their background or ability.


Edward Villella in Balanchine’s “Tarantella” in 1969.

Bill Eppridge/The LIFE Picture Collection, via Getty Images

Even when he was a student himself, Mr. d’Amboise was quick to recognize talent. He recalled when he first met Mr. Villella at the School of American Ballet in the 1940s. “There were only two or three boys at S.A.B. — Eddie and me and another boy,” he said. “Eddie was terrific. He went over the stage like a dynamo. The closest to Eddie was Baryshnikov. And, today, Daniel Ulbricht. They’re like crossbows — bang! Wonderful.”

Shorthand help: Baryshnikov as in Mikhail, the transcendent Russian dancer. And Mr. Ulbricht is a City Ballet dancer who has inherited some of Mr. Villella’s roles.

Mr. d’Amboise’s memories of Mr. Mitchell, City Ballet’s first African-American principal, are just as exuberant. “Arthur was, first of all, gorgeous. And inspiring.”

In 1957, Balanchine choreographed “Agon,” set to Stravinsky and featuring a central pas de deux for Mr. Mitchell and a white ballerina, Diana Adams. Mr. d’Amboise recalled that during a tour to the South “a stagehand wouldn’t open the curtain because there was a black guy onstage.” Instead, the lighting designer stepped in and did it.

But when another stagehand refused to aim the spotlight on Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Balanchine had a simple solution: “He said, ‘You know, just make light brighter and don’t worry.’ ”

If he had to describe Balanchine in just a few words, Mr. d’Amboise said, he would single out “exquisite manners”: “Balanchine got what he wanted by good manners and diplomacy.”


Arthur Mitchell and Suzanne Farrell in Balanchine’s “Agon” in 1963.

Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

In recent weeks, City Ballet has been dogged by more drama than good manners: Peter Martins, its longtime ballet master in chief, resigned on Jan. 1 after allegations of harassment and abuse. “It’s a scandal,” Mr. d’Amboise said, “but you know there’s a repertoire of Balanchine and Robbins that’s the best in the world.”

As for who should take over? “I don’t care,” he said with a shrug.

Despite his program’s theme of “Balanchine’s Guys,” Mr. d’Amboise was more eager to talk about the ballerinas he partnered at City Ballet, including Allegra Kent, Suzanne Farrell and, his favorite, the firecracker virtuoso Melissa Hayden.

She once told him, Mr. d’Amboise recalled: “Honey, we’re going to go dance now: This is our first performance and, buster, it’s our last too.”

You never know, in other words, if you’re going to dance tomorrow. When he heard she was gravely ill with pancreatic cancer in 2006, he flew to North Carolina to say goodbye. “She said, ‘So you came for my last dance?’” He laughed. “Isn’t that great?”

When you live to be too old, Mr. d’Amboise said, “you lose a lot of friends.”

But he’s still as indefatigable as Mary Poppins and he could probably cheer up any task, like the one he related about fulfilling his wife’s wishes to have her ashes spread at the subway station at 72nd Street and Broadway. He did it on a Sunday morning.

“I asked some kids to come in and dance and make a lot of noise,” he said conspiratorially. “Then I thought, does she want uptown or downtown? So we went down and I said, ‘Go make a lot of noise on the downtown station.’” He sprinkled some of the ashes on the uptown tracks and then repeated the procedure on the opposite side.

“It’s illegal,” he said. “I think lots of people try to do it.” As for Mr. d’Amboise? “Spread me in Times Square or the Belasco Theater.”

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