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Jacques D'Amboise, Forever Young

By Michael Buss, 2013-08-14

Barely a week passed from the end of Anaheim Ballet’s Summer Intensive and the Anaheim International Dance Festival (AIDF) was launched. This must be one of the richest cultural events to be held in Anaheim when one considers the preparation, the guests, the sheer quality of the dance and the myriad little things that make the weekend not only magic but memorable. We were recently reminded that when Shirley McCracken was on the city council, as a great advocate for the arts, she successfully argued the case to bring this ballet company to Anaheim and have it located in the Cultural Arts Building on Lincoln, just around the corner from City Hall. As somebody commented at the Gala Performance, the Anaheim Ballet is a national treasure.

By tradition the AIDF opens on the Friday night with the screening of a dance movie in the Folino Theatre at Chapman University. This year they brought us the 1954 Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Not only is this a classic movie, but the main dance star of the film, Jacques D’Amboise, was the honored guest for the entire weekend and regaled the Friday audience with an almost endless stream of adorable and witty stories.

Jacques is recognized as one of the finest classical dancers of our time and he now leads the field of arts education with e program that exposes thousands of school children to the magic and discipline of dance. In 1976, while still a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, Mr. D’Amboise founded that National Dance Institute in the belief that the arts have a unique power to engage and motivate individual towards excellence.

From Jacques we learnt what percentage of professional dancers end up with hip and knee replacements – though Larry interjected to add that nowadays with better training and care the number is much reduced. Nonetheless Jacques showed us his inability now to raise his arms above shoulder level because of the damage inflicted on the muscle insertion point of the  biceps into the shoulder. Yes, the tendons can simply snap as a dancer repeatedly catches the ballerina and drops her back into a sweeping almost horizontal position!

Naturally we also heard many stories about the production of the movie – of dancers warming up only to be left for hours while directors and technicians attended to other matters; of dancers in conflict over whether to stay and shoot another scene or get off to a studio rehearsal with their own company. In Seven Brides, all the dancers did their own stunts. The back flips on parallel planks during the barn-raising scene were real. As the music to the dance was played, so the dancers danced and there was little room for error. And would you like to know how they filmed that amazing avalanche scene whereby the girls were cut off from rescue by their families for the entire winter? Ah – you had to be there! And even when it was time for the custodians to lock up the Folino Theatre for the night, still Jacques, thrilled by his attentive audience, kept the stories coming.

The next day brought the Gala Performance at the City National Grove of Anaheim. Here Mr. D’Amboise was presented with a Lifetime Achievement award, and once again took the stage for more poems and stories. People simply glowed to have been there with such a dear man, now a widower, but not ashamed to joke about still being on the lookout! If there were only four words that God spoke they would be “Come Dance With Me”. Unforgettable.

Maria Kochetkova
Now to the dancing. The Gala follows a pattern in which the AB Company opens the show with a number choreographed by Sarma Lapenicks Rosenberg. They will also close the show, with the international star dancers interweaving in the dance.

Ben Stevenson, OBE, who was the guest last year, once devised a baller names Three Preludes – Pas de Deux danced in about 5 short scenes. It had never been danced in the western United States, so it was a very poecial moment when – with Ben’s permission – the Three Preludes were performed by Carolyn Judson and Lucas Priolo (both from the Texas Ballet Theatre). The music was somewhat abstract and ethereal, and the choreography what we might call contemporary. It was not the more traditional pas de deux; engaging, dramatic, emotional and beautiful.

The dance from Giselle (Maria Kochetkova and Taras Domitro – San Francisco Ballet was a little more traditional but performed so sweetly against such wonderful music that you almost held your breath.

All together 5 pairs of dancers from various prestigious ballet companies held their audience spellbound. Not in the program was Joaquin de Luz from the New York City Ballet who in each half of the program exuded sheer enthusiasm with his solo numbers.

Unless writing for an audience of ballet cognoscente a recital of the evening does little. Like all performance arts ballet requires that you be there. Dance is the only performance art which requires no words (OK – I know about Marcel Marceau). It tells stories that range from the comedic, to narrative to tragedy. They communicate emotion and a quality of life that uplifts and inspires.

Carolyn Judson, above.

The final Sunday afternoon, in many respects, is the most thrilling with exhibitions of dance from the stars of tomorrow; the virtuoso kids for whom no position is too hard, whose flexible young bodies can take all the stress and make it look easy. So fast, so beautiful, so totally in love with ballet.

All credit to the Anaheim Ballet for mounting this glittering festival, but so too goes huge thanks to Chapman University and the Youth America Grand Prix for pulling the weekend together.

It seems right to mention the sponsors. Great art requires the support of the business and philanthropic communities. Thank you sponsors for caring about ballet.





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