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ICON OF DANCE: KC Ballet and Rainy Day Books cosponsor appearance by Jacques D’Amboise

Legendary and iconic dancer Jacques D’Amboise was in Our Town on April 1st to promote his new memoir, I Was a Dancer (Borzoi Books: Alfred A. Knopf, $35)Born Joseph Aheard in Massachusetts, D’Amboise would become one of George Balanchine’s most indispensable muses: Over the course of 33 years at New York City Ballet, Jacques had more works created for him than any other male dancer. His book—the fruit of a decade of work—will come as an invaluable tool for understanding not just Balanchine but the whole panorama of American dance during the last three-quarters of a century. Not only does it detail Jacques’ childhood and youth, it chronicles at some length the vicissitudes of the City Ballet and all of its big stars, especially the ballerinas: Allegra Kent, Melissa Hayden, Suzanne Farrell, Kay Mazzo, Kyra Nichols, Karin von Aroldingen, and many others.

The book will also be of great interest to critics and balletomanes who can’t get enough detail about Balanchine’s working-methods: “Balanchine … would come to rehearsal understanding the structure of the music down to its DNA,” Jacques writes. “He would go to the piano, look at the score, and then come over to us, invent and demonstrate a dance step, and we would execute it. We were trained by him, and so attuned, we could take his movements and transform what to others might seem a vague shuffle into a finished dance step. He was never vague about time or counts—and would make sound with his feet, beating out the rhythms precisely. … Rarely did he choreograph the position of our arms or how we were to enter or exit the stage—that was left to us.”

On Friday afternoon the 76-year-old dancer dropped in on a meet-and-greet group at Unity Temple on the Plaza, signing books and chatting with Kansas City Ballet leaders and fans, as part of his ambitious 17-city book tour. Afterward he gave a chat in the Temple auditorium—cosponsored by Rainy Day Books—about his life in dance with Balanchine, his experiences as teacher at the National Dance Institute he founded in 1976, and his admiration for Kansas City Ballet’s artistic director emeritus, the late Todd Bolender. “He became a model for me,” Jacques told us. Or as he writes in the memoir: “To this day, I consider Todd Bolender among the greatest dance artists I’ve ever seen on the stage, not just for The Four Temperaments, but in every role I saw him perform. His genius was in giving full value to every gesture of the dance, as if it were the only movement he would ever make, the beginning and end of the universe. Each movement, Todd imbued with drama and theater, as if the music and gestures contained dialogue, silent words holding secrets of Shakespeare and Chekhov.”

More on Jacques’ book after I finish reading it! In the meanwhile go buy the book that Kirkus Review has already called “a trove of stage icons, grand performances, and hard-won personal triumphs.”

Paul Horsley, Performing Arts Editor 

Paul studied piano and musicology at WSU and Cornell University. He also earned a degree in journalism, because writing about the arts in order to inspire others to partake in them was always his first love. After earning a PhD from Cornell, he became Program Annotator for the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he learned firsthand the challenges that non profits face. He moved to KC to join the then-thriving Arts Desk at The Kansas City Star, but in 2008 he happily accepted a post at The Independent. Paul contributes to national publications, including Dance Magazine, Symphony, Musical America, and The New York Times, and has conducted scholarly research in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic (the latter on a Fulbright Fellowship). He also taught musicology at Cornell, LSU and Park University.

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