writers on dancing


Adios, Atlas
Jock Soto's Farewell

"West Side Story Suite" (excerpt), "Barber Violin Concerto," "Chiaroscuro," "After the Rain" (excerpt), "Union Jack" (excerpt)
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
June 19, 2005

by Tom Phillips
copyright ©2005 by Tom Phillips

In his 25 years with New York City Ballet, Jock Soto has had no rival for strength and endurance. And so it was fitting that his farewell was a marathon tour de force; five roles, with nine different partners, in the work of five choreographers. It began with some macho Hispanic hip-shaking in the Mambo scene from “West Side Story Suite,” and ended with hoofing and clowning (scheduled and unscheduled) in the Royal Navy section of “Union Jack.” But in the center of the program we saw the essential and incomparable Jock Soto, the Atlas who has held up the worlds of countless ballerinas, and ballets.

The mighty Atlas is his signature shape in Peter Martins’ “Barber Violin Concerto,” his broad back bent and his arms outstretched like limbs of a tree, an attitude that makes it clear he can “bear all things, endure all things.” Barefoot and bare-chested, he contends first with the athletic Ashley Bouder, then the romantic Darci Kistler, and carries them both away, Bouder at full arms’ length in the air, Kistler curled into a ball in the hollow of his thighs as he backs off, planting his heels like the treads of a back-hoe.

In Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain,” he is there for Wendy Whelan—wherever she turns, whatever she needs, he seems to know and give effortlessly. The high point is the often-pictured lift where she stands with one foot on his thigh, the other leg wrapped around him in a low attitude, soaring upward like the Winged Victory of Samothrace. If you look at his feet in that picture you can see the source of his strength, in the downward pull of his stance into the floor; he is leaning back into the earth as his partner sails into the wind.

But the emotional center of the program was a ballet choreographed on and for Soto, Lynn Taylor-Corbett’s “Chiaroscura.” At the climactic ending, he is the center of a whirlwind, with three women and two men plunging into his circle, to be lifted, guided, catapulted through the vortex. Soto is the eye of the hurricane, the center of the universe. Finally the stage clears out and he is left alone; with fiery deliberation, he lifts his head and spreads his arms to their fullest in a pose that could be a crucifixion, a benediction, or both. Whatever it is, it is Jock Soto giving everything, which is what he has always given.

Today’s labors earned him a long standing ovation from the sold-out house, with a parade of colleagues and cascades of flowers on the stage. And it was an emotional occasion for all, because he was moved, and didn’t hide it.

Among the cheering throng was a whole standing-room section of students from the School of American Ballet, where Soto has taught partnering to a new generation of young dancers. In the company today, you can see his influence in the likes of Stephen Hanna, Craig Hall, and Amar Ramasar. And there are more on the way, hopefully for many years to come, emerging from the boot camp of his rigorous partnering class, which ends with a series of lifts followed by a round of pushups, then more lifts, then more pushups. So get down, guys. Prepare to bear the world on your shoulders. And dance!

photo on front, "After the Rain," by Paul Kolnik.

Volume 3, No. 24
June 20, 2005

copyright ©2005 Tom Phillips


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last updated on June 20, 2005