writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

Off the Wall to Wall

Wall to Wall Balanchine
Peter Jay Sharp Theatre
Peter Norton Symphony Space
March 20, 2004

By Nancy  Dalva
copyright © 2004 by Nancy Dalva

The following are selections from a few of the conversations, coaching sessions, and talks that were part of the wonderful Wall to Wall George Balanchine, held from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. last Saturday, and produced and presented by Symphony Space, Isaiah Sheffer, artistic director. All are in the order in which they were spoken, except the last.

Edward Villella, Founding Artistic Director, Miami City Ballet, and former Principal Dancer, New York City Ballet: With a name like Villella, how can you not want do a tarantella?

Violette Verdy, former Principal Dancer, New York City Ballet, to Maria Kowroski, Principal Dancer, NYCB, in a coaching session: Reach!

Villella on Verdy:  She taught me phrasing....I saw her in First Movement, Symphony in C and I thought, "Oh, wow, you’re supposed to do that, too." I thought it was just physical....eventually, she taught me to partner.

Verdy: They helped one another so beautifully and so readily!

Lourdes Lopez, former Principal Dancer, New York City Ballet, and Executive Director, The George Balanchine Trust: My best friends I’ve known since I was fourteen—from the School of American Ballet.

Villella: What he was giving was so incredibly extraordinarily brilliant, and it fit like a beautiful suit.

Lopez: Mr. Balanchine hated to hear dancers on stage. The two times I heard him scream...were to corps dancers...because their pointe shoes were new.

Villella: Miami is still not a cultural destination.

Eddie Bigelow, former dancer and Company Manager of the New York City Ballet: There was never any money. There was never enough money. A certain kind of fastidious care about spending money has been part of the school and company. It’s still there today although you wouldn’t think that....In Europe, they had lived in a froth of rich people and surroundings but they had nothing that they could count on....Mr. Kirstein had some money, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

Villella: Other major choreographic works are three to five times that][the cost of] a Balanchine work... We can point a finger at Mr. B. And say, "Thank you very much for spreading this around." I constantly say to Barbara [Horgan, Trustee and General Director of The George Balanchine Trust], "Thank you for letting us survive."

Lopez: One of the things that has been verified since I have been working at the Balanchine Foundation is Balanchine’s generosity....Never once would he say [to members of his company who wanted to perform his work in ensembles, or as guests], "Well, dear, can you write a check for five hundred dollars....?" He truly believed if a dancer can’t dance he doesn’t last. We were in the right time in the right place doing what we love to do. We have a responsibility to give back.

Nancy Reynolds, former dancer, New York City Ballet, and Director of Research, The George Balanchine Trust:   We have thirty tapes with no end in sight...As long as there is a wonderful old dancer around and a camera, we will continue.

Merrill Ashley, former Principal Dancer, New York City Ballet: [coaching Stars and Stripes]: When I did this section, Balanchine said to me, "Do whatever you want." Of course he was there to make sure we didn’t do anything wrong. ...Balanchine said, "This is a classical pas de deux. It’s not meant to be cute."

Ashley: The minute you lock your elbows, the energy stays within you.

Ashley [asked about being tossed in the air by her partner in Stars and Stripes]: I like it. It’s like flying. It’s fun. It’s fun!

Ashley: I liked to do everything fast, so it was a problem when he asked me to slow down....

Ashley: He [Balanchine] partnered me all the time. He was an excellent partner. A wonderful partner.

Allegra Kent, former Principal Dancer, New York City Ballet, during a George Balanchine Foundation coaching session of Bugaku, on tape: "Your hands are telling a story. They’re never still."

David Hays, designer of many Balanchine works: The wonderful thing about the old City Center was that you could do things on impulse.

Hays: I said to him, What should I do? He said, "Do what you do. Those were the only instructions."

Hays:  [Balanchine was like ] Joseph Conrad. English was not his native language. This language has washed freshly over him...In terms of language, he also loved puns.

Hays: About the old City Center–-they called me a “minimalist,” but we had so little money!

Hays: Lincoln [Kirstein] has marvelous conceptions about what artist you could copy or emulate....Lincoln was always so much there that when he wasn’t quite there it was news.

Hays: You never got praise from [Balanchine]. You just felt it. And you never got blame.. . . I don’t think I’ve said enough about his eye. My god, it was keen!

Hays: Balanchine said, "The conventions of Petipa are intolerable for the current day."

Reynolds [on Kirstein]: He could know all these things because he never slept.

Bigelow: I worked for two czars, two absolute monarchs. One was an irresistible force, and the other was an immovable object.

Bigelow [on Kirstein and Balanchine]: Collaboration? It was more like an extremely difficult and successful marriage.

Bigelow: [The Russians] came to New York and there were a lot of people around. It was a very bubbly place then.

Hays: As with few other people I’ve worked with, Balanchine never left you depressed...As Eddie Villella has said, we loved him.

Photo:  Left to right: Merrill Ashley, Gelsey Kirkland, and Colleen Neary in the Jewels variation from The Sleeping Beauty (1967). School of American Ballet Workshop. Photographer: Martha Swope. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Jerome Robbins Dance Division.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 12
March 15, 2004
Copyright © 2004 by Nancy Dalva



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The Autumn DanceView is out:

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last updated on January 12, 2004