"Who am I? I'm a man; an American, a father, a teacher, but most
of all, I am a person who knows how the arts can change lives,
because they transformed mine. I was a dancer."
In this rich, expansive, spirited memoir, Jacques d'Amboise, one of
America's most celebrated classical dancers, and former principal
dancer with the New York City Ballet for more than three decades,
tells the extraordinary story of his life in dance, and of
America's most renowned and admired dance companies. He writes of
his classical studies beginning at the age of eight at The School
of American Ballet. At twelve he was asked to perform with Ballet
Society; three years later he joined the New York City Ballet and
made his European debut at London's Covent Garden.
As George Balanchine's protege, d'Amboise had more works
choreographed on him by "the supreme Ballet Master" than any other
dancer, among them Tchaikovsky "Pas de Deux;" "Episodes; A
Midsummer's Night's Dream; Jewels;" "Raymonda Variations."
He writes of his boyhood--born Joseph Ahearn--in Dedham,
Massachusetts; his mother ("the Boss") moving the family to New
York City's Washington Heights; dragging her son and daughter to
ballet class (paying the teacher $7.50 from hats she made and sold
on street corners, and with chickens she cooked stuffed with
chestnuts); his mother changing the family name from Ahearn to her
maiden name, d'Amboise ("It's aristocratic. It has the 'd'
apostrophe. It sounds better for the ballet, and it's a better
We see him. a neighborhood tough, in Catholic schools being taught
by the nuns; on the streets, fighting with neighborhood gangs, and
taking ten classes a week at the School of American Ballet . . .
being taught professional class by Balanchine and by other teachers
of great legend: Anatole Oboukhoff, premier danseur of the
Maryinsky; and Pierre Vladimiroff, Pavlova's partner.
D'Amboise writes about Balanchine's succession of ballerina muses
who inspired him to near-obsessive passion and led him to create
extraordinary ballets, dancers with whom d'Amboise partnered--Maria
Tallchief; Tanaquil LeClercq, a stick-skinny teenager who blossomed
into an exquisite, witty, sophisticated "angel" with her "long
limbs and dramatic, mysterious elegance . . ."; the iridescent
Allegra Kent; Melissa Hayden; Suzanne Farrell, who Balanchine
called his "alabaster princess," her every fiber, every movement
imbued with passion and energy; Kay Mazzo; Kyra Nichols ("She's
perfect," Balanchine said. "Uncomplicated--like fresh water"); and
Karin von Aroldingen, to whom Balanchine left most of his
D'Amboise writes about dancing with and courting one of the
company's members, who became his wife for fifty-three years, and
the four children they had . . . On going to Hollywood to make
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and being offered a long-term
contract at MGM ("If you're not careful," Balanchine warned, "you
will have sold your soul for seven years") . . . On Jerome Robbins
("Jerry could be charming and complimentary, and then, five minutes
later, attack, and crush your spirit--all to see how it would
influence the dance movements").
D'Amboise writes of the moment when he realizes his dancing career
is over and he begins a new life and new dream teaching children
all over the world about the arts through the magic of dance.
A riveting, magical book, as transformative as dancing itself.
Knopf Publishing Group
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