Thursday, August 19, 2010

At a dinner party a couple weeks ago, the question: "What dancer left the most lasting impression on you?" ignited a storm of discussion. Barabra Korengold spoke about people and places in DC that played a crucial role in the development of dance in this city and I asked if she could share some of these memories here on dancers-in-dialogue:

"We talked a little at dinner about Nureyev. I really feel that in my life (so far) he has been the one dancer who has advanced the art more than anyone else. It wasn't just the advance in technique that he inspired, but I think the force of his personality on stage was just as revolutionary. It was the first time (I never saw Njinsky, so I can't compare the two) that a man had command of the stage as an equal to the ballerina. It really was astonishing. He also showed us so much of the classic repertoire that was unfamiliar to us in the west. Ballet in Washington grew up when The Kennedy Center opened [in 1971]. The first time I saw the Royal Ballet... was at the old Washington Coliseum (which was where the circus performed). When I danced with the Bolshoi when I was 12, the performances were at an old movie theater on F Street that has been torn down. The major companies just didn't come. ABT and NYCB sometimes came to Carter Baron in the summers, but there was always the risk of a rain out. When I danced in the Washington Ballet's Nutcracker it was at Constitution Hall (with the National Symphony).... For a long time Mary Day was the only game in town. Freddie Franklin worked with her for a while, but he left and started National Ballet.

This was a fully professional company (Washington Ballet was more or less amateur until she brought in Choo San Goh...). An issue also was the academic schools that both organizations established - first Mary, and then Freddie. Ben Stevenson was at National Ballet for a while also until he left for Houston. Mary Day would import various star teachers every few years... Igor Schwetzoff was one - after he left Washington Ballet he opened his own studio above the Avalon movie theater (in the space that's now the small theater). Oleg Tupine was another one - he left Mary and went to National, and finally opened a school in northern Virginia where Michelle Lees among others studied. She also had Anatole Vilzak and his wife (Ludmilla Schollar) for a few years. The other important school in the city was the Jones Haywood School. They were two black women [Doris Jones and Claire Haywood] who taught black students: aspects of this city were very segregated for a long time..." Alumni of the school include Chita Rivera, Kim Bears-Bailey and Renee Robinson. Claire Haywood passed away in 1978 and Doris Jones passed away in 2006 at age 92.

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