From The New York Times: “When City Center Was Balanchine’s House”

New York Times

From The New York Times

Oct. 25, 2018
Marina Harss

Jacques d’Amboise, Patricia Wilde, Allegra Kent and Edward Villella talk about the roles they danced at the theater, which is celebrating George Balanchine and its 75th anniversary as a palace of the arts.

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George Balanchine, right, rehearsing with Jacques d’Amboise at City Center. CreditJohn Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection, via Getty Images

When Lincoln Kirstein and the choreographer George Balanchine were attempting to get a company off the ground in the 1930s and ’40s, they had little more than a pickup troupe, with meager seasons and slender prospects. That began to change in 1948, when the company, the newly named New York City Ballet, found an institution willing to take it in: New York City Center.

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The PAR Group

The studios had splintery floors. The orchestra pit was cramped. There was practically no backstage space — and the stage itself was small.

“I could do a couple of jumps and be past center stage,” said Jacques d’Amboise. He danced with the company during its City Center years, as did Edward Villella, who lived a brownstone away from the theater. “They used to deliver huge blocks of ice,” Mr. Villella said, “and they would take it into the alley in the back, and that was the air-conditioning.”

Since those early days, the building, a fanciful Moorish-style structure built as a meeting place for the Shriners, a Masonic group, has been updated many times, most recently in 2011. In 1943, it became a temple for the arts, converted for that purpose by the civic-minded mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Tickets were kept affordable. In the ’40s, a prime seat went for $2.40, roughly equivalent to $35 today.

When New York City Ballet was invited to become a resident company, in 1948, Balanchine got to work, developing his dynamic, streamlined American style.

As part of a season celebrating the 75th anniversary of the building’s rebirth as a palace of culture, City Center is hosting a ballet festival, “Balanchine: The City Center Years,” from Oct. 31 through Nov. 4. The works included — 13 in all — were either created or performed there during City Ballet’s first decade and a half, 1948-64.

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George Balanchine-From New York City Center

“What we’ve tried to do,” Arlene Shuler, City Center’s president and chief executive officer, said, “is represent the full range of what was performed here during Balanchine’s time.” Two of the ballets, “Symphony in C” and “Concerto Barocco,” were part of the company’s very first program at the hall. “Tarantella” was the last to premiere there, in 1964, before the company moved into a shiny and vastly more spacious new building at Lincoln Center.

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The dancer Jacques d’Amboise. Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

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Mr. d’Amboise in the title role of George Balanchine’s “Apollo” in 1962. “I want American boy!” Mr. d’Amboise said Balanchine told him. “He wanted me to be a wild, untamed youth, not just look pretty and make poses.”CreditJack Mitchell/Getty Images

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Patricia Wilde in 1963. Ms. Wilde was often thrown into roles at the last minute: “Mr. B would always say, ‘Pat can do it!’”CreditJack Mitchell/Getty Images

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