i was a dancer-jacques d’amboise

i have no idea where i heard about this book, or how it came that i put it on hold at the library, but however-i have gladness. jacques d’amboise is clearly a person who lives on purpose, one with the kind of passion that spills over to everything he experiences sensually. as an aside, i am currently watching starting out in the evening (dir.andrew wagner) and the heather character just said “i did what i always do in times of uncertainty-i went to the books, i went to the library.” and so, on a sunday morning-people are interesting because they’re interested.

here are a few examples of where dancers meet readers:

“Janie arrived for morning class early, even before the stage crew had turned on the work lights. When the rest of us showed up, Janie would have dramatically posed herself on center stage, splayed in a split under the ghost light (a bare light bulb on a stand in center stage), and reading an enormous book. Every once in a while, she would shift her split, sometimes with the right leg front, then the left, then back again, without ever interrupting her reading. Engrossed, Janie would read right up until Balanchine started the plies. “What are you reading that’s so interesting?” he sometimes asked. Janie’s act never changed, though her books did! For several weeks, she pored over the dictionary; next, her nose was buried in a volume of Encyclopaedia Britannica, or some philosophical tome, Nietzsche or Kierkegaard. A week later, it was Buddhist texts, then she switched to The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. It seemed she carried her own library.” (145-6)

“For a while, one of the brides, Julie Newmar, replaced the vanished Rock Hudson as my a.m. chauffeur. We’d make a date at the taxi stand, she’d pick me up at five a.m. and zoom off, driving erratically and fast. She’d say, ‘Don’t talk to me, I’m not awake yet,’ open up a book on the steering wheel, and start reading. As a driver, she was at her bizarre zenith. Over six feet tall, and large-breasted, she dripped sensuality with each husky pant that started and ended every sentence. Her mind worked constantly. Julie was smart, but camouflaged her intelligence by playing the innocent, sweet thing who didn’t quite understand what was happening to or around her. She caught up and passed every car on the highway. We’d talk a few platitudes and exchange a bit of gossip, but often, there was no conversation at all, as Julie was engrossed in her book while driving. I’d sit, rigid, and she would bury her nose down between the pages, propping the book on the steering wheel, occasionally glancing up at the road.” (155-6)



4 thoughts on “i was a dancer-jacques d’amboise

  1. sensual seduction:

    “No one would suspect him for a second-story man. At our neighborhood branch of the New York Public Library, Johnny would purloin from the bookshelf the ‘A’ volume, and toss it out the window. Jimmy and I, with our coats spread a la fireman’s safety net, would catch the book. To avoid an excessive gap in the library’s shelf, volume ‘B’ would be spirited from another branch in the same manner. And so on, through twenty-six branches in the city of New York.” (26)

    “More time is spent by the dancer at the barre and in the studio-a lifetime more-than performing on the stage. It takes years, and generations of dancers, to transform a dance studio into hallowed ground. In the spring of 2003, I visited Cuba for the first time. Touring Alicia Alonso’s ballet academy, I felt at home. Instantly, I recognized the atmosphere, the smells, the wooden floor so familiar to the /salles de ballet/ of Europe, Russia, and the old SAB. The sweat-stained barre, polished from the touch of a century of dancers’ grips, were lined with ghosts. At Alonso’s ballet academy, I put my hand on the barre, touching the imprints of ten thousand dancers before me, took first position to prepare for a grand plie. Well, it was nice to dream. In 2003, I couldn’t do a grand plie. The knees don’t bend.” (83)

    “Ensconced in plush red velvet armchairs, Carrie and I noticed every table in the restaurant was equipped with several miniature stools. “What are they?” she wondered. Padded and puffy, a down comforter crowning four stubby legs, they were gout stools, meant to rest the swollen feet of patrons whose indulgence in culinary excess had been thought to generate this painful affliction. Their presence of savoring the restaurant’s rich cuisine.” (164)

    “However, it was something as ordinary as creamed spinach that dazzled. Take a mouthful, and you would discover a tiny crouton hiding amid the creamy greenness. Biting one, an explosion of garlic juices poured out, the aroma bursting in your mouth. It was a royal hunt seeking these little golden nuggets, finding one, anticipating the biting-and /bang/-the molar crush and sumptuousness follow through! It makes one realize the importance of proportions. You wanted to find these delightful tidbits, but there weren’t many, so perfect was the balance that their garlic expression did not overwhelm the exquisite simplicity of spinach and buttery cream.” (165)

    “The whole class applauded. He was so excited. He was on the way to discovering he could take control of his body, and from that he can learn to take control of his life.
    Dance is an art of communication that expresses emotions by controlling and ordering movement, as well as tempo, and molding and defining space. That’s what our universe is about. We can hardly speak without signifying some expression of distance, place, or time. ‘See you later.’ ‘Meet you at the corner in five minutes.’ Even ‘Where are you going?’ implies space and time. Every time you shake hands in greeting or raise a glass in a toast, you’re participating in a dance.” (365)

  2. family matters:

    “I have no idea how she did it, but in September 1946, just before rehearsals for the first season of Ballet Society commenced, my mother persuaded my father to change all our names from Ahearn to her maiden name, d’Amboise. ‘It’s aristocratic, it’s French, it has the d’apostrophe. It sounds better for the ballet, and it’s a better name.’……To this day, I am dumbfounded that Pop acquiesced. Maybe using d’Amboise as a professional stage name for the children might have made some sense. But to legally change the names of the entire family-including himself-is bizarre.
    Lawyers were paid. Papers were signed, notarized, filed, and returned. A done deal. Afterward, I never heard Pop tell anyone he had once been ‘Ahearn’. He introduced himself saying, ‘I’m Andy. Andy Dammboyze,’ mispronouncing it with glee.” (60)

    “I was twenty-two years old and had managed to escape being drafted for the war in Korea, because they were not yet inducting married men. When China joined the war on the side of the North Koreans, and American and coalition forces were in full retreat, the draft was expanded to include married men, but not yet those with children. George saved me.” (179)

    “I would like to believe he was proud of me, but letting me know that would have meant admitting that the Boss was right, all those dancing lessons had paid off.” (215)

    “When people have been gifted beyond others, they’re expected to perform beyond others. But if the gifted person if filled with self-doubt, that expectation becomes torment.” (274)

  3. real teachers are learners:

    “An exceptional teacher got this bored child interested in ballet. She challenged me to a test, complimented me on my effort, and immediately issued a new challenge. The Boss was part of this conspiracy and, enlisting my sister as coach, kept me engaged, rehearsing and practicing between Seda’s once-a-week classes. Boss upped the ante by creating a performing element-our living room was the stage, my father and brothers the unwilling audience, and I the center of attention. Heaven. I loved performing.” (37)

    “Robbins took what you did naturally, enhanced, packaged, and presented it-he helped you become more of what you already were. Balanchine took the music, developed his own ideas of movement, and challenged you to become more than you thought you could be. With Robbins, you were amplified; with Balanchine, you were transformed.” (100)

    “….‘It’s an exercise. A person wants to write-don’t write a novel right away; first you write a thousand short stories and poems, letters, but you learn how to write. Maybe someday you have great novel. Same with music, choreography, painting-you exercise!’” (204)

    “When I see his ballets danced today, I realize they miss his presence. Anyone who tries to teach Balanchine ballets somehow fails. We are the dancers who danced the roles, and are trying to express and re-create what was taught us, but it’s not the same. Besides, Balanchine would re-create movement-he’d change the steps to challenge a different type of dancer! He was the pinnacle. If Balanchine did it or said it, it became dogma.” (208)

    “I’d operated under the assumption that an artist must have an adversarial relationship with critics. How childish, and now I needed to express regret for failing to acknowledge his importance in my life. Dance journalists attend performances, not just yours, but those of thousands of other artists, matinee and evenings-for years. John was so sweet at our breakfast, mumbling shyly, “You cannot imagine how many times I would try to capture in writing the effect of what I’d seen in a performance. I’d have only thirty or forty minutes to make a deadline. And in the morning, I’d wake up to read what I’d written, and cry out, ‘No! That’s not what I meant to say! I didn’t capture it.’” (258)

    “In John Martin’s writing, you recognize a superb usage of the English language that is rarely encountered today. So much dance criticism is dumbed-down dross, and petty power gossip, where the reviewer advises the management as well as the reader which corps de ballet dancers should be promoted and what roles they should do. Can you imagine the same presumption in the world of music? ‘Mr. Levine, your second violinist is so extraordinary, she should be first.’ Or addressing the brass section, ‘Your French horn, John Smith, is a standout. Why don’t you revive a Mozart horn concerto for him?’” (259)

    “It disturbed Balanchine, his muses having another man, and motherhood would affect the shape of their bodies and deflect attention from their art, and him. Balanchine’s genius fed on the image of the aloof, elusive woman. If she was married or already had children, he felt hobbled. He needed to believe and hope that he could attain the muse, and wooed her through his ballets. If he succeeded, they sometimes wed…and it never worked. At home, an ordinary woman was revealed and the spell broken. His creative engine languished, and he soon sought a replacement.
    In his domain, he was without peer. But competing with another man in the bed department was a level field. Though he was supremely confident wooing his muse in classes, rehearsals, and through his choreography, in the actual dating and courtship rituals he needed a surrogate-and that surrogate was the male dancing partner. Over the years, I played that part with a variety of muses. Onstage, dancing the pas de deux, I was a stand-in for Balanchine. After performance, at supper, his foil.” (268)

    “Balanchine’s description of the man in meditation also describes the transforming power of art and is at the heart of what classical ballet is. To participate as a performer or as an audience member makes one better.” (285)

    “I didn’t even realize how much /I/ was hurting, and had little patience for anyone else’s angst. The world I knew, and was so much a part of me, had faded away. Scarlett O’Hara felt the same way when Atlanta burned down. I was on my last legs as a dancer. Thank God NDI and its programs were filling my hours.” (341)

    “I don’t believe there are any untalented children. But I fear there are many whose talents never get to flower. Perhaps they were never encouraged. Or no one took time to find out how to engage them.” (367)

  4. history repeating itself:

    “Nuns! Their outfits made them magical. Their actions seemed malevolent. Their bodies hidden, breastless, hands always under their habits, fiddling with their rosaries. What were they doing? Their ears were covered, bandaged tightly as if they had head injuries, and their stiff, hoodless headdresses prevented peripheral vision. Still, they had super hearing and somehow could see sideways and behind. Magic. They lived in a mysterious, impenetrable fortress called the convent. We never saw them use the bathroom at school, so the fortress was the only possible place they could have relieved themselves. I never thought about the fact that they were women, until someone said that they were, and then I thought, “What do they do with their hair?” Jimmy Comiskey told me they shaved their heads, or had crew cuts, like marines, and they wore gold wedding rings that Jesus had given them. Christ had women in His Special Forces, and was married to them!” (53)

    “Since it was the richest of the French colonies, Napoleon exploited Haiti’s wealth for his wars. When the slaves revolted, he sent a fleet with an army of elite troops to crush the insurgency. Led by General Leclerc and fueled by arrogance, the French underestimate the passionately driven guerilla fighters, and their allies, malaria and tropical heat. The French armies were defeated, and fled.” (173)

    just like Viet Nam.

    “It cost several hundred bucks, but I had my suitcase full of 16 mm cassettes developed. I set up the projector and screen and eagerly gathered my family around-to discover, with numbing disbelief, that the footage up to Vienna and before Russia was fine, but every cassette taken in the Soviet Union was blank. Not one picture of Balanchine, Lincoln, the company, Shaun, the canteens, the hotel dining rooms, the paper bag, the cities, the streets, the cabbages, the theaters, museums, cathedrals, or Felix and his synagogue. All erased by the police. My price for rooming with Shaun!
    And oh yes! There was a letter from Hamburg. The city planned to sue me for injury to their streetcar.” (265-6)

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