Dance students create original piece with ballet legend

Imagine being a living part of an artist’s masterpiece. 

Students in the School for Classical and Contemporary Dance had the chance to work with ballet legend Jacques D’Amboise to create an original dance. 

As this year's Cecil H. and Ida Green Chair Professor, D’Amboise shared his experiences as a former dancer with the New York City Ballet and a muse for George Balanchine. In his two-and-a-half day visit, D’Amboise spoke to the public and choreographed a dance for majors who could attend all-day practices. 

“He’s a fascinating man with tremendous stories, the kinds of things that can only come from the depth of experiences that he’s had,” Elizabeth Gillaspy, associate professor of ballet, said. 

People traveled from hours away to hear D'Amboise talk about his time dancing on Broadway, in film and in the ballet, she said. 

Along with his personal experiences, D’Amboise shared a basic movement style he has taught to schoolchildren through a program he created called the National Dance Institute. Gillaspy said the program has exposed around 2 million people to the art of dance. 

Wearing tennis shoes and warm-up clothes, dance majors performed a mixture of jazz, ballet and folk dancing for a crowd of students, faculty and other members of the community on Thursday night.  

In rehearsals, Hannah Hughes, a junior modern dance major, said D’Amboise gave his critiques in a straightforward and helpful manner. She said he provided real-world context for their future careers. 

Kaitlin Herndon, a junior ballet major, was also grateful for his advice. 

“It’s just amazing to work with someone of this caliber and this prestige,” she said. “It’s an experience that I think I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.”

To challenge the dancers’ precision, D’amboise told them to think of their body like an instrument. He said if they did not hit the right “notes,” or steps, the music did not sound right. 

Accompanist John Hopkins said he also saw a connection between the arts. He has been at the school for ten years, and worked with D’Amboise to set music to the dance as it was choreographed.  

“One thing I’ve been studying lately is African music," Hopkins said. "In Africa, most dialects do not have a separate word for dance and music. They just have a single word, because there isn’t any difference between them.” 

The collaboration included a mixture of cultural tones. Dancers spoke Gaelic phrases while an Italian overture played. 

The school will have its next performance on Oct. 19 at noon in Erma Lowe Hall.