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Jacques d’Amboise

Arts Days: July 28, 1934: Dancing for Joy
Few have done more to teach children about the joy of dance than this 1995 Kennedy Center Honoree.

D’Amboise was only 16 when he joined George Balanchine’s company, often partnered with Suzanne Farrell. As one of the earliest dancers and interpreters of Balanchine’s style, d’Amboise brought a powerful American energy to ballet.

When he was still a principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, Jacques d’Amboise founded the National Dance Institute, a program that teaches thousands of youngsters to dance and express themselves through ballet, jazz, and other forms of dance.
Europe, Dance, Dance Legends, Ballet, Choreographers

Rudolf Nureyev

Arts Days: March 17, 1938: Ballet's Rebel
Rudolf Nureyev was born on a train, setting the stage for a lifetime of perpetual movement, onstage and off. The premier male ballet dancer of his time, Nureyev began dancing to folk music as a child, attracting the attention of teachers who signed him to a local ballet troupe. He soon moved on to a major Russian ballet company, the Kirov, where he danced lead roles and got permission to leave the Soviet Union to dance in other cities like Vienna and Paris.

His dancing enchanted audiences, but his defection from the USSR in 1961 stunned the dance world. He soon signed with London’s Royal Ballet, the company he remained with until 1970. Nureyev’s creative partnerships with prima ballerinas like Margot Fonteyn are legendary; their pas de deux (“dance for two”) in Giselle and other ballets are exquisite examples of technical prowess and gorgeous artistry.
Ballet, Dance Legends, Dance, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers

Nutcracker

Arts Days: March 19, 1892: A Winter Wonderland
The most popular ballet of all time is quite an international affair. Consider this: The story behind The Nutcracker was by a German writer, E.T.A. Hoffman. The music was written by a Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. And the dance steps of the version you are most likely to enjoy this Christmas were created by Frenchman Marius Petipa.

On this day, Tchaikovsky chose several pieces of his score to perform at an event offered by the St. Petersburg branch of the Musical Society. While the music was incredibly well-received, the version of the ballet we know and love today—filled with delicious dances from the Land of Sweets, performed by the Sugar Plum Fairy and dozens of others—did not emerge for another 60-odd years.

Enjoying the ballet’s fantastic sights—a sparkling Christmas tree shooting up into the rafters, the Nutcracker turning into a prince, and the Mouse King in battle—is a holiday ritual for many families around the world.
Ballet, Dance Legends, Dance, Music, Composers

Arthur Mitchell

Arts Days: March 27, 1934: Breaking Ballet’s Barriers
After learning to tap dance as a child, Arthur Mitchell wowed a teacher with his version of the jitterbug, a dance popular in the 1940s. Mitchell was encouraged to apply at New York’s High School of Performing Arts. After graduation, Mitchell went on to win a scholarship to the famed School of American Ballet, then to join the New York City Ballet. There, he was told he would have to work twice as hard as the white dancers to be accepted.

In 1957, he performed George Balanchine’s Agon to audiences shocked at the sight of a white woman paired with a black male dancer. Mr. Balanchine ignored the attention, and at 21, Mitchell became the first black male principal dancer of a major dance company and a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1993.
Ballet, Dance, Dance Legends, Innovators & Pioneers

George Balanchine

Arts Days: January 22, 1904: A Ballet Master is Born
George Balanchine was one of the most prolific, and often considered the most influential, ballet choreographers of the 20th century. Born on this day in Saint Petersburg, Russia, he revolutionized classical ballet by eliminating complex plots and emphasizing movements that expressed music.

Balanchine created more than 400 ballets and founded the New York City Ballet. His artistry and fresh approach helped popularize ballet in the United States. Balanchine worked with thousands of dancers and created more than 400 ballets.
Choreographers, Dance Legends, Ballet, Dance

Anna Pavlova

Arts Days: January 31, 1881: Turning Pointe in Ballet
After attending the classic ballet The Sleeping Beauty as a little girl, Anna Pavlova wanted nothing more than to be a ballerina.

At age ten, she was accepted to study at the renowned Imperial Ballet School in Saint Petersburg, Russia. For years, she struggled in training, finding basic ballet techniques difficult due to her arched feet and thin ankles—body parts ballet dancers rely on for balance and grace.

Nevertheless, Pavlova was determined to fulfill her dream, and so she enrolled in extra classes and practiced every day. Her hard work paid off, and when she graduated, she was invited to join the Imperial Ballet Company.

She is also credited for the design of the modern pointe shoe. To ease the stress on her curved feet, Pavlova strengthened her ballet slippers by adding a piece of hard wood on the soles for support and curving the box of the shoes to fit her arches.
Inventions, Dance Legends, Innovators & Pioneers, Ballet, Dance

Mikhail Baryshnikov

Arts Days: January 28, 1948: Ballet’s Leading Man
Mikhail Baryshnikov is often considered one of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century, known for his dynamic stage presence and effortless grasp of classical technique.

In 1974, after professional training and a promising start at the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad, he defected from the Soviet Union to seek artistic and personal freedom in the West. Baryshnikov made his Western debut with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) that same year, dancing in the classic ballet Giselle.

He stayed with ABT for four years before moving to the New York City Ballet, where he worked with choreographers George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. He returned to ABT in 1980 as principal dancer and artistic director, distinguished positions he held for almost a decade.

Since then, Baryshnikov has dabbled in acting in both film and television. In 2000, he was a Kennedy Center honoree.
Dance Legends, Ballet, Dance

Igor Stravinsky

Arts Days: June 17, 1882: Blazing Music's Trail
One of the greatest composers and conductors of 20th century music, Igor Stravinsky was urged by his parents to become a lawyer. But he was bitten by the musical bug as a child, attending concerts, learning to play piano, and most importantly, studying orchestration with his influential teacher, composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov.

At just 18, Stravinsky was hired to compose a score for the Ballets Russes. The Firebird, which met with critical and commercial success, was followed by more ballet scores, including Petrushka. His score for another ballet, The Rite of Spring, startled and even outraged listeners at its world premiere with its creative experimentation of chords and rhythms.

Stravinsky drew on Russian folk tunes in his works, but added elements that were completely his own, from new rhythmic patterns to polytonality, sounds that no one had ever heard before in symphonic music. Far ahead of his time, Stravinsky shook up people’s beliefs of what classical music was by reinventing modern music.
Ballet, Composers, Dance, Music, Music Legends, Orchestra

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