Jacques d'Amboise, the senior male star of the New York City Ballet, who has a Paristian's face and name and a New Yorker's street-wise voice and manner, said he is glad to be returning to Washington.
He loves the city, which he believes "has been transformed" by the Kennedy Center. "When I used to dance in the 'Nutcracker' on the stage of the old Capitol Theater," d'Amboise said last week, "there was nothing else in town." Now, he looks forward to the Kennedy Center, the new National Gallery East Building, the National Air and Space Museum and the Metro system, among other things.
Abroad for the NYCB's first London engagement since 1965, d'Amboise talked of his long career in ballet, from the early days with Balanchine to the Bolshoi defections. D'Amboise said he had been drinking in New York with Russian ballet star Alexander Godunov the day before Godunov defected from the Bolshoi Ballet.
I introduced him to tequila," d'Ambrose said. "I bought him a margarita, which he said tasted like lemonade. So I got him a glass of straight tequila. He drank it, smiled and said, 'Vodka.'"
"He kept asking me questions about America, and I told him he sounded like someone who was thinking of defecting. He laughed and said he couldn't because he had to dance the next night. But instead he defected."
D'Amboise, now 45, turned 16 while he and George Balanchine's infant ballet company made their European debuts here in 1950.
"I remember it was, seven-week tour and sometimes the house was half empty," said d'Ambotse. "But by the end, they loved us in London and that trip made our reputation back in New York."
During the past month, the NYCB, its company now swelled to 101 dancers, played three weeks here. After surprisingly cool early reviews from the London dance critics -- and characteristically reserved applause from audiences at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden -- the company again won over all but the most unyieldingly loyal adherents of the Royal Ballet's more theatrical and less abstract style.
The Financial Times said simply that "the New York City Ballet showed itself a peerless ensemble." The Guardian concluded that Balanchine's company "has totally revitalized the London ballet scene" by "showing us a way of dancing that is totally unlike that of our Royal Ballet. Their style is different, more lyrical and more versatile than that of the New York City Ballet. But the Royals do lack the dynamism and attack that infect these dancers trained mostly in the school of American ballet and then set dancing by Balanchine in such a demanding way."
The popular favorite in Balanchine's star-filled "no-star" company was of course Mikhail Baryshnikov, who returns to Washington this week for the first time as a member of the NYCB. He danced almost every night here in relatively brief showpiece appearances. His short, dazzling displays of athletic power and technical perfection invariably left the audience hungry for more.
The critics particularly praised Peter Martins, the blonde outsized Dane who appears to be Michelangelo's David in motion, and the more compact and versatile Bart Book, as well as a long list of Balanchine's characteristically long-limbed and highly individualistic women, including Suzanne Farrell, Merrill Ashly and youngster Kyra Nichols.
D'Amboise, who will celebrate his 30th anniversary with NYCB this autumn, is now limited to physically less demanding roles.
At his peak as Balanchine's premier male dancer, he could perform every role in the company's repertoire, including a large number that Balanchine created for him. He was known for dramatic leaps and high turns in the air that he can no longer make his 45-year-old body perform. But he does not want to follow former NYCB star Edward Villella, whose knees gave way, off the dance floor.
"I hope to keep dancing until I'm old enough to play the old man in the 'Nutcracker' with some of my grandchildren," said d'Amboise, who has bright brown eyes, black hair and distinctively high cheekbones.
"I think I can keep dancing, but I can't do as much. It's like a king who now has to become the court jester. But I don't mind because I had never been the jester before, and it's something new."
His 19-year-old son Christopher is already a promising member of the New York City Ballet and has played some principal roles. D'Amboise's ash-blond, sharp-featured wife, Carolyn George, who danced here with the company in 1952, is now one of its photographers. She also teaches ballet in a studio in their Manhattan brownstone near the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
D'Amboise is an engagingly gregarious man with ideas and strong opinions about almost everything. He thinks dance criticism is impossible because no two performances are ever alike. He is, of course, an ardent and still somewhat awed admirer of Balanchine, who has written popular Viennese waltz music, some of it with lyrics. D'Amboise hopes his 15-year-old daughter, Charlotte, who wants to be a professional singer, can perform one of Balanchine's waltz songs some day.
D'Amboise, who himself started dance instruction at the age of 8, has founded the National Dance Institute to bring ballet instruction to ordinary schoolboys and convince them that it is an exciting athletic experience, like football or basketball. He and three instructors teach hundreds of boys throughout New York City, including tough neighborhoods like Bedford Stuyvesant.
He has found it less rewarding to be dean of dance at the State University of New York at Purchase, in charge of establishing a professional dance curriculum. He finds the bureaucracy too inflexible, and has come to doubt that dance can thrive in the never-never world of academia.
"The arts should not be part of a university community," he said, "because they are alive and a university is a secluded place where people withdraw from the living world for reflection."