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Albert Evans, trailblazing New York City Ballet dancer, dies at 46

Albert Evans in “The Four Temperaments” at his farewell performance in 2010. (credit: Paul Kolnik/New York City Ballet)

The New York City Ballet is reeling from the untimely death of one of its stars: Albert Evans, 46, a retired principal dancer and a current ballet master. Evans, tall and dignified with a playful streak, was one of the highest-profile African American ballet dancers. He was the second black principal dancer at NYCB, following in the footsteps of Arthur Mitchell, who made his NYCB debut in 1955.

“All of us at New York City Ballet are heartbroken by Albert’s passing,” said NYCB’s Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins.  “There was simply no one else like him.  He was an absolute joy, beloved by dancers, staff and audiences members alike. The company will never be the same without him.”

Evans died Monday night at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital following a short illness, said Rob Daniels, a spokesman for the ballet company. Evans’ family has not disclosed a cause of death, Daniels said, and he did not have details on the nature of the illness.

Evans, who grew up in Atlanta, had retired from dancing in 2010, and with his brilliant memory for steps and lighthearted spirit, he became a well-matched assistant to the company’s young resident choreographer Justin Peck. Evans appeared in the recent acclaimed documentary on Peck, “Ballet 422.” 

After Evans’ death, Peck posted a photo of his friend on Instagram, showing Evans flashing a luminous smile while kicking a leg high, “making some of the dancers laugh (a usual occurrence),” Peck noted. He also wrote: “Albert always brought warmth, hospitality, enthusiasm, humor to any situation. This loss feels particularly surreal and jarring to me, being as Albert was a close collaborator on all the ballets I’ve made at New York City Ballet. He had an ability to balance out the room and had an eye for detail like no other.”

Evans attended the School of American Ballet on a full scholarship. He joined NYCB in 1988 and even as a corps de ballet dancer he danced leading parts. He performed in many works by Balanchine, and choreographers such as Martins, Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon, Susan Stroman and many others created roles for him, which frequently highlighted his mix of antic grace and warm attentiveness.

The Washington Ballet also benefited from Evans’ generous spirit: He choreographed an energetic work called “Seego” for that company in 2004. He also appeared as a guest star with the Washington Ballet in 2001, commanding the “Phlegmatic” variation in Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments” with an intriguing sense of mystery.

NYCB dancers are on vacation this week, but social media sites were filled with tributes to a much-loved colleague. “Truly devastating,” wrote NYCB ballerina Ashley Bouder on Twitter. “What a beautiful angel.”