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Salute to Peter Boal

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Peter Boal (PB) interviewed by Anna Kisselgoff (AK).

AK asked how PB came to ballet. He replied that it was a family tradition, going back to his grandfather (who worked at the UN) and grandmother, down through his mother and father and to him and his sister. The family had a subscription for some years, until one subscription wasn't enough, and the children demanded subs of their own.

It was during the Villagers' dances in Coppelia when PB, at age 9, first felt the urge to "do that". His mother contacted NYCB: "My boy wants to dance." "Take him right to SAB!" they insisted.

After a year, Peter still was not a villager, and he told his mother that he wanted to quit. Nathalie Gleboff said, "That is not an option." PB says that second year at SAB was pivotal.

Asked to name his teachers, he said that the first year, he had Elise Reiman and Helene Dudin; the second year, Richard Rapp; third year, Jean-Pierre Bonnefous and Andrei Kramarevsky. He said Krammy's "fierce [which sounded at first like 'fear'] passion" was instilled in the boys.

We then saw clips of PB in SAB workshop performances: the Chinese variation from Far From Denmark (1982), portion of first movement of Western Symphony (with Beth Ferrell, 1983), and excerpt of pdd from Kermesse in Bruges (with Kelly Cass, 1983).

Peter recounted the strangeness of the day of the 1983 Workshop -- April 30. It was the day Balanchine died. He was already performing in Robbins' Mother Goose. He recalled the taxi ride down Broadway to State Theater that morning when he heard the news over 1010 WINS. He realized that the station announced the death was a measure of Mr. B's importance. At the stage door was a cluster of reporters. The mood at the theater was very glum. After his rehearsal, he crossed the plaza to SAB, where the students were giddy and excited, anticipating of that evening's workshop. It was a strange contrast of mood.

AK: Working with Balanchine?

PB: In December '82, Zippora Karz suggested to Peter that they go visit Balanchine at the hospital. They arrived, finding Karin von Aroldingen there. Expecting to stay for only 10 minutes, they ended up there for an hour -- every time they started to leave, Balanchine would insist that they stay. After that visit, Balanchine's condition deteriorated rapidly, so they never returned.

PB also recalled some Nutcracker experiences. The first year, he was the son who didn't want to leave. Larry Matthews was his father, and in a rehearsal, Balanchine corrected the way he picked up the boy, instructing PB to kick and punch him as hard as he could. He did. After his prince years, he became the bed boy. "I'm from the rugged days," he boasted, when they gave you knee pads and threw you down under the bed. Once down there, you were pretty much on your own. These days, the bed boys wear headsets.

AK: Divertimento from Le Baiser de la Fee?

PB: Lucky. Helgi had worked with PB in the '82 and '83 workshops. During that time, HT had noticed the small PB in the classes surrounded by tall girls. He took him aside and gave him lessons on how to partner bigger girls. Baiser was brought back to the rep for Helgi's final season, and with 4 other guys, PB was given the oppty to learn the role from its originator.

Prodigal Son?

PB: Had been doing technical roles, but was attracted to Prodigal for an opportunity to connect in another way across the footlights. Whenever he had the chance, he'd sit in the first five rows of the orchestra to watch it. One day when he was starting to rehearse it, Jerry Robbins came into the studio and pulled Peter Martins aside. PB said they huddled together, then both looked at him, then laughed, then looked at him. Finally, Robbins took PB into a studio and worked with him one on one. PB says he remembers everything Jerry told him about the solos.

Among the qualities that attracted PB to NYCB was its individuality. It offered more than technique -- am opportunity to fulfill intellectual and spiritual needs.

He took six months off and worked with Ballet du Nord, where he danced the Poet in La Sonnambula, a role with no steps, just acting.

AK: Maybe it doesn't have many classical steps, but when the poet desperately bends back to encircle the sleepwalker, that is a dance moment. Everything is communicated through the movement.

PB: It was easier when his back was flexible. Now, it's stiff. (His claim, not mine.)

AK: His own company?

PB: Blame Peter Martins, who recommended he do something to learn how to think like a director. The Joyce Theater was then producing programs of all new works (which it no longer does -- one of you guys will remember the program's name). Part of that undertaking was the Joyce staff teaching dancers how to run a company, raise funds, assemble press kits -- all the business details. He put together a program of three solos -- could only afford one dancer. As a result of that first effort (solos by Wendy Perron, Molissa Fenley and one other ????), Ella Baff invited him to bring a company of four dancers to Jacob's Pillow. This time involved ballet mastering.

AK: Ever choreographed?

PB: Twice. Once for SAB, once for NYCB, never produced. Better left in the studio, he said. Then he started teaching, which he really loved.

More clips: excerpt from Red Angels, Duo Concertant, LaSonnambula (pdd -- coaching session with Allegra Kent and Janie Taylor), The Man and the Echo (solo by Wendy Perron to music by John Lurie).

PB: Ulysses Dove was invited to choreograph for first Diamond Project, but declined initially, because he'd had a bad experience at ABT. Martins persisted, Dove relented, conditional on his being allowed to work with principal dancers. PB was running late to class the day Dove came to observe. Martins asked which dancers he wanted to use. Dove said he liked that fellow who came running in late, but he's not a principal dancer. Martins said he is. That was how PB was selected. He noted Dove's "fire and energy," which fed the dancers. Dove later did a second ballet for NYCB, Twilight, when he was in the end stages of AIDS. He died the day after the premiere, an indication, said PB, of how dance can give life.

AK: Do dancers need new choreography?

PB: Yes. Even when the results aren't great, working in a studio with a choreographer is rewarding.

PB started teaching when Kay Mazzo and Stanley Williams called him. He now teaches 10 classes a week -- the boy's classes formerly conducted by Richard Rapp and a class of girls once a week. He stressed the importance, when dancing Balanchine, of keeping one's weight well over the front of the foot -- facilitates speed and ability to move in any direction.

In Seattle, he will head the PNB school as well as the company, so he is reviewing syllabuses of Antonia Tumkovsky and Helene Dudin for the 8-year-olds.

He has programmed the 19 ballets for his first season. He knows he can't maintain the company as a museum but intends to move forward slowly and cautiously. Repertoire for the first season includes company premieres of Red Angels, Ancient Airs and Dances (Tanner), the full Jewels, La Valse, Concerto Barocco, In the Night, Nine Sinatra Songs, and commissions by Gecka (sp?) and duMesne. He stressed the need to be very selective.

PB was original cast of both ballets Twyla Tharp did at NYCB. When he was preparing a program for the Joyce, he hoped to get her Pergolesi, a solo done on Baryshnikov. Multiple pleas were refused, until finally Tharp agreed to discuss it over lunch. Peter arrived at the house and was handed a glass "with green things in it" by the cook, who said, "These are your vegetables." Then, for a main course, sea scallops. Confiding to the audience, "Now, I've never liked sea scallops," Boal related feeling he had to eat them in order to get Tharp to accede to letting him dance the solo. He was very sick afterwards, but he got the piece, and it was worth it. Still, he will never eat sea scallops again.

All three of his children study dance -- with no prompting from either parent. His daughter will take classes at the PNB school this summer.

Questions from the audience:

Any roles remaining on your wish list?

Liebeslieder. He learned the role of "McBride's" partner five or six years ago, but a fractured toe just before his planned debut derailed it, and he never has danced it.

Has he ever studied modern?

No. He has worked with modern choreographers Wendy Perron and Molissa Fenley, but never studied modern technique.

Indecipherable notes including "Allegra (said no) . . . . Monique (said no) solo" If anyone recalls this part, pls elaborate. This may be when he noted that many of his roles haven't involved partnering: Melancholic instead of Sanguinic, Agon's pas de trois instead of pas de deux, Oberon.

He remember learning Chaconne, watching videos of Martins over and over and over, not understanding what to do with it. It was watching Ib Andersen in the role that he found a way to make it work for him.

Having a reputation for ambidexterity, how did he achieve it? Need to please. If a teacher said to do 6 pirouettes to the left, he would do 6 pirouettes. He conceded that he does things equally well to the left and right, but noted that "I can do 6 pirouettes to the left and 6 to the right, but most people [you can assume he means of a very select subset] can do eight to the right and two to the left." [He also neglected to compare the quality of his against that of "most people's".]

Some favorite partners?

Judy Fugate took him under her wing and was very nurturing. He admired her dancing but also how she worked. She was very good at showing him partnering, then laughed, "She showed me how to make her look good."

He also cited Wendy Whelan, who is exceptional as a human being, not only as legs and feet. Wherever she goes, she connects with people -- knows the whole theater staff, and always respects them.

What does he want for himself from PNB?

Never thought in those terms, but rather "what can I give?"

When asked at what point he felt confident as a partner, he quickly turned the subject to Jock Soto and Jared Angle . . . "born partners." He said that when he's partnering and something goes a little wrong, and he fixes it before it becomes a problem, that's good partnering. With Jock, nothing ever goes a little wrong, because he sees it before it happens, and that's great partnering. He knew he had to become a good partner, or else his whole career would be the Harlequin. (I assumed he meant the Sonnambula, not the Harlequinade, Harlequin.)

Seattle, you're getting a wonderful new resident. A real class act. Treat him well.

I hope some who attended (I know you're out there!) will amplify, clarify and correct this account.

:wink: Whew! :yawn:

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What a GREAT report!!!!! (Kvell!!!!)

How sweet that he partnered his future wife at the SAB performing Bournonville.

I'm so glad he is managing the school, too. What an amazing role model he'll be for the boys, and I hope he's able to tap talented dancers who have the potential to be good teachers, the way he was recruited by Mazzo and Williams.

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:wink: so much, carbro! Let's see, am I more grateful that you went to all that trouble than I am jealous that you could see those clips, or is it the other way around? I'm not telling!

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:wink: WOW! This was wonderful Carbro. You are super to report all of this and it was a fantastic read. Have always admired PB and hope that he continues to grow and give more joy to the ballet world as AD of PNB as he has done as an artist at NYCB. Such a beautiful revealing interview.....so do you have the clips? :grinning-smiley-001:

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I realize it'a a bit early, but can I nominate Carbro's reporting of this interview  :wink: for Ballet Talk's "Best of" 2005?  :toot:


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Minor corrections. Peter mentioned that Francia Russell told him she modeled the PNB School syllabus for eight-year-olds on the teachings of Tumkovsky and Dudin, and therefore it would be familiar to him. La Valse, Concerto Barocco and Rubies are already in PNB's rep. New ballets are commissioned for next season from Marco Goecke and Dominique Dumais.

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Adding my thanks to the rest here -- it's tough to transcribe that kind of interview.

Some very nice anecdotes. We've had a little Bournonville here in Seattle. Perhaps we will get more.

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Doug, thanks so much for the corrections.

Glad you enjoyed, Sandi. If you get a little Bournonville, I'll be more than a little envious.

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I realize it'a a bit early, but can I nominate Carbro's reporting of this interview  :unsure: for Ballet Talk's "Best of" 2005?  :thanks:

Yes, yes: Cabro, Plie, and we will throw rosebuds to your wonderful self. Thanks, JIm

We all move on, eh?

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I'll add to the thanks and kudos...

Thanks, carbro! Great job! I couldn't get out of work early enough to make the seminar, so I am so grateful that you took notes and posted them!


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