Ballet’s Jacques Revisted

The subject of Jacques D’Amboise* came up over dinner with friends at a little French restaurant in Kansas City. I was eating moules mariniére–my favorite– and sipping a Vouvray. The woman had just told a story about how the famous ballet dancer had flown to KC to speak at the funeral of Todd Bolender who, towards the end of his ballet career became artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet.

As I leaned forward to tilt the juices from the shell into my mouth, two visions of Jacques popped into my head: one, a photo card from my youth of the young dancer jumping effortlessly into space; the other, the dancer in person at a luncheon table for six honoring the memory of my aunt. This aging dancer shows up for the funerals of his friends.

I had no idea at that point that this Jacques was The Jacques. I just knew this graceful man was mesmerizing. On this day he was a verbal entertainer. He recited Russian poetry softly, simply, beautifully. When it became so important to him to communicate a particular poem, he suddenly left the table to fetch copies from his car for his luncheon friends.

Grace sometimes appears like that. Here is the poem the poem Jacques D’Amboise wanted his friends to keep:

The Happy Virus

I caught the happy virus last night
When I was out singing beneath the stars.
It is remarkably contagious–
So kiss me.

*JACQUES D’AMBOISE joined George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in 1942 and by age seventeen became a principal dancer with New York City Ballet. In 1976, while still with the City Ballet, he founded the National Dance Institute, a program that has introduced nearly two million children throughout the country to the arts through dance. For his extraordinary contribution to arts education for young people, D’Amboise has received numerous honors including a 1990 MacArthur Fellowship.