Jacques d’Amboise, who broke stereotypes about male dancers while helping to promote ballet in America and became one of the most prominent male stars in New York Ballet, died Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 86 years old.
His daughter, actress and dancer Charlotte d’Amboise, said the cause was complications from a stroke.
Mr. d’Amboise embodies the ideal of an all-American style, which combines the casual elegance of Fred Astaire with the classics of the noble dancer. He was the first male star to graduate from the City Ballet-affiliated American Ballet School, joining the company̵
He had 24 choreographed roles for him and became the most important interpreter of the lead role in George Balanchine’s Apollo seminar before retiring from the company in 1984, a few months shy of his 50th birthday. He also choreographed 17 works for City Ballet, as well as many plays for students at the National Dance Institute, a program he founded and directed.
Mr. d’Amboise’s energy, athleticism, infectious smile (which critics Arlene Croce once likened to the Cheshire Cat) and the call of the boy next door attracted him to the audience and increased the ballet’s appeal to boys in the world of bundles and pink shoes.
He also helped bring ballet to a wider audience by dancing on Ed Sullivan’s show (then called “Toast of the Town”), playing important roles in several film musicals from the 1950s, including “Seven Brides for Seven brothers “and” Carousel “, and performed in attractive ballets” Americana “, such as” Gas Station “by Liu Christensen and” Who cares? “by Balanchine. He also directed, choreographed and wrote a number of dance films in the early 80’s. .
Although Mr. d’Amboise was never considered a virtuoso dancer, his repertoire was demanding and extremely wide, ranging from the princely Apollo to the incredible head cowboy of Balanchine’s Western Symphony. He was one of the company’s best partners, a cavalier of ballerinas Maria Talchif, Melissa Hayden, Allegra Kent and Susanna Farrell, among many others.
Mr. d’Amboise, Clive Barnes wrote in The New York Times in 1976, “he’s not just a dancer, he’s an institution.”
Mr. d’Amboise was amazed when Balanchine invited him to join the City Ballet in 1949, a year after the company began its first season. He was 15 years old. “I can’t do it, I have to finish school,” he recalls, thinking in his autobiography, I Was a Dancer (2011). His father advised him to become a stage worker, but his mother was delighted with the idea and Mr d’Amboise left school to dance professionally, as did his sister Madeleine, known professionally as Ninette d’Amboise.
Although Balanchine was generally more interested in creating roles for his dancers than in his male performers, Mr. d’Amboise identified himself with many of the key roles that Balanchine created in ballets such as The Western Symphony (1954). , “Stars and Stripes” (1958), “Jewelry” (1967), “Who Cares” (1970) and “Davidsbundlertanze by Robert Schumann” (1980). Early in his career, he also created roles in ballets by John Cranco and Frederick Ashton and won praise for them. (“Balanchine was eaten” for the Cranco Commission, he wrote in his autobiography.)
In an interview for 2018, City Ballet dancer Adrian Danchig-Waring described the qualities that Mr. d’Amboise had embodied as a dancer: “There is this machismo that is sometimes required on stage – this bravado, this waving, this confidence and we all have to learn to cultivate this, and yet it is such a huge canon of work. There are poets, dreamers and animals in this. Jacques reminds us that all this can be contained in one body. “
Mr. d’Amboise was born to Joseph Jocques Ahearn on July 28, 1934 in Dedham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, in the name of Andrew and Georgiana (d’Amboise) Ahearn. His father’s parents were immigrants from Galway, Ireland; his mother is a French Canadian. In search of work, his parents moved the family to New York, where his father found work as an elevator operator at Presbyterian Hospital Columbia. The family settled in Washington Heights, Upper Manhattan. To keep Jacques, as he was known, off the street, his mother enrolled him at the age of 7 and his sister Madeleine in Madame Seda’s ballet classes on 181st Street.
Six months later, the brothers and sisters moved to the American Ballet School, founded in 1934 by Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein. Energetic and athletic, Jacques immediately took on the physical challenges of ballet, and less than a year later was chosen by Balanchine for Puck’s role in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
In his autobiography, he writes about how his mother’s decision changed his life: “What an unusual thing for a street boy with friends in gangs. Half grew up to be cops and the other half became gangsters – and I became a ballet dancer! “
In 1946, his mother persuaded his father to change his surname from Ahearn to d’Amboise. Her explanation, Mr. d’Amboise wrote in “I was a dancer,” was that the name was aristocratic and French and “sounds better for ballet.”
After joining the City Ballet, Mr. d’Amboise soon danced solo roles, including the lead role in Liu Christensen’s “Filling Station,” which led to an invitation from director Stanley Donen to join the cast of “Seven Brides for seven brothers ”(1954).
In 1956, he married City Ballet soloist Carolyn George, who died in 2009. In addition to his daughter Charlotte, he is survived by their two sons, George and Christopher, a choreographer and former lead ballet dancer for the City Ballet; another daughter, Catherine d’Amboise (she and Charlotte are twins); and six grandchildren. Two brothers and his sister died before him.
Mr. d’Amboise appeared in two 1956 films, The Carousel, co-starring Gordon McRae and Shirley Jones and Michael Curtis, The Best Things in Life. But he remained engaged in ballet and Balanchine.
“People said, ‘You could be the next Jean Kelly,'” Mr. d’Amboise told The Los Angeles Times in 2011. “I didn’t know if I could act, but I knew I could be a great ballerina and Balanchine. put the carpet on me. “
His faith was rewarded when in 1957 Balanchine revived his Apollo, the ballet that marked his first collaboration with Igor Stravinsky in 1928, and put Mr. d’Amboise in the lead role. For this production, Balanchine took off the original intricate suit, dressed Mr. d’Amboise in tights and plain fabric slung over one shoulder.
It was a turning point in his career; dancing, Mr. d’Amboise writes, “it became so much more interesting, an odyssey to excellence.” He said the role was also his history, as Balanchine had explained to him: “A wild, untamed young man learns nobility through art.”
For the next 27 years, Mr. d’Amboise continued to be a staunch member of the City Ballet, creating roles and participating in some of Balanchine’s most important ballets, including Baroque Concerto, Meditation, Violin Concerto and Movements ”for piano and violin. “
Encouraged by Balanchine, he also choreographs regularly for the company, although reviews of his work are mostly lukewarm. He wrote in his autobiography that both Balanchine and Kirstein had assured him that one day he would lead the City Ballet, but Peter Martins and Jerome Robbins took over the company after Balanchine’s death in 1983.
Mr. d’Amboise seems to come to terms with this result: He retired from the performance the following year and turned his attention to the National Dance Institute, which accepted dance in public schools and which he founded in 1976.
The institute grew out of Saturday morning ballet lessons for boys, which Mr. d’Amboise began teaching in 1964, motivated by his two sons’ desire to learn to dance without being the only boys in the class. Classes have expanded to include girls and moved to many public schools.
Now the goal is to offer free classes to everyone, regardless of the child’s background or abilities. Today, the institute educates thousands of New York children between the ages of 9 and 14 and is affiliated with 13 dance institutes around the world. The institute, based in Harlem, where Mr. d’Amboise lived, is profiled in Emil Ardolino’s 1983 Oscar-winning documentary “It Makes Me Feel Like Danzig.”
“This second chapter has brought something more fulfilling than my career as an individual performer,” Mr. d’Amboise wrote in his autobiography. Telling the story of a little boy who, after many attempts, managed to master a dance sequence, he wrote: “He was about to discover that he could take control of his body and from there he could learn to control his life. “
For his contributions to art education, Mr. d’Amboise received the MacArthur 1990 Fellowship, the Kennedy Award in 1995, and the Governor’s Award of New York, among many other awards.
He continued to think of himself as a dancer all his life, but he was also an ardent New Yorker. Asked in a 2018 article in the Times where he would like his dust to be scattered, he replied: “Scatter me in Times Square or the Belasco Theater.”