YVONNE MOUNSEY TO TAPE VIDEO SERIES FOR THE GEORGE BALANCHINE FOUNDATION
NEW YORK CITY - Yvonne Mounsey, a soloist, then principal dancer with New York City Ballet (1949-1958), will analyze the leading roles from Prodigal Son on camera for The George Balanchine Foundation's Interpreters Archive video series. The aim of the series is to document the viewpoints of dancers on whom Balanchine created his ballets, or important later interpreters of his great roles who were coached by him, by taping them in a rehearsal studio coaching and explicating their roles with dancers of today. Taping will take place October 19, 2008, in the studios of Ms. Mounsey's Westside School of Ballet, 1709 Stewart Street, Santa Monica, California.
Ms. Mounsey will work with Melissa Barak, a choreographer and former member of the New York City Ballet, who trained at the Westside School of Ballet, and Arsen Serobian, formerly of the Bolshoi Ballet and currently a guest artist with several American companies. Emily Hite, a dancer and dance journalist who has conducted an Oral History with Ms. Mounsey, will interview her about aspects of the taping session. Nancy Reynolds, the Foundation's Director of Research, will oversee the project.
Prodigal Son, with music by Prokofiev, book by Boris Kochno, and sets and costumes by Georges Rouault, was created in 1929 for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. It is the second oldest Balanchine ballet (after Apollo) still in active repertory. In 1950 Balanchine revived the ballet, not seen anywhere for over twenty years, for the New York City Ballet, with Maria Tallchief and Jerome Robbins as the Siren and the Prodigal. Yvonne Mounsey soon assumed the role of the Siren, performing it during the company's debut London season in 1950 and for several years thereafter. She was rehearsed not only by Balanchine but by the original Siren of 1929, Felia Doubrovska, a beloved instructor at Balanchine's School of American Ballet.
Ms. Mounsey recalls that "when Mr. Balanchine gave me the role of the Siren, he said to ask Mme. Doubrovska to coach me. I remember thinking, 'What an amazing privilege.' She would come to the performances and always came backstage to give me corrections and tips-'little more here . . . little less here . . . little softer.' It was a great gift, which I still cherish. I hope I can pass on at least a small part of what she taught me."
Ms. Reynolds observed, "Prodigal Son is unique in the Balanchine canon, not only because of its age but because of its Constructivist influences, not seen in any other surviving Balanchine ballet. With this taping, we are reaching far back into living history and to a whole other stylistic mindset. Revisiting this era will be fascinating."
Further information about the Video Archives can be found on the Foundation's Web site: www.balanchine.org.
YVONNE MOUNSEY, born in South Africa, studied with Igor Schwezoff, Olga Preobrajenska, and Lubov Egorova, and at the School of American Ballet in New York. In 1939 she joined Massine's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and later (1940-41) danced with de Basil's Original Ballet Russe, where (as Irina Zarova) she created a role in Balanchine's Balustrade. She had a company of her own in South Africa in the late 1940s, then joined New York City Ballet (1949-58) as soloist and later principal dancer. There she created roles in Balanchine's The Nutcracker and La Valse, Jerome Robbins's The Cage, Fanfare, and The Concert, and Frederick Ashton's Picnic at Tintagel. She was particularly praised for her interpretation of the Siren in Prodigal Son. In 1960 she co-founded the Johannesburg City Ballet, now PACT Ballet. In the late 1960s she settled in Los Angeles, where for four decades she has taught at her school, Westside School of Ballet, and has been artistic director of the affiliated company, Westside Ballet.
MELISSA BARAK trained with Yvonne Mounsey and Rosemary Valaire at Westside School of Ballet. She danced with New York City Ballet (1998-2007), appearing in featured roles in Cortège Hongrois, The Nutcracker (Chocolate, Coffee), A Midsummer Night's Dream (Helena), and Sleeping Beauty (Courage, Carabosse), among others. She now performs with Los Angeles Ballet, where she has appeared as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker and Polyhymnia in Balanchine's Apollo. Also active as a choreographer, her works include Telemann Overture Suite in E Minor, If by Chance (both New York City Ballet), and Lost in Translation (Los Angeles Ballet). New York City Ballet will premiere a new work by Barak in its upcoming winter season.
ARSEN SEROBIAN, born in Armenia, danced with the Bolshoi Ballet and Moscow Ballet Theatre before settling in America in 1997, where he has danced such leading roles as Spartacus, the Golden Slave (Scheherazade), Bluebird (Sleeping Beauty), and Conrad (Le Corsaire) with Indianapolis Ballet, Ohio Ballet, Oakland Ballet, and Media City Ballet, among several others. In 2005 he received a prestigious Lester Horton Award for Outstanding Achievement in Performance for his portrayal of Komitas in the Djanbazian Dance Company's critically acclaimed production of the full-length ballet Komitas: Kroong Bnaver. In 2006 he founded DanceChannelTV.com, an online network dedicated exclusively to dance.
EMILY HITE trained with Yvonne Mounsey at the Westside School of Ballet and danced professionally with the Sacramento Ballet. She studied dance history and criticism at Stanford, where she received her B.A. in art history. She is now a freelance writer based in San Francisco and contributes to several print and online publications, including In Dance and Voice of Dance.
NANCY REYNOLDS, Director of Research for the George Balanchine Foundation, conceived and continues to direct the Foundation's video archives program. She began her career as a dancer with the New York City Ballet and later became an author and editor. Her books include Repertory in Review and No Fixed Point: Dance in the Twentieth Century (with Malcolm McCormick).