VIOLETTE VERDY and JEAN-PIERRE BONNEFOUX TO TAPE VIDEO SERIES FOR THE GEORGE BALANCHINE FOUNDATION
New York City — Violette Verdy and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux (formerly Bonnefous), former principal dancers with New York City Ballet, will teach and coach Sonatine for The George Balanchine Foundation's Interpreters Archive. The aim of the series is to document the insights of the originators of principal roles—those on whom Balanchine created his choreography--and to preserve and pass this knowledge on to the dancers, scholars, and historians of today. The taping session will take place on February 2, 2015, at the New York City Ballet studios in the Rose Building, Lincoln Center, New York.
Verdy and Bonnefoux will work with Ashley Laracey, soloist, and Chase Finlay, principal dancer, of the New York City Ballet, accompanied by Elaine Chelton, solo pianist of the New York City Ballet Orchestra. Dance writer Marina Harss will conduct an interview segment with the two coaches. The taping will be supervised by Nancy Reynolds, the Foundation's director of research, and Virginia Brooks, film professor emerita at Brooklyn College/CUNY.
Sonatine premiered May 15, 1975 (preview May 14) at the New York State Theater, the opening work of the New York City Ballet's Ravel Festival. A lifelong Francophile, Balanchine choreographed the work on his two French-born principal dancers, Verdy and Bonnefoux. Like so many of his works, this brief duet is unique in the Balanchine canon. He did nothing else like it. Delicate, contained, meditative, intimate, evanescent yet unexpectedly punctuated by robust solo dancing, it is a ballet about atmosphere and courtly behavior. Verdy saw in it a "suggestion of medieval manners, respectful, coded, asking permission for certain passages of partnering." She also spoke of the "'Frenchness' of the 'conversation'". Balanchine himself told former principal Heather Watts, when she was rehearsing the female role, "Don't worry, dear, if it's not perfect. Sonatine isn't a ballet. It's the perfume of Ravel."
Critic Nancy Goldner, citing its lack of pretention, found the ballet "delicious and skillful. All Sonatine is, is a stroll for two. Verdy walks on pointe. Bonnefous is her escort. Occasionally he turns her under his arm or skims her off the ground, so that her feet can prick the air as a continuum of the ground. What I admire most is Balanchine's decision and ability to sustain the small scale within a formal context" (The Nation, June 7, 1975).
Balanchine choreographed more than a dozen ballets to Ravel, starting in 1925 with L'Enfant et les Sortilèges for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, created soon after his arrival in the West from the Soviet Union. As he explained to dance historian Nancy Reynolds, "I met Ravel in Diaghilev's company; it was nothing unusual [because there were so many other noteworthy artists there as well]. I did not understand French. But I understood his music."
VIOLETTE VERDY began ballet training in her native France. After dancing with Roland Petit's Ballets des Champs-Elysées, London Festival Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre, she joined New York City Ballet in 1958. While there she danced more than 25 principal roles in a performance career that extended through 1976. In addition to Sonatine (partnered by Bonnefoux), Balanchine created roles for her in Episodes, Liebeslieder Walzer, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, "Emeralds" from Jewels, The Figure in the Carpet, La Source, and the Act II pas de deux from A Midsummer Night's Dream, among others. Jerome Robbins created roles for her in Dances at a Gathering, In the Night, and Beethoven Pas de Deux (again paired with Bonnefoux). Verdy also made guest appearances with major ballet companies in America and Europe.
After her retirement from performing, she became the first woman to be artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet and was later artistic director of the Boston Ballet. Verdy has been a guest teacher throughout the world and has been awarded many honors. Since 1996, she has been a Distinguished Professor of Ballet at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, Bloomington. She has participated in five earlier Balanchine Foundation Video Archives tapings, coaching her created roles in Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, "Emeralds" from Jewels, La Source, Liebeslieder Walzer, and the Act II pas de deux from A Midsummer Night's Dream.
JEAN-PIERRE BONNEFOUX (formerly BONNEFOUS), also from France, began his dance career with the Paris Opera Ballet and later performed with the Bolshoi and Kirov companies. In 1970 he joined New York City Ballet as principal dancer. During his tenure, Balanchine created roles for him in several ballets, including Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Cortège Hongrois, Sonatine ( partnering Verdy), and Union Jack; Jerome Robbins's choreography for him included Beethoven Pas de Deux (again dancing with Verdy) and An Evening's Waltzes. In 1977 Bonnefoux joined the faculty of the School of American Ballet.
Since his retirement from the stage in 1980, Bonnefoux has served as choreographer and ballet master for the Pittsburgh Ballet, as chairman and artistic director in the Ballet Department of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, and as choreographer and teacher at the company and school of the Chautauqua Institute in New York, where he remains on the faculty. Since 1996 he has been artistic director of the North Carolina Dance Theater, based in Charlotte, NC. His choreographic works include Carmina Burana, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, and Shindig. In 2014, the company was renamed Charlotte Ballet.
ASHLEY LARACEY, from Sarasota, Florida, began dance training at the age of five. After study at the Sarasota Ballet and the Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, she enrolled in the School of American Ballet in 2001. She became an apprentice with the New York City Ballet a year later and joined the company as a full member in 2003. She was promoted to soloist in 2013. Laracey has danced featured roles in Balanchine's Agon, Ballo della Regina, Coppélia (Spinner), The Four Temperaments, George Balanchine's The Nutcracker® (Sugar Plum Fairy, Dewdrop, Marzipan, Coffee, Flowers), A Midsummer Night's Dream (Hermia), Raymonda Variations, and Robert Schumann's 'Davidsbündlertänze', among others, and in works by Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins. Additionally, she was featured in the 2010 film adaptation of Robbins's N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz.
CHASE FINLAY began his dance training at the age of 8 at Ballet Academy East in New York City and later studied at the School of American Ballet. He became an apprentice with the New York City Ballet in 2008 and a full member in 2009. He was promoted to soloist in July 2011 and to principal in February 2013. In the Balanchine repertory, Finlay has performed featured roles in Apollo, Duo Concertant, Liebeslieder Walzer, Robert Schumann's 'Davidsbündlertänze', Stars and Stripes, and Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, among others. He has also performed featured roles in works by Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins among other choreographers. He was recipient of the Clive Barnes Award for dance in 2010.
MARINA HARSS is a dance writer based in New York City. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Playbill, Dance Magazine, Pointe, and the online dance journal DanceTabs.
NANCY REYNOLDS, a former dancer with New York City Ballet, has been director of research for The George Balanchine Foundation since 1994. She conceived and continues to direct the Video Archives program. Also an author, her most recent books are No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century (co-authored with Malcolm McCormick) and Remembering Lincoln.
VIRGINIA BROOKS, Professor Emerita of Film at Brooklyn College/CUNY, and director of several dance documentaries, has been editor of the Balanchine Foundation's Video Archives program since its inception in 1994.
The George Balanchine Foundation (www.balanchine.org) is a not for profit corporation established in 1983. Its mission is to create programs that educate the public and further Balanchine's work and aesthetic, with the goal of advancing high standards of excellence in dance and its allied arts. Among the Foundation's major initiatives are the Video Archives (https://balanchine.org/03/gbfvideoarchives.html), in which dancers who worked closely with Balanchine teach and coach their roles to the dancers of today (Interpreters Archive) or recreate Balanchine ballets that are rarely performed and in danger of disappearing (Archive of Lost Choreography). Legendary dancers who have taken part in this project include Alicia Markova, Maria Tallchief, Frederic Franklin, Alicia Alonso, Melissa Hayden, Allegra Kent, Todd Bolender, Merrill Ashley, Suzanne Farrell, Rosella Hightower, Marie-Jeanne, Violette Verdy, Edward Villella, Patricia Wilde, Yvonne Mounsey, and Helgi Tomasson, working with leading dancers from such companies as New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, among others.
In 2007 the Foundation announced the completion of another major initiative, the online publication of the Balanchine Catalogue, a fully searchable database giving first-performance details of all known dances created by Balanchine, supplemented by lists of companies staging the ballets, a bibliography, a videography, reference resources, a database of roles Balanchine performed, and additional related materials (https://balanchine.org/03/balanchinecataloguenew.html). The project was made possible by a leadership grant from The Jerome Robbins Foundation.