BARBARA WALCZAK COACHES THE GAILLIARD FROM AGON AND EXCERPTS FROM BOURRĖE FANTASQUE AND SYMPHONY IN C FOR THE GEORGE BALANCHINE FOUNDATION VIDEO ARCHIVES
New York City: On May 16, 2022, in the New York City Ballet studios of the Rose Building at Lincoln Center, former NYCB soloist Barbara Walczak was recorded coaching the Gailliard of the First Pas de Trois from Agon, measures choreographed on her, as well as excerpts from two ballets important in her career, the third movements of Balanchine’s Symphony in C and Bourrée Fantasque. She worked with NYCB artists India Bradley, Alexa Maxwell, and Chun Wai Chan. The recording was supervised by Archives Director Paul Boos, assisted by the Foundation’s Director of Research Nancy Reynolds. NYCB solo pianist Nancy McDill accompanied the coaching.
In his review of Agon, noted critic Edwin Denby called the Gailliard “a girls’ duet in the air, like flying twins.” Some years after the ballet’s premiere in 1957, Balanchine largely rechoreographed this section and the original choreography was considered lost, but a recently rediscovered early Labanotation score has allowed notators Ambre Emory-Maier, Mara Frazier, and Valarie Williams of Ohio State University to “embody in movement” the written score, which was then taught Ms. Bradley and Maxwell and coached by Ms. Walczak. In view of the special nature of its content, the resulting video, when edited, will become the latest addition to the Balanchine Foundation’s Archive of Lost Choreography.
Ms. Walczak’s roles in two other Balanchine ballets were apt vehicles for displaying her strength in forceful allegro movement. In the “Fête Polonaise” section of Bourrée Fantasque, coached on Maxwell and Chan, daredevil throws and catches for the principals are a feature. The ebullient scherzo (3rd movement) section of Balanchine’s ever-popular and challenging Symphony in C, coached on Bradley
and Chan, matches the male and female principals, smilingly but almost competitively, in a tireless series of large leaps, testing the stamina of its executants in the extreme. At the end of the coaching session, Ms. Walczak was interviewed by Francia Russell, a fellow NYCB soloist and participant in early Agon performances and later an Artistic Director of Pacific Northwest Ballet. Among other topics, their discussion clarified choreographic features no longer seen in current productions of the ballets.
In common with its previous operations during the Covid era, the George Balanchine Foundation observed the strict safety precautions mandated by the use of the NYCB studios. In the present instance, due to her increased age-related vulnerability, Ms. Walczak conducted the coaching sessions of dancers in the studio remotely. Ms. Russell’s interview also took place on zoom. This marked the Archives’ first use of this technology, which required increased manpower for two locations instead of one as well as a greater financial commitment than usual.
The GBF Video Archives document the insights of dancers, often principals from original casts or those who worked closely with Balanchine. The Archives’ mission is to preserve this knowledge and pass it on to today’s dancers, scholars, and audiences. The Archives are available worldwide through public and university libraries as well as to qualified non-profit institutions by subscription through Alexander Street Press. In addition, the interview components can be accessed on the Balanchine Foundation’s You Tube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/blnchn).
BARBARA WALCZAK is a New York City native. She studied at the School of American Ballet (SAB), appeared with NYCB’s precursor Ballet Society, and soon after danced in NYCB’s 1948 inaugural season. Promoted to soloist, her many featured roles included those in Scotch Symphony, Roma, Pas de Dix, and Western Symphony. In 1960 she retired from dancing to teach ballet. Ms. Walczak and the late Una Kai, a former NYCB dancer and ballet mistress, co-authored Balanchine the Teacher: Fundamentals That Shaped the First Generation of New York City Ballet, published in 2008. Ms. Walczak has cataloged the classes of SAB teachers Felia Doubrovska, Anatole Oboukov, Pierre Vladimirov, and Stanley Williams.
INDIA BRADLEY, a member of NYCB’s corps de ballet, has danced featured roles in works by Balanchine and originated leading roles in pieces by Silas Farley and Justin Peck. Hailing from Detroit, she attended the professional training program of the Dance Theatre of Harlem under the Direction of Andrea Long and joined NYCB in August 2018.
ALEXA MAXWELL, a member of NYCB’s corps de ballet, has danced featured roles in works by Balanchine, Robbins, Alexei Ratmansky, Justin Peck, and Peter Martins, and originated roles in works by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Troy Schumacher. Born in Minneapolis, she studied at the Minnesota Dance Theatre, where her teachers included Lise Houlton and former NYCB soloist Gloria Govrin. She later trained at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet under Marcia Wale Weary and joined NYCB in November 2013.
CHUN WAI CHAN joined NYCB as soloist in 2021 and has danced featured roles in works by Balanchine, Robbins, and Justin Peck. Born in Guangdong, China, he trained at the Guangzhou Art School and was a finalist at the Prix de Lausanne. He joined Houston Ballet in 2012 and was promoted to principal in 2017, dancing roles in works by Balanchine, Robbins, Jiri Kylian, John Cranko, and Justin Peck, among others. He appeared as Guest Principal Dancer with Hong Kong Ballet in 2018 and 2019.
FRANCIA RUSSELL, a former soloist and ballet master with NYCB, joined the company in 1956, leaving in 1961 to dance with Jerome Robbins’s Ballets: USA. In addition to her roles with NYCB, Russell was asked by Balanchine to teach at SAB. Ms. Russell and her husband, NYCB soloist Kent Stowell, left New York in 1975 to co-direct Frankfurt Ballet for two years, after which they accepted the position of Artistic Directors of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, where they oversaw the company and school until retiring at the end of the 2004/5 season. Ms. Russell has staged over 200 productions of Balanchine ballets globally and for PNB.
PAUL BOOS, Director of the Video Archives since 2021, is a former dancer with NYCB and répétiteur for the George Balanchine Trust. His work for the Trust has been presented at several theaters, including the Maryinsky, Bolshoi, Paris Opera, La Scala, and Pacific Northwest and Boston ballets.
NANCY REYNOLDS, a former dancer with NYCB, has been Director of Research for the George Balanchine Foundation since 1994, when she conceived the Video Archives program. Among her books are Repertory in Review: Forty Years of the New York City Ballet; No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century (co-authored with Malcolm McCormick); and Remembering Lincoln. In 2013 she received a “Bessie” award for “outstanding service to the field of dance.”
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, in which dancers who worked closely with Balanchine teach and coach their roles to the dancers of today (Interpreters Archive) or recreate sections of Balanchine ballets that are rarely performed or in danger of disappearing (Archive of Lost Choreography). Legendary dancers who have taken part in this project include Alicia Alonso, Jacques d’Amboise, Suzanne Farrell, Frederic Franklin, Melissa Hayden, Allegra Kent, Alicia Markova, Peter Martins, Patricia McBride, Maria Tallchief, Violette Verdy, Edward Villella, and others, working with 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. (https://balanchine.org/balanchine/03/gbfvideoarchives.html)
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/balanchine/03/balanchinecatalogue.html) The project was made possible by a leadership grant from The Jerome Robbins Foundation.