Every discipline, industry and art form has its hidden heroes, clandestine deities much honored in their own sphere, but largely unknown outside their particular realm. Such a man is Jacques d'Amboise, a MacArthur "genius grant" recipient and legend to both ballet audiences and arts educators. Following more than two decades with the New York City Ballet and appearances in Hollywood films such as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and Carousel (1956), he founded the National Dance Institute in 1976 with the purpose of introducing New York schoolchildren to the power of dance and music. The influence of his work has spread throughout the globe, with 11 affiliated schools in the United States and institutions as far-flung as Madras, India. During this last weekend, d'Amboise visited Boise in support of TRICA, offering both a community dance class and choreographing a work for TRICA's Leap Troupe.
At 75 years of age, d'Amboise still has the energy and enthusiasm to match his young pupils. Using colorful metaphors—referring to tambourine bangles as "rotating binary stars"—and peppering his morning class with poems and reminiscences, as well as the occasional soft cuss, he had both the dancers and the gathered onlookers completely engaged. A firm believer that the arts should be taught by those practiced and disciplined in its craft, d'Amboise, assisted by TRICA artistic director Jon Swarthout, instructed the students in timing, direction and intention, all the while creating an environment of success and support, vital tenets of both NDI and TRICA missions. The best teachers, d'Amboise asserts, are not degreed individuals, but those who combine experience with a heart for encouraging artistic growth.
"I have no formal education," says d'Amboise, who dropped out of school at 15. "But I've got a lot of learning."
And apparently, d'Amboise can't help but create new teachers wherever he goes, asking one young dancer to take aside a struggling participant for some personal instruction. Her success upon returning was applauded and celebrated as the exchange of teacher and student found root in a new experience.
Saturday evening, d'Amboise shared stories and filmed snippets of his dancing days, including three appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. Likening the host to a stonefaced Easter Island statue, d'Amboise's genial insults toward the television legend and expressive eagerness—"Watch this lift!" he'd cry out mid-clip—created a charmingly informal evening, his hilarious tales underscored with poignant remembrances of colleagues and friends. Following his talk, the Leap Troupe performed his somber, newly created work "Radiation March," highlighting d'Amboise's belief that "if pollution grows, children won't." An exciting and emotional evening, d'Amboise's electric personality will long be appreciated by those lucky enough to have been in attendance.
On his first visit to the Boise area, d'Amboise was appreciative of the Treasure Valley community.
"There's a pride and participation here, but not an arrogance," he said. "It's like a scene from Norman Rockwell."