Jacques d’Amboise, who combined classical elegance with all-American verve and athleticism to become one of the top male dancers at the New York City Ballet, then spent more than four decades providing free dance education to countless youngsters through his National Dance Institute, has died aged 86.
His death was confirmed by Ellen Weinstein, director of the New York-based institute.
She said the dancer and teacher had died on Sunday at his New York City home from complications of a stroke. He was surrounded by his family.
Plucked for stardom at the New York City Ballet as a teenager by its legendary director, George Balanchine, d’Amboise performed with the company for about 35 years before retiring just before he turned 50.
His exuberant style and dashing looks drew interest in Hollywood, where he appeared in the movies Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Carousel, but his real love was for the ballet stage, where he was known for iconic roles such as Balanchine’s Apollo.
In an interview with The Associated Press in 2018, d’Amboise described the moment he decided to end his dance career in 1984.
“I was almost 50, there were only a few roles left that I could do,” he said. “I was waiting to go onstage and I suddenly thought: ‘I don’t want to go on.’ I danced, came off, took off my ballet shoes and quit.”
He had already long determined his next calling, founding the National Dance Institute in 1976. The joy he took in providing a dance education to children who might otherwise never have tried the art form was displayed in the Oscar-winning 1983 documentary He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’.
“Jacques was a life force,” said Weinstein, who worked with d’Amboise for about 40 years. “Jacques knew first-hand the joy and transformative power that the arts can bring to the lives of children, and he dedicated the last 45 years to ensuring that every child has access to quality arts education.”
The institute, which moved into its Harlem building in 2011, teaches thousands of students every year in schools, and says it has reached more than 2 million children across the globe.
Dance and stage legend Chita Rivera was one of many paying tribute on Monday to a man she first met when she was 16 at the School of American Ballet.
“I shall always remember his infectious smile and dedication to building more wonderful male dancers,” Rivera, 88, said in a statement. “He shared his love of dance by creating more. Jacques always had a brilliant light surrounding him.”
The institute said in a statement that d’Amboise’s work in arts education took him across the globe “from the extremes of Yakutsk, Siberia, to the Danakil Desert in Ethiopia, from ... the Dead Sea to the mountains of Nepal, and from the dryness of the Atacama Desert in Chile to rainforests on the island of Kauai in the Hawaiian chain.”
He is survived by four children — George, Christopher, Catherine and Charlotte — as well as six grandchildren.
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