"Dance and music, which are together like time and space, express our human emotions better than anything else. And I am very privileged to have a life in those arts...to be able to go to children and try to inspire them with the love of controlling how they move to express emotion." - Jacques d'Amboise
When Jacques d'Amboise took a group of dancers and members of his teaching staff to China, they worked with acclaimed dancer Dou Dou Huang and more than a hundred Chinese children. Their goal: to create a special performance using a variety of dance styles - including hip-hop, freestyle jazz and traditional Chinese folk dance - that would premiere at the Shanghai Grand Theatre in honor of the 2007 Shanghai Special Olympics World Games. Part of a month-long cultural exchange between d'Amboise's National Dance Institute and several Chinese troupes, featuring some of that country's most talented young dancers, the collaboration underscored the power of dance to transcend obstacles of culture and language.
Jacques D'Amboise In China: The Other Side of the World captures the excitement of the rehearsals and the final performance of the piece, entitled "Dancing into the Future," as the veteran dancer (who jokes that he's "a thousand years old") shepherds his charges with the help of translators, Dou Dou Huang and their staffs. The film juxtaposes rehearsal and opening-night footage to illustrate the remarkable evolution of the dances, despite a short rehearsal schedule and massive cast of performers.
Now in his 70s and as effervescent as ever, d'Amboise often conveys his vision through his own vigorous stage example, coddling and cajoling as necessary. Although he always pushes his dancers to excel and can become agitated when steps go awry, d'Amboise is quick to remind them to enjoy themselves.
Following several weeks of preparation and the usual last-minute technical glitches at dress rehearsal, d'Amboise and his dancers finally arrive at the opening performance of "Dancing into the Future." Then, the audience - and d'Amboise himself - can sit back and enjoy the pageantry and artistry of these remarkable artists. After an uptempo ensemble finale performed to "When the Saints Come Marching In," d'Amboise becomes emotional when addressing his troupe. "Now it's time to say goodbye, adieu, so long, zai jian," he says. "I always say that in the word of 'goodbye' in Chinese, there's a tear in the sound. I'm going to miss all of you."
Jacques d'Amboise began ballet training in Washington Heights, NY. At age eight, he began studying at the School of American Ballet with George Balanchine. At 12, he performed with Ballet Society, the predecessor to the New York City Ballet, which he joined three years later, and made his European debut at London's Covent Garden the next year. As Balanchine's protege, d'Amboise had more works choreographed specifically for him by the ballet master than any other dancer. D'Amboise also brought his dancing and acting talents to mainstream audiences with appearances in several film classics, including "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," "Carousel" and the adaptation of Balanchine's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
In 1976, while still a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, d'Amboise founded the National Dance Institute in the belief that the arts have a unique power to engage and motivate individuals towards excellence. A model program that exposes thousands of school children to the magic and discipline of dance, NDI strives to transcend barriers of language, culture and physical challenges. Over the years, NDI has reached more than two million children, and not one has ever paid a penny to participate.
Jacques d'Amboise was also seen in the 2007 CINEMAX documentary "Rehearsing a Dream," along with Michael Tilson Thomas, Vanessa Williams and others, instructing some of the country's most promising young creative artists. John G. Avildsen, one of the documentary's producers, is the Oscar®-winning director of "Rocky," as well as such hits as "The Karate Kid" and "Lean on Me."
Jacques D'Amboise In China: The Other Side of the World is directed by Anthony Avildsen; edited by Anthony Avildsen; consulting editor, Paula Heredia; Shanghai performance conceived and directed by Jacques d'Amboise and featuring Dai Dai Huang with Teachers, Alumni and dancers of the National Dance Institute, and organized and produced by Shirley Young, Chair US-China Cultural Institute, Cultural Associate of the Committee of 100, produced by John G. Avildsen, Lloyd Kaufman and Arnold Penner, in association with Shanghai Oriental Television Arts & Entertainment Channel.
Photography by Carolyn George d'Amboise