Jillana! I remember the first time I saw her name on a New York City Ballet poster and wondered, Who is this exotic creature with one name? This was WAAAAY before Cher or Madonna coined their own one-name celebrity status.
As a collector of early NYCB memorabilia, I followed her name through foreign tours, premieres, New York seasons and books written about the period. Finally, years later, I met her here in Boise when she came to audition for her summer intensive. That was a great honor and she turned out to be as wonderful and interesting as I imagined. What’s more, she honored us by choosing 5 of our Ballet Idaho Academy students for her summer course.
My road trip to New Mexico this summer included a 3-day visit to Jillana’s School in the Taos Ski Valley. I wanted to see how our girls were doing and to observe first-hand Jillana’s teaching methods and the performance she planned for her students. It was a great thrill to see her classes; the purity and deceptively simple Balanchine style is like fresh spring water for the students. Very simple exercises, focused to get the most from each muscle, graded to increase clarity and musicality, strength-building, rewarding. The students faces tell it all.
But the real revelation was the performance. Instead of cuteness and over-rehearsed “routines” it was a very focused and quite difficult showing of just how much the students learned this summer. Amazing! Classical variations, Balanchine variations, beautifully modulated ballet works, modern dance works and a wonderful excerpt from Serenade one of Balanchine’s most beautiful ballets. The girls looked fabulous! Each and every one of them made huge strides forward. Especially rewarding was to see Marianne and Sarah Meyers in Serenade — they looked beautiful as any Balanchine dancers! And Julia Dunlop scored a personal triumph in both Serenade and part of the Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux Variation. DJ Massingale did wonderfully in the Songbird Fairy variation from Sleeping Beauty and — somehow, I don’t know how! — Jillana’s faculty created a moment of surprising comedy and hilarious theatricality for Cristina Zimmerman! How did they tap her personality so quickly?
All in all, a great trip! The scenery of northern New Mexico and southern Utah had nothing on the spectacular sight of our Ballet Idaho students working with Jillana. It was a fantastic experience seeing their hard work turned into such beauty!
Peter Anastos