Patricia McBride, 2014 Kennedy Center Honoree, is a legendary principal ballerina who studied under renowned choreographer George Balanchine. The critically-acclaimed dancer spent 28 years in the spotlight enrapturing audiences for New York City Ballet before retiring. Her lifelong devotion to the art continues to inspire dancers at all levels as Associate Artistic Director at Charlotte Ballet.
A dancer tells a silent story; using hands, feet, body and face to convey emotion. Thus, the highly-skilled art form is arguably one of the most intricately expressive. Without words to convey meaning, a dancer acts as a vessel to music and uses small nuances and sweeping motion to engage an audience. As the most skilled and graceful member in a company of dancers, becoming “principal” is a sought-after and fiercely-earned title, because the principal is the star.
Former Kennedy Center Honoree, the late George Balanchine, was one of the world’s premiere choreographers. Hailing from Russia, he co-founded two of America’s leading ballet institutions, School of American Ballet and New York City Ballet. When he accepted 14-year-old ballerina Patricia McBride into School of American Ballet on a scholarship, he found one of his brightest stars.
Patricia McBride started dancing as a young girl in New Jersey. By age 18, she became Balanchine’s youngest principal dancer and he began writing parts specifically for her. McBride put her implicit trust in Balanchine. She told PBS, “We would jump off a bridge. If he said to jump off that bridge, we’d all jump. Because we had so much trust in him.”
The Balanchine method of dance is rigorous and differs from classical ballet. Characteristics include extreme speed, precise musical timing, phrasing and syncopation. Every move is arguably bigger, with more depth and dimension. As such, his method defies boundaries and marries athleticism with grace.
As one of his star students, Patricia McBride put herself in Balanchine’s hands and immersed herself in her art. She magnificently embodied her master’s creative vision and danced for him to critical acclaim for 28 years. Some of her notable roles include Hermia in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Colombine in “Harlequinade” and Swanilda in “Copelia.”
Ballet is often a sensual art. Seasoned partners weave a passionate or turbulent tale of romance as their bodies collide and intertwine to hold audiences captive under their spell. McBride exuded spectacular chemistry with her famed male partners including New York City Ballet ballet master Jerome Robbins, Edward Villella and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
McBride’s love affair with ballet led to meeting her life partner, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux. The Paris Opera Ballet star joined NYCB in 1970. They fell in love, married in 1973, and enjoy a fairy tale happy ending by still being married to date.
Passing the Torch
At 46, McBride retired from New York City Ballet and her final performance was marked by thousands of roses flooding her feet on the stage. She transitioned from dancing diva to the role of revered and respected mentor as Associate Artistic Director and Master Teacher at Charlotte Ballet. Now 72, the iconic star is passing Balanchine’s torch by recently teaching his 1946 ballet “The Four Temperaments” to her students.
Patricia McBride arguably defines dance and her brilliance has become a standard to which later generations of dancers aspire. An icon in her field, she was admirably humble about receiving the Kennedy Center Honor, telling PBS, “I was astonished and moved and it’s been such a wonderful thing. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s so amazing. I never in a million years would have thought that this was gonna happen to me.”
Patricia McBride is one of five honorees at the “37th Annual Kennedy Center Honors” which airs on Tuesday, Dec. 30 (9:00-11:00 PM ET/PT) on CBS.
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Lori Melton is a freelance writer. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.