Performance

Profound relationship with dance

Retired professional dancer Jock Soto to speak at the 'Opus 3' Ballet Taos fundraiser

By Dena Miller
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 10/15/19

Lincoln Kirstein, who founded the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet company with legendary choreographer George Balanchine, once said, "The domain of the ballet dancer is not earth but air." And those who have risen to the heights of the exacting competency required by America's premier dance company would agree.

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Performance

Profound relationship with dance

Retired professional dancer Jock Soto to speak at the 'Opus 3' Ballet Taos fundraiser

Posted

Lincoln Kirstein, who founded the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet company with legendary choreographer George Balanchine, once said, "The domain of the ballet dancer is not earth but air." And those who have risen to the heights of the exacting competency required by America's premier dance company would agree.

"In the last decade of my career, when I was dancing so much with Wendy Whelan, I often felt that our dancing must be the closest thing there was to flying. Our beings and our bodies merged, and we went soaring through the ballet on a cloud," said retired New York City Ballet principal Jock Soto, internationally recognized as one of the most influential dancers of our time.

Soto, who has retired and now resides in Eagle Nest with his husband, will speak about his life and career as a professional dancer at "Opus 3," the third annual fundraising gala for Ballet Taos Thursday (Oct. 17), 6 p.m., at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Joining him will be a host of dancers from Ballet Taos who will perform selections from their repertoire.

Meet and greet

"Patrons will enjoy a meet and greet with the young artists of Ballet Taos," said Megan Yackovich, founder and director of Ballet Taos. "We'll also have live music from the extraordinary Colorado Springs-based musicians Crystal and the Curious, appetizers created and prepared by Messrs. Soto and [Luis] Fuentes, and a delectable dessert from the award-winning Chokolá Bean to Bar. Expect some pop-up performances of poetry, theater and improvisational dance from local performing artists who collaborate with Ballet Taos."

At 7 p.m. guests will then be seated in the theater for the performance portion of the evening.

"Mr. Soto will open the program and share his profound story and relationship with dance," Yackovich continued. And it is indeed a compelling story. Born to a Navajo mother and Puerto Rican father, Soto grew up on the Navajo reservation and throughout the Southwest, and knew early on that dance was his destiny.

"I am dancing with my mother and I am only 3, but already I can feel the thrill and the power of surrendering to the sum of our partnership with each other and with everything in this moment in time. I am her son, she is my sun, I am a small moon in her happy orbit. Every time we dance it is like this -- we spin ourselves a brand-new universe," Soto recalled in his critically acclaimed memoir, "Every Step You Take," of being taught a Navajo hoop dance.

Soto went on to receive a full scholarship at the age of 13 to the School of American Ballet. His parents were unable to move to New York City, so he lived away from his family with a group of other students and trained 12 hours a day. "It was pretty crazy," he said, "being a kid and wrapping my head around all the people and tall buildings and then, of course, the school."

George Balanchine influence

He was one of the last dancers to be chosen personally by New York City Ballet's George Balanchine (1904-1983) to perform in its corps de ballet. "I was in a class with over 100 other students, and me and three others were called out by the ballet mistress," he recalled. "She said, 'Congratulations,' and walked away. When we realized what she meant, we went outside and screamed with joy."

Promoted to soloist and, ultimately, principal dancer, Soto enjoyed a decadeslong career of which The New York Times said, "Ballet is a man called Jock." A 2007 documentary by filmmaker Gwendolen Cates for PBS' "Independent Lens" prime-time series captured both his pending retirement and growing activism with regard to his Navajo and Puerto Rican roots. (Titled "Water Flowing Together," it is the name of his Navajo clan.)

The performances that will follow Soto's talk are a selection of classical and contemporary works, performed by Ballet Taos dancers from the current 2019-20 season.

"Uma Abad, Willow Bowman, Anna Hastings, Jamie Jensen, Daisy Kirschbaum, Azure Rice and Bodhi Sogden are the featured performers," said Yackovich, who is especially enthused to showcase the hard work and dedication that her students have demonstrated in preparing for this event. "We'll be presenting new work," she said, "and we'll tease a bit of this year's 'Nutcracker' performance," offering a peek at Act II's Divertissement from Tchaikovsky's tour de force.

"Professional dancer and guest artist Zac Bigbee will then debut his new contemporary work," she continued. Bigbee, a Taoseño, began his dance training here and continued on to study in Denmark, San Francisco, the Netherlands, Israel and Russia. He now performs with Zikr Dance Ensemble in Denver and Cocodaco in Chicago, but returns home several times a year to work with Ballet Taos as a guest artist, teacher and choreographer. He will also be dancing the role of the Nutcracker Prince this December.

Dance dedicated to Soto

The evening will conclude with a Ballet Taos student piece dedicated to Soto, celebrating the students' love and respect for him, each other, their community, and their art form, Yackovich noted.

Ballet Taos is a nonprofit arts organization serving Northern New Mexico communities under the sponsorship of the Taos Arts Council and supported by the New Mexico Community Development Loan Fund and the Taos Center for the Arts. The company is multifaceted -- a professional company, an academy and an outreach initiative, Project Relevé -- with each component designed to support, educate and inspire synergistically, according to Yackovich.

"Our academy provides quality dance education rooted in classical tradition that prepares students for higher education or professional careers in dance and the arts," Yackovich said. "And Project Relevé exists to ensure the future of dance in our community by instilling an appreciation for the arts through progressive initiatives in the public schools and classes open to all ages and abilities."

"The programs are intensive and focused," she continued. "But if our students truly want to pursue a dancing career, then we're obligated to provide them with the skills they need to navigate the professional world." Ballet Taos coaches their artists to be "technically precise, rhythmically sound, artful and spirited in movement."

Soto joins Yackovich, herself a classically trained ballerina, in providing inspiration to those young people who wish to pursue a career in dance. "If I can pass on my knowledge, my stories, and spur the energy to learn in the youth of our community, then that might be the biggest achievement of my career," Soto said.

Since this is a fundraiser, tickets are $50 and available at the door or online at tcataos.org.

Each admission includes two "Raise the Barre" raffle tickets with which you might win a two-night stay at The Blake Hotel at Taos Ski Valley, or dinners at Lambert's of Taos, The Love Apple and Donabe Asian Kitchen, with performance tickets included. Of course, you're free to buy additional raffle tickets. The winners will be selected at evening's end.

For more information about "Opus 3," call (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org or ballettaos.com.

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