Some Reminiscences About E. Virginia Williams; She Put the International Stamp on The Boston Ballet

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Second Row, L. to R.: 1. Debby Bryan; 2. Nina Bator; 3. Stephanie Moy; 4. Reva Wildorf 5. Stephanie Marini
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Lately, I have been thinking a great deal about my primary ballet teacher, the founder of The Boston Ballet School AND The Boston Ballet Company - the inimitable, E. Virginia Williams who dominated my childhood and teen years from the age of eleven until I was nineteen; by that tender age I had danced my way out the stage door of the Music Hall on Tremont Street in Beantown (it later became the Wang Center, and is now named the Fleet Center) and into the hallways of the Deutsches Oper in Berlin, West Germany. (At the time, The Berlin Wall had nary a crack in it; Checkpoint Charlie scared the daylights out of me when I dared to pass through with my American Passport; Berlin seemed a dark, cold, and scary place although the Ballet Dancing as a member of the Company was a dream come true.) As the song goes, "Everything is beautiful - at The Ballet."

Back to Boston and "Virginia" as we in the Company referred to her amongst ourselves. We addressed her as "Miss Williams" when we dared to actually speak to her at all. As children, we barely spoke at the School, and spoke not at all during dance classes. Whispering was a forbidden pleasure, rarely indulged in, and used, sparingly, mainly to clarify a question about a Combination.

I am attempting to describe the atmosphere in Ballet Classes in the 1960s which was far more formal in every way than the norm in studios today, especially at Arizona Ballet Theatre. I am fond of more communication between teacher and students, although, in my thirty years of teaching, I have been amazed at the verbal empowerment of your average American dance student; and often quite frustrated by the difficulty many children have in being appropriately silent in a Studio Situation. I digress. Interesting, but I want to get back to Miss Williams.

As a child and a very serious student of ballet, I so wanted to please her. As a teacher of ballet with decades of experience and twenty-twenty hindsight, I have to admit that I totally misunderstood her, why she behaved the way she did, what influences might have been guiding her decision making, and the tremendous pressure she must have been under to accomplish the amazing things she did accomplish. I also have used her life (as I understand it now) to guide decisions I make that affect my students. Specifically, I want to do what little I can to give her the credit she deserves as the Founder of what is now considered a First Tier American Ballet Company - The Boston Ballet.

Some sources readily available to anyone browsing or searching the Internet seem to suggest that Virginia does not deserve credit for the International recognition the Company now gets, and that the kudos should go to those who came later, and NOT to Virginia. I say, there is enough praise to go around for everyone in the Lineage; I say, denying anything to Virginia is pure poppycock, and, small minded, wishful thinking by those who may be unattractively insecure.

Make no mistake, E. Virginia Williams did put the International Stamp on the Boston Ballet, with great flair and with great success, from the very beginning. How did she do that, with modest financial resources and antiquated technical support? Remember, there were no cell phones, no Internet resources, no voice mail, and in fact, no personal computers at all!!!. She hired Internationally acclaimed Guest Artists to dance with her Company - with me and all my peers at the time - and Top Talent wherever she so skillfully spotted it. Among the international stars she brought, and with whom I danced, under Virginia's tutelage, are Margot Fonteyn, Natalia Makarova, Marcia Haydee and Richard Cragen, Ivan Nagy, Violette Verdy, Carla Fracci. And American international stars included Edward Villella, Jacques D'Amboise, Patricia McBride, Maria Tallchief, and Suzanne Farrell

I think it is fun to imagine what she, the New England Grande Dame of Dance - E. Virginia Williams - might have done with today's almost unbelievable social networking capabilities. Some people are simply great, and for reasons that may not be obvious on the surface. E. Virginia Was Great; yes she was. I know it now. I am determined to continue to salute her with my life, which I have dedicated to sharing the Joy of Ballet with anyone who dares to dream that he or she can be "A Dancer."

Let's hear it for the Great Ones from the Past. Let's give them all the credit they deserve. There is plenty of work left to be done. Let's try to live up to the high standards set long ago by E. Virginia Williams, and by all those who have made us who we are today. Now that is a mouthful, and I am sticking to it.

Cecily Thinking About The Big Ballet Picture