Anna-Marie Holmes: Former Associate Artistic Director, and The Russian Connection at Boston Ballet

Anna-Marie Holmes was a great asset at the Boston Ballet! Here is an article by Ann Barzel, a Dance Magazine senior editor about the incomparable Anna-Marie Holmes: The Russian connection at Boston Ballet The article appeared in Dance Magazine, August 1, 1995. It is the sole property of Dance Magazine.


Ann Barzel wrote-

"Anna-Marie Holmes brings Russian granduer to Boston.

Her Russian connection may have come about through an official error, but it led Anna-Marie Holmes, now associate artistic director of Boston Ballet, to a colorful dance career. And the connection was instrumental in giving to Boston Ballet's highly regarded classical ballet repertoire a patina of Russian style.

In the early 1960s, when she and David Holmes, her husband at the time, were promising young soloists with Royal Winnipeg Ballet, they were asked by a couple of guest artists from the Kirov Ballet if they would like to continue their training in Russia. The visiting Russians had noted that the two Canadians had traces of Soviet style, a result of their having trained in Vancouver with Lydia Karpova (once of the Kirov).

Travel to the Soviet Union was not impossible for Canadians at that time, however the expected invitation for study in Russia did not arrive. Not until 1962, when the couple were dancing in Brigadoon at Manhattan's City Center and were considering careers in musical theater, were they notified that visas to Leningrad and an invitation to study at the Kirov school had arrived. This honor so impressed the Canada Council that it awarded them a grant to cover travel and living expenses. And off they flew.

Holmes recounts the first Leningrad encounter: "As invited soloists, we were ushered into the office of Konstantin Sergeyev, then director of the Kirov Ballet. He did not seem happy to see us, and he examined our papers with dismay. Through the interpreter he told us there must be a mistake. The Kirov did not accept guests for training, and the invitation must be meant for Moscow's Bolshoi school, which has provisions for guests. Immediately he got on the telephone to discuss the matter with officialdom. I don't know

what was said, but when he finished, his whole attitude was changed. Affably, he welcomed us to study at the Kirov. David surmised that there may have been an official error, and Sergeyev was taking the perpetrator off the hook by accepting us.

"Anyway, we were in," Holmes continues. "And because we had status as soloists in Canada, we were assigned to the top classes - David with Aleksandr Pushkin and I with Natalia Dudinskaya. We were not ready for such advanced work, and for weeks we just stumbled and struggled. As is the custom in Russia, dancers in our classes corrected and helped us, and we kept trying hard and put in much extra time after the regular classes. After some weeks our teachers became interested."

The Canadian trainees must have been more than promising, for Dudinskaya and Pushkin put in many sessions, giving up their dinner hours to give private lessons and to coach. The Holmeses gratefully continued their intensive studies in Russia for a whole year.

"One day a special coach worked with both of us," Holmes recalls, "teaching us the group dances from The Flames of Paris. And then one of the orchestra conductors spent an hour with us at the piano, discussing the tempi of that ballet. We thought it was part of the thoroughness of Russian training, but when we saw on the theater marquee the announcement 'Anna-Marie and David Holmes in Flames of Paris,' we realized we had been prepared for a debut as principal dancers at the Kirov. Later Dudinskaya told me it was done this way to prevent many weeks of nervousness."

Dudinskaya's written evaluation of her pupil was: "Anna-Marie has all the qualities of a truly great artist. In my opinion she is undoubtedly one of the finest ballerinas in the West."

The Holmeses learned many complete ballets, including the classics, at the Kirov, and they were allowed to acquire copies of the complete orchestrations of these ballets. While at the school they also took the teachers' course, to be prepared for whatever the future might require. Also it helped their techniques, because the reasons for technical requirements were explained. At the end of their year, the Holmeses were offered a ten-year contract to remain at the Kirov. However, they were avid for new experiences. They declined the offer and left Russia in 1963.

And there were plenty of new experiences awaiting them in the following years. The two Canadians danced as principals with several companies and as guest artists with many. First there was London Festival Ballet, where they danced for two seasons, including tours to Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Romania, Poland, and Luxembourg. They danced showy Russian pas de deux, such as Spring Waters and Le Corsaire, as well as the company repertoire, including Balanchine's Bourree Fantasque and Fokine's Prince Igor. They also appeared on television in Juan Corelli's Transfig-ured Night and Rudi van Dantzig's La Peri. A season in Montreal with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens followed (1964-65). Among other ballets they danced Fernand Nault's Nutcracker and Anton Dolin's Pas de Quatre. From 1965 to 1967 the Holmeses danced with the Amsterdam-based Het Nationale Ballet. They added Swan Lake and Giselle to their repertoire as well as a number of Balanchine works (The Four Temperaments, Symphony in C, Apollon Musagete, Serenade, Concerto Barocco) as well as Serge Lifar's Suite en Blanc, Kurt Jooss's Green Table, van Dantzig's Monument for a Dead Boy, and Pearl Lang's Shirah.

When they left Leningrad the Holmeses had been told that they had the privilege to return for coaching at any time. And all through their careers, whenever assigned classical roles, they returned to work with Dudinskaya and Pushkin. They spent at least two months of every year in Russia. If, during one of their frequent visits, the Kirov was presenting a ballet in their repertoire they were asked to perform with the company. In 1967 Anna-Marie was invited to dance in Leningrad's White Nights Festival with Dudinskaya's class, which included such stars as Natalia Makarova and Alla Sizova. By this time she was speaking Russian fluently and was considered a member of an extended Russian family.

In 1968 the Holmeses performed at Jacob's Pillow and at the New York Shakespeare Festival in Central Park where they danced the balcony scene from Leonid Lavrovsky's Romeo and Juliet. The New York Times reviewer wrote, "Anna-Marie and David Holmes danced with elegance, charm, and precise authority. Mrs. Holmes is a ravishing and delicate Juliet."

Later that season the Holmeses joined Ruth Page's Chicago Opera Ballet, toured with the company, and danced Page's Romeo and Juliet to the Tchaikovsky score. During the next several years the Holmeses found that life and dancing were more interesting if they guested or free-lanced. They flew all over the world to dance with many companies, indulging all the while their passion for learning.

They were much in demand to dance the virtuosic pas de deux they had learned in the Soviet Union - Diana and Actaeon, Spring Waters, La Bayadere, Le Corsaire. They had wonderfully compatible attitudes, and got along well with dancers and directors. With a nine-room flat in London filled with antiques as a base, they entered their mod period when they wore extravagant Carnaby Street-style clothes and drove an impressive 1928 Daimler limousine, once owned by Queen Wilhelmina of Holland, that could go 160 miles an hour.

For several summers the Holmeses conducted a summer school in Estoril, Portugal, geared to giving advanced students performing opportunities with such international artists as Elisabetta Terabust, Paolo Bortoluzzi, Denys Ganio, and Woytec Lowski.

When they were guest artists with the now-defunct Niagara Frontier Ballet of Buffalo, New York, the Holmeses were delighted with the opportunity to work with Bronislava Nijinska and dance in her Les Biches and Brahms Variations when she staged them for the company. It was during this period that the Holmeses danced with the National Ballet of Cuba in Havana and staged Soviet-style pas de deux for American Ballet Theatre and Dance Theatre of Harlem. Anna-Marie also taught a seminar in Venice and modeled mod fashions in Switzerland. Their daughter, Lian, was born in Chicago in 1978. Further changes were in store, however. David eventually became more involved in business ventures, such as fast food and dancewear. The couple separated.

Anna-Marie then launched what became a notable career of teaching, coaching, and staging ballets. Her immense repertoire served her well, along with her long experience as a student and a performer. She had studied piano seriously before opting to be a dancer, and her musical knowledge is a positive factor in her current career. She is a great teacher, because she was always an avid learner.

In 1985 she was appointed director of faculty of the Boston Ballet School's summer school. Boston's artistic director Bruce Marks so appreciated her vast knowledge and many talents that he hired her as a ballet mistress to coach and rehearse the company's varied repertoire. She then established her permanent residence in Boston. Daughter Lian, now a student at Wellesley College, is a charming, talented musician who is something of a prodigy on the piano and violin; she has studied dance for a number of years and aims at a career as a ballet conductor.

When Boston Ballet planned a new production of Giselle in 1987, Holmes arranged to have Dudinskaya come to Boston to coach the cast. The company's first experience with a Russian collaborator was such a great success that Marks conceived another large-scale exchange, a Russian-American Swan Lake. Together he and Holmes made a trip to Leningrad. There, with the help of her Russian "family," she arranged for the joint construction of the scenery and the sharing of some dancers; five members of the Kirov and Bolshoi would dance in Boston, and five Americans were to dance with the Kirov. Dudinskaya and Sergeyev came to Boston in 1991 to stage the ballet and to coach the American cast. As was widely reported, the project was a huge success.

By this time Holmes had been appointed assistant to Marks. For Boston's 1992-93 season she staged the three-act Don Quixote, and the following year she staged The Sleeping Beauty, based on the version she had learned and danced at the Kirov. Currently Holmes is associate artistic director at Boston Ballet. The company opened its 1994-95 season with her staging of Giselle, a ballet with which she is intimate. She estimates that she has danced the role some three hundred times.

"My staging is really a combination of the Kirov and Leonid Lavrovsky's versions," she says. "I worked from Lavrovsky's original notes I bought in St. Petersburg in the sixties. He threw out a lot of the old mime and replaced it with more logical Stanislavsky method."

Last summer Holmes directed the summer dance school that was run concurrently with, and as a part of, the International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi. I accompanied her as she traveled from class to class, giving advice and solving administrative problems. Observing her in action, I saw all the traits and talents she had developed in her Russian connection come into play - an avid desire to learn, a complete lack of ego, and the wisdom of how to get along with people."