Taylor Rogers | Staff Writer
Not everyone can say they were a member of the Paris Opera Ballet at the age of 14 or that George Balanchine created works just for them. Not everyone can say they’ve been a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet or that they’ve been surprised with an award for their legacy.
But Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride can, and they’ve been honored for their educational contributions with the Chautauqua School of Dance’s annual Artist Teacher Award. Marty Merkley, vice president and director of programming, and Kay Logan, who endowed the award, surprised the pair on the Amphitheater stage at Monday’s performance.
Logan has been funding the award since 1995.
“I think teachers are undervalued,” she said. “Somehow people think that talent is going to get it there, and they don’t realize how you went from point A to point B, so I just think it constantly has to be brought to everybody’s attention that masterful teaching — not just teaching, but good teaching — should be valued and nurtured just as much as the talents that they’re nurturing.”
Bonnefoux has been getting dancers from point A to point B at Chautauqua for 29 years. His students have gone on to careers with various companies, including the American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and North Carolina Dance Theatre, the Institution’s resident ballet company.
Bonnefoux’s own career began at the Paris Opera Ballet, where he spent 13 years and was named Danseur Etoile, a title given only to the best in the company. He then joined NYCB, where he stayed for 10 years. Since then, he’s been committed to spreading his knowledge around the country. He worked as artistic director for the ballet company at Indiana University, and in 1996, he joined North Carolina Dance Theatre as artistic director, where he now serves as president.
McBride joined Bonnefoux at Chautauqua as a master teacher after retiring from the NYCB, where Balanchine created 19 works for her. She had danced with the company for 30 years, according to a 1994 Dance Magazine article on Chautauqua’s dance program. Her talent and dedication to her craft, as well as her close relationship with the choreographer, earned her a place in the Balanchine Trust.
She’s staged several of his works at the Institution, including “Western Symphony,” “Stars and Stripes” and Sunday’s “Donizetti Variations.”
Since they’ve been here, Bonnefoux and McBride have led various talented choreographers and instructors to Chautauqua to pass on their knowledge as well. Names like Peter Pucci, Violette Verdy and Mark Diamond, Chautauqua Dance’s associate artistic director, all have come to work with the students and company members.
And Merkley said the couple has had a profound effect on those they work with.
“It’s astounding for two individual people of such breadth and focus to come together, first of all, personally as a couple, and then as a couple, to be able to move forward and change people’s lives,” Merkley said.
“You’re not usually going to find people who attain what they’ve attained professionally, who then are truly passionate about teaching and do it so well,” she said.
This award has been given to Diamond, Choreographer Michael Vernon and Shir Lee Wu, among others, in past seasons.
Bonnefoux and McBride also received the first annual Ilona Copen Award earlier this year from the New York International Ballet Competition for their dedication to dance instruction.