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This article by Sally Friedman was prepared for the September 29,

2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Balanchine’s Star at McCarter

When he was nine years old Peter Boal knew with certainty what he

wanted to do. He had no desire to become a doctor, a lawyer, or an

Indian chief – or even a fire chief. No, Peter Boal wanted to dance.

Ballet. And he’s never changed his mind.

"My grandparents transferred their love of dance to my parents, and I

got taken to a lot of performances when I was very young," says the

ballet star of the NYCity Ballet, who will be performing with his

newly-formed company at McCarter’s Matthews Theater on Sunday, October

3, at 3 p.m.

"Because we lived in Bedford, not far from New York City, I saw lots

of performances with great male dancers," he says. "So it never

occurred to me that they were not as common as I’d thought."

But when Boal went to seek a ballet class, he couldn’t find one that

would accept boys. If it was disheartening, it was also motivating.

Boal, who had posters of ballet dancers, not rock stars, on his walls,

found his way to New York, and to the School of American Ballet, the

official school of the New York City Ballet.

At age 11, he danced the role of the Nutcracker Prince for the

company. Just the year before, he admits, he had gone trembling into

the same ballet as a child in the Nutcracker’s party scene. What a

difference a year can make.

"Initially, I commuted to school, but that got to be very difficult,

so in ninth grade, I went to New York to live, and went to the

Professional Children’s School near Lincoln Center. That way of life

became quite normal at 13."

That "new normal" also included becoming a full-fledged member of the

NY City Ballet Company in 1983, after a tug of war over him between

the legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov and the equally eminent George

Balanchine. "Balanchine told Baryshnikov he couldn’t have me, and I

was quite delighted. It’s the same decision I would have made."

But there was a bittersweet irony to that circumstance and timing. "It

was the year that George Balanchine, my inspiration and the legendary

genius of ballet, died. The company went into mourning, and for a

while, it was pretty depressing. But it also ushered in a new era in

dance, with a celebration of the works of others like Jerome Robbins

and Twyla Tharp."

The down side: "The press was very hard on everything and everyone

during that era," he says. "The attitude was that nobody was good

enough to fill Balanchine’s shoes, so it was tough for me, as a new

member of the company."

Boal persevered, and the rest is ballet history. He was named a

principal dancer with the NY City Ballet in 1989. He has performed in

over 60 ballets, and premiered 30. Highlights include his roles in "A

Midsummer Night’s Dream," "The Four Seasons," "Romeo and Juliet," and

"The Sleeping Beauty," along with less well-known dance pieces like

one of his proudest, "Opus 19/The Dreamer." His performance of the

latter caused Jerome Robbins himself to come backstage, actually

crying in pride and delight.

Today, at 39, Peter Boal continues to perform, and is also devoted to

teaching, which he terms "a great joy and privilege," and to the

creation of his own company, "Peter Boal and Company."

‘I’m certainly aware of my age, and of those aches that I didn’t have

at 19," he says. "So I’m ‘auditioning’ the next stage of my life,

which may involve running this company."

Many of his dancers come from the NY City Ballet, including Kyra

Nichols, who will be performing at McCarter. Nichols is the daughter

of Sally Streets, a member of NY City Ballet during the 1950s. Today

she lives in Princeton, and is on the faculty of the Princeton Ballet

School. Also performing on October 3 will be Marcelo Gomes, a native

of Brazil who has won international dance prizes and currently is a

member of the American Ballet Theater; Sandra Brown, also of ABT; Ben

Huys, a soloist with the NY City Ballet; and Chan Hon Goh of Beijing,

China, who is a principal dancer at the National Ballet of Canada.

The six dancers will perform some landmark Balanchine works, including

"Pavane," "Apollo," and "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux." Boal’s solo,

"Pergolesi," was choreographed by Twyla Tharp.

"It’s a very exciting, ambitious program," says Boal, who has also

performed as a principal dancer with the Ballet Arizona, the Ballet du

Nord in France, and with the Metropolitan Opera.

All of that pales in comparison, he says, to his favorite role:

husband and father. Boal is married to Kelly Cass, a former dancer

with the NY City Ballet, and they have three children. So far,

however, no recruits among Sebastian, 9, who is "tolerant" of ballet,

or Oliver, 7, or Sara, 4. "They dance around the house," says the

proud father, "but that’s about it for now!"

– Sally Friedman

Peter Boal & Company, McCarter’s Matthews Theater,

Sunday, October 3, 3 p.m. Tickets: $39, $42, and $45. 609-258-2787.

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