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Daniel Santos, Monica Mason retire, wedding bells at NYCB
Daniel Santos. Photo: Steve DiBartolomeo, Courtesy ODC.
On August 11, Daniel Santos said farewell to ODC/Dance by stretching out his right hand and staring into the darkness in front of him. It was the last phrase of Brenda Way’s exquisite Part of a Longer Story and a moment of poignancy for the audience. In his 10 years with ODC, Santos was a commanding presence who filled his performances with clarity and a subtle elegance.
The Manila-born and San Jose–raised dancer began studying ballet intensively at age 18 with Dennis Marshall at the University of Oklahoma. But he was not certain that a life in dance was for him. Back in the Bay Area he happened to drop into a ballet class that Brian Fisher was teaching. “He wasn’t dancing with anybody at the time,” remembers Fisher, who was then a member of ODC. “Yet he was astounding—strong, focused, and open to suggestions.” Fisher gave him some intricate combinations, and “he picked them up scary fast.” It was Fisher who suggested ODC to Santos.
An inexperienced though technically strong dancer whose “beautiful lines and partnering skills” impressed Way when she met him in 2002, Santos, with his stretched musculature and quiet intensity, has become a nuanced artist. Whether gamboling with Yayoi Kambara in KT Nelson’s Grassland or tearing up space with Anne Zivolich in just about any of their many pairings, Nelson’s Scramble and Way’s In the Memory of the Forest among them, Santos brought passion and a sense of personal investment to these encounters. Most recently, with Vanessa Thiessen as the young lovers in Nelson’s Transit and the more experienced ones in Longer Story, they looked as if made for one another.
Santos’ plans for his post-ODC life are wide open; he began it by going rock climbing.
Monica Mason with Rudolf Nureyev in Robert Helpmann’s Hamlet in 1964. Photo: ROH Collections, Courtesy ROH.
After 54 years at The Royal Ballet, the last 10 spent as its artistic director, Monica Mason’s farewell gesture to the company was to commission the most ambitious program seen under her tenure. Set to new scores by leading composers, “Metamorphosis: Titian 2012” consisted of three world premieres created collaboratively by seven choreographers, including Wayne McGregor and Christopher Wheeldon. The results were slightly mixed, but this was still a creative bombshell, serving both as a marker of Mason’s leave-taking and a testament to a sustained and stellar career.
Born in Johannesburg, Mason was the Royal’s youngest member when she joined the company at age 16. But she was mature for her age, with strong feet and legs and striking features: magnetic eyes and an aquiline nose (which Frederick Ashton suggested she have fixed). She also exuded uncommon strength of character both onstage (notably in Kenneth MacMillan’s landmark version of The Rite of Spring) and off in her later duties as principal repetiteur, assistant director to Anthony Dowell, and her final stint as company leader.
Mason took up the top post at a time when the company was demoralized and unsteady, reinvigorating it by increasing the number of performances and bolstering the work of the education and outreach departments. Any accusations of conservatism in her programming were countered by her appointment of McGregor as resident choreographer. Mason proved to be a sharp talent-spotter, providing opportunities for the likes of Edward Watson, Lauren Cuthbertson, and the dancer/choreographers Liam Scarlett and Jonathan Watkins. “Monica’s not only been fundamental in my personal creative exploration,” says the latter, “but paramount in the shift of direction for the company as a whole. I’ll be forever grateful to her.”
Gratitude certainly flooded the auditorium during a post-show tribute held onstage on the final night of “Metamorphosis” on July 20. David Attenborough hosted a witty, endearing film homage that also featured, among others, brief encomiums from Dowell, Peter Wright, and Darcey Bussell.
Even before Mason herself materialized, casually elegant in sparkling black garb, we could hear her laughing in the wings as photos of her in performance were being projected. What ensued was lump-in-throat speeches, a parade of stellar bouquet-bearers, more flowers showering the stage, and confetti littering the stalls. The last, forward-looking words were Mason’s. “We must never be afraid of change,” she said, dabbing at her eyes and turning to incoming artistic director Kevin O’Hare. “Take care of Kevin, everybody. He’s fabulous.” He could hardly have asked for a better passing of the baton. —Donald Hutera
Janie Taylor and Sébastien Marcovici. Photo: Matthew Murphy, Courtesy NYCB.
Janie Taylor and Sébastien Marcovici, principal dancers with NYCB, were married on August 12 in New York City. Marcovici proposed in May after a performance in which the couple danced Balanchine’s Liebeslieder Walzer.
Frank Wildermann and Craig Hall. Photo: Erin Baiano.
NYCB soloist Craig Hall married Frank Wildermann on August 25 in Prattsville, New York.
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Win a Pair of Tickets to See Rioult Dance! Rioult Dance returns to the Joyce Theater in New York June 4-9. Dance Magazine is giving away a pair of tickets to the June 8th performance at 2:00 pm.(Click here to enter.)