I am trying to set down my own feelings and thoughts about Robert Blankshine. Please excuse the disorganization that is very apparent here. I am posting what I find, and trying to figure out how to present it, after the fact, so to speak.
I will start at the end, with the Eulogy I delivered at Bobby's Memorial Service in Manhattan a little over twenty years ago. It was a raw, cold Sunday. We found a parking space almost in front of the church. That in itself was a miracle, since there was a very large crowd remembering Bobby.
Eulogy for Robert (Bobby) Blankshine by Cecily Bressel,
Delivered at a Memorial Service in His Honor in New York City, 14 January 1988,
On A Grey and Bleak Day
Bobby is remembered as a brilliant performer and teacher. Yet his creative force and imagination would have catapulted him to fame in any artistic endeavor. He was an inspired choreographer, a wizard with make-up. costumes. cooking, and interior design. He loved glamour and style. And, he had a delightfully wicked sense of humor that left his friends doubled over with laughter.
He and I met in Berlin in the early '70s, when he was a Principal Dancer with the Deutsche Oper. Lucky for me, he decided, soon after my arrival, that we were to be fast friends. Of course, I had no objection. Robert Blankshine was already a legend. And, in Europe where he danced for many years, he was treated with the respect and admiration due a star of his magnitude.
We spent many evenings by the fire in the livingroom of the huge apartment he shared with an antique dealer, rarely there, who considered it an honor to offer Bobby a home. Bobby would put record after record of lush classical music on the stereo, and then choreograph full-lengh ballets for hours on end. He'd demonstrate all the parts, of course, but when he couldn't due to constraints of space and furniture, he'd describe every move in complete detail. Radiant pas de deux, variations, precise corps work, costumes - chiffon naturally!, and sets, too! Major creations that would just pour out of him. That room was so super-charged with energy that even the paintings on the walls were dancing, really, because they were hung properly on wires dropped from the moldings! It was strange, hilarious, and wonderful!
In fact, we had more fun in that apartment than anywhere. Looking back, I recognize it as a sanctuary for Bobby, a perfect escape from the pressures that his talent and uniqueness imposed on him. He had his own small room, but the rest of the apartment - and it was enormous - was filled with extremely valuable antiques. Every single item was discreetly marked with what we, in our youth, considered outrageous price tags: we found it hilarious! We'd wander from room to room, amazed. A rug for 10,000DM, an inlayed table for 15,000 - some items priced higher than either of our yearly salaries. Bobby was comfortable there: he'd inherited a knowledge of antiques from his beloved mother. Yet he possessed a child-like awe and bemused appreciation of the ways of man and fate that had landed him in such a gossamer archive. In retrospect I realize how much he belonged there, a priceless treasure himself.
Didn't he strike you as the most sophisticated, city creature possible? That he was. But, what is not commonly known, is that Bobby was a farm boy from Upstate New York, who used to dance in the fields; his teachers, his friends were the plants and animals who flourished there with him. Over the years, watching him move like a gazelle or a cat, I'd be reminded of his youthful tales - how he learned movement from watching the animals, or the prizes he won at the 4H Club. I believe that his special magic that combined an almost superhuman strength came from those early, carefree years. I think of him in more recent years as a prisoner of the city, a sentence imposed by the necessity to share his dance genius with all of us; but his souls belonged to the country, to nature, to the animals and flowers. He loved daisies best of all.
We shared an apartment here in Manhattan for a while before I fled to greener pastures. Living with Bobby was like living with experimental art. Oftentimes, when I awoke and wandered into our kitchen, I would be enchanted by the tableau he had created. He'd rearrange the furniture, play with the lighting, drape a scarf here and there - he could do more with a few fans, some chiffon, and some ribbons than anyone I ever met. I wondered how I had managed my previously boring (by comparison) lifestyle before. He brought a distinctive magic to life that I shall miss.
I remember his excitement when the cast album for A Chorus line was released; he practically forced me to listen to it. His enthusiasm was infectious. I'm reminded of his versatility; He did it all - Ballet, Broadway, Radio City Music Hall, Movies (not just dance movies either!), Niteclubs and television. His remarkable intelligence and keen perceptions enabled him to inhabit any artistic world.
Over the years I've been troubled by what I considered a lack of recognition for his contributions to dance and the Arts. He was a trailblazer, who opened doors for the male dancers who came and take so much for granted. Before Bobby, ballet men were expected to fill a certain princely mold. Bobby smashed that mold with an all encompassing talent that embraced any part and generated an excitement that I daresay remains unmatched. His high extension, the sheer quantity of his turns, the height and beauty of his jumps, the drama and charisma - the TOTAL PACKAGE unheard of in one dancer. Dancers often show an astonishing ignorance of the history of their art. Bobby had a suitcase full of glowing reviews, a few of which I would like to share - "Spectacular beyond Belief" - NY Post. "One of the most promising dancers in the world" Clive Barnes " Fireworks of blazing virtuosity; Discovery of the season" Christian Science Monitor "Dazzlingly Acrobatic" Newsweek. "Superb bravura dancing spectacular by any standards" Winthrop Sargeant, the new Yorker. Explodes all reserve in the audience, a shimmering performer." Variety. Combines the lightness of a gazelle with the strength of a panther....our own Nureyev, Remarkable. The New York Post.
Once I asked him how he approached his unparallelled manage of coupe jetes. he said, simply, "I imagine myself as a tight, small ball, and then I explode." No analysis of muscles and bones. Bobby operated from the gut, from dance instincts primeval, right, pure. He talked of the need for contrast, for relaxation, alternating with releases of energy. And, then he told me a story, I wish I could make as funny as he had. He could laugh at himself.
Bobby's signature step at that time was a specialty saut de chat where he "kicked the back of his head." Many pictures exist of him hanging in mid air, a perfect circle seemingly in repose. He could toss it off casually, but his style was to improve on what had come before. On this particular occasion, he just wanted to give that little extra that would be even more spectacular. He held it for just one second more - defying the laws of gravity, you know how hard that is, and landed flat on his face. But, he added, it was unforgettable.
He was marvelous with children. On one of my infrequent visits, Bobby took me, my husband, and my husband's then eight year old son to one of his favorite Village restaurants. What impressed my husband so was the way Bobby oriented the conversation totally around Beni. This was the first time they'd met, and Beni just thought he was "awesome." Of course, my two year old son Rafi, was and still is crazy about his Uncle Bobby. Bobby showered him with extravagant stuffed toys including a huge, unbelievably soft dog, that in Bobby's view was like a real one. Many times I brought Rafi with me to observe Bobby's classes in total silence and fascination. Children sensed a childlike quality in Bobby and loved him for it.
Bobby's life was short, but full. He enriched so many lives. I feel a void in myself, for in a way he defined for me the magic possible in art, the excitement about life so rarely seen in this world. I'm still learning from him. When I heard the news that awful Sunday, I understood a phrase often heard but never before felt. Time stood still. And now, when I think of his passing, I understand another expression to which I'd never before given much thought. Rest in peace. Bobby worked so hard, giving us his genius. I believe his body had had enough. But I also believe that his spirit is out there, perhaps in the same fields in which he so loved to dance when he was that innocent child, leaping, jumping and soaring like no other being before him or yet to come.
I love you, Bobby, and I miss you.
Here is the Obit in The New York Times for Robert W. Blankshine, A Dancer and Teacher.
It is short and doesn't tell Bobby's story at all. Here it is:
December 23, 1987
Robert W. Blankshine, A Dancer and Teacher
Robert W. Blankshine, an American dancer and teacher and a former featured member of the Joffrey Ballet, died of a heart attack Sunday at a friend's home in New York City, according to his mother, Serene Blankshine. He was 42 years old.
Mr. Blankshine, who had great elan and technical agility, starred in several ballets by Gerald Arpino, the Joffrey company's resident choreographer.
His lightness and ebullience were emphasized in Mr. Arpino's ''Viva Vivaldi'' of 1965, in which he dazzled in a dancing contest with Luis Fuente as his rival. However, in 1968 he proved he was also capable of dramatic pathos when he created the leading role of the woebegone clown in Mr. Arpino's apocalyptic fantasy, ''The Clowns.''
A native of Syracuse, Mr. Blankshine studied with Olive McHugh at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester and at the School of American Ballet. He joined the Joffrey Ballet in 1964, remaining until 1968. He then appeared as a guest artist at Radio City Music Hall and danced with the Los Angeles Ballet and in Europe with ballet companies attached to the opera houses of Geneva, Frankfurt and West Berlin. For the last four years, he taught at the Steps Studios in Manhattan.
He is survived by his mother.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
Robert Blankshine's Signature Step
Here is a photo I love of Bobby's famous "kick the back of the head" jumping position, that I mentioned in my tribute.
© Cecily Bressel & Arizona Ballet Theatre 2007|All Rights Reserved
It was Bobby's signature step, a variation on a Saut de Chat. Bobby was the first ballet dancer I ever saw to pull up both legs rather having the leading leg straight and the other leg in back attitude. He seemed to just hang in midair.
For Blankshine fans, you will notice that this shot pre- dates Bobby's plastic surgery. LIke I, he did not ever hide the fact that he had undergone the knife and was rather fond of the results. I never met him before his metamorphosis, but I am sure I would have found him beautiful then as I find him eternally beautiful now. He was an absolutely fabulous human being, unusual in many ways, and especially, unusually magical and childlike in his hopes for himself and for the world.
Please click here to view Bobby's Happy Online Photo Gallery at Arizona Ballet Theatre
Robert Blankshine Was Adored By his Fans
Here is a Kenn Duncan Photo of Bobby in Dance
Magazine's Series "Young Dancers You Should Know About"
© Cecily Bressel & Arizona Ballet Theatre 2008|All Rights Reserved
November 23, 2009 Letter from Patricia
I wondered if you had seen this:
As far as I know it is the first time I have seen footage of Bobby commercially available. There is, of course, other film in the library, but I gather this was recently released. I was thrilled, although it made my heart leap to see him.
Miss Cecily's Reply:
Thank you so much. I have been waiting for some dance footage of Bobby to be posted on YouTube; it has happened. I couldn't be more excited.
Thank you for telling me. Thank you thank you thank you. You have made my year!
Have a great day!
Miss Cecily Feeling Young Again
I'm so glad, Cecily. it's hard to describe, though I suspect you know, how it both thrilled and pained me deeply at the same time.
-------------------------Begin listings for the films the library at Lincoln Center has for Bobby------------------ in case you get to New York, here are the listings for the films the library at Lincoln Center has for him. <p> best wishes <br>p <p> <a href="http://catalog.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb12171784%7CSblankshine%7CP0%2C13%7COrightresult?lang=eng&suite=pearl" title="http://catalog.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb12171784%7CSblankshine%7CP0%2C13%7COrightresult?lang=eng&suite=pearl">http://catalog.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb12171784%7CSblankshine%7...</a> <p> <a href="http://catalog.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb12144959%7CSblankshine%7CP0%2C19%7COrightresult?lang=eng&suite=pearl" title="http://catalog.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb12144959%7CSblankshine%7CP0%2C19%7COrightresult?lang=eng&suite=pearl">http://catalog.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb12144959%7CSblankshine%7...</a> <p> <a href="http://catalog.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb12144963%7CSblankshine%7CP0%2C20%7COrightresult?lang=eng&suite=pearl" title="http://catalog.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb12144963%7CSblankshine%7CP0%2C20%7COrightresult?lang=eng&suite=pearl">http://catalog.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb12144963%7CSblankshine%7...</a> <p> <a href="http://catalog.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb12147597%7CSblankshine%7CP0%2C21%7COrightresult?lang=eng&suite=pearl" title="http://catalog.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb12147597%7CSblankshine%7CP0%2C21%7COrightresult?lang=eng&suite=pearl">http://catalog.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb12147597%7CSblankshine%7...</a> <p> <a href="http://catalog.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb12148696%7CSblankshine%7CP0%2C22%7COrightresult?lang=eng&suite=pearl" title="http://catalog.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb12148696%7CSblankshine%7CP0%2C22%7COrightresult?lang=eng&suite=pearl">http://catalog.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb12148696%7CSblankshine%7...</a> <p> <!-----------------------------End listings for the films the library at Lincoln Center has for Bobby----------------
A Very Special Treat On You Tube:
You Tube Video of Robert Blankshine of The Robert Joffrey Ballet,
Performing Gerald Arpino's "Viva Vivalde" on The Ed Sullivan Show on TV.
Miss Cecily on the Go Go Go - Thank You Patricia...
Spectacular Robert Blankshine at his most dazzling in a spectacular split leap. Bobby's Grand Allegro was "grander" than anyone's at that time.(;-) Tell me your opinion. Am I wrong?
This amazing photo captures the essence of Bobby at the peak of his unbelievable technical powers. His many devoted and highly vocal fans found him to be astonishingly beautiful. Attending ballet performances in Manhattan with Bobby confirmed what he had told me about his New York fan base. Fans and other dancers gravitated to him in the lobbies during intermissions. Many people would mention that they had seen him dance at various places such as The Fashion Institute, and I heard them say the same phrase... "Mister Blankshine, I saw you dance and it changed my life!!!" Bobby had told me when we were in Berlin, about how people reacted to him in New York,because he found it delightful and astonishing. and I said to myself "sure sure." But it turned out to be really true!
Another amazing experience was that his fans would often give him jewelry and trinkets spontaneously right off their bodies. He had a jewelry box full of these gifts given because he meant so much to his fans, and they loved him so much. Although I had read such things about Nijinsky's fans, for example, I had never had actually been around a celebrity that had such a dramatic and unusual effect on people.
Robert Blankshine was a ballet superstar, during the dance boom of the sixties and seventies when the general public actually knew the names of the worlds most acclaimed dancers.
I'll share another tiny little anecdote from our Berlin days.
Of course, a popular topic of conversation among dancers at that time was "how to lose weight." This was the era before society in general possessed widespread knowledge of eating disorders. There was no taboo in place forbidding any such conversations for any reason. As dancers, we all had a lot to say about it.
My good friend Bonnie Wyckoff, who happens to be pictured in the recently posted Nutcracker Party scene shot with me as Fritz, had a memorable idea; I have never forgotten it. She is the expressive one to the left of me. She was as cute as a button in every way. Her favorite fantasy method of weight loss was to possess a magical pair of scissors with which the owner could snip away to create the desired shape. The scissors would somehow heal the cut edges so, of course, there was no actual blood involved. It was a fun fantasy! We wanted those scissors.
Bobby's idea was a magic vacuum cleaner that could simply be inserted into the areas in need of reduction. It would suck out the extra fat - funny thing was, Bobby himself was a lean, mean, dancing machine - he didn't need any help controlling his physique. His powerful imaginary device would leave the dancer in need, perhaps, of a little tune-up, more beautiful than ever before...
Well, you can just imagine how we howled when "liposuction" later hit the medical market and society's collective consciousness. Real People were actually having their fat vacuumed out. We laughed ourselves silly remembering how he had thought this up. I am sure I mentioned that he should, by rights, have been entitled to a piece of the profits. We just found the whole evolution from crazy fantasy to real medical procedure hilarious. Truth is surely stranger than fiction! And, let it never be forgotten, Bobby was full of great and imaginative ideas on almost any topic. What a hoot.
Miss Cecily Laughing Out Loud
A little Bobby Insight -
Bobby was quite the cleaning maven - not a "cleaning crazy" by today's standards, but he liked to get down and scrub sometimes. I remember his delight when the product still available in more varieties today - "Scrubbing Bubbles" hit the shelves. He was just so excited about its foaming properties, I found it a bit weird, to be honest. I had yet to discover the joys of cleaning at that point myself, but he was so cute about it. He was irresistable.
Friday, January 18th, 2008 - A Robert Blankshine Story - The Four Temperaments
Kayla, Chaz, and Ally have requested more of my "stories." Where to start? I think I'll share a Robert Blankshine story which happened in June 1972.
Dancing with the ballet company of the Deutsche-Oper was a very different experience than my experience growing up in the Boston Ballet Company. I'm referring specifically to the economic situation; in Boston, every penny had to be stretched, and we all understood that. We wore our pointe shoes till they were beyond dead and were frugal as only dancers can be. My Dear friend Stephanie Marini reports that E. Virginia Williams, the founder, even mortgaged her house more than once to pay the Company's expenses. I have no doubt that she did. Miss Williams, as we called her, lived very modestly herself, ran successful schools which subsidized the Company, and - since she wanted the very best in costumes and sets, I know she sacrificed personally to implement her artistic vision.
The Berlin Company, on the other hand, received state support from the government; the financial situation was entirely different. The facility itself was gorgeous; we all had lockers, our own little vanity area, there were people to apply body make-up, get us into costume, even do hair if you wanted - I didn't, I did my own
At the end of the Berlin Season, we were told that we would be doing a one-week engagement at the Summer Festival in Athens, Greece; we would be performing in the Herod Atticus Theatre which is an open air ampitheater located below the Parthenon. Let me tell you. It is magical! I could not believe my good luck!
One of the ballets to be performed was Balanchine's Four Temperaments to the music of Paul Hindemith. Four Ts is actually the first Balanchine Ballet in which I was cast, when I was fourteen years old, by Francia Russell, as a matter of fact, who had set the ballet originally in Boston. I was lucky to dance Four T's again many times in Boston and in Berlin
Bobby performed the Melancholic section which is choreographed for a lead male dancer, two solo girls, and the corps girls who make my absolute favorite entrance in all of ballet. Bobby was sinuously wonderful in the part which requires not only strength and fluidity, but a deep, rich backbend. A perfect part to showcase his special talents.
At one point in the male solo, the dancer drops down onto his hands, and the movement in repeated. On stage in Athens, during the actual performance, Bobby somehow broke his thumb, an injury which I have heard is extremely painful. Luckily, I have never broken any bones so I can only imagine the intensity of his pain.
As we in showbiz all know well, the show must go on. No one in the audience or behind the scenes had any clue at all what was really happening in real time on that stage. Bobby did not make a peep, he danced brilliantly, and told me later that he simultaneously was formulating his plan on what to do about this unwanted and excruciating development.
A moment occurs in this stunning choreography, when the lead male is crouching almost at the feet of the two solo girls. Bobby used that opportunity without hesitation to reallign his injured digit, pulling it into place by instinct alone.
After the performance, which he finished, of course, he was taken to a doctor who reported that he had done an amazing job of getting his thumb back where it belonged. However, he had to have a cast and was therefore out of performing for the rest of the Festival Week. And, he could not go swimming! Bobby complained about this restriction quite steadily, and eventually quite comically, after getting over his initial disappointment. I recall that itching inside the cast in the hot Greek summer was a great source of unhappiness for him. He was so uncomfortable and miserable with the cast; he had been so excited about the tour and the trip. It pulled my heart strings to see him suffering and hear him qvetching. That boy could complain like no one else!
I have a picture of us sight-seeing at the Acropolis, me in a little orange and white striped sundress (which, by the way, for the fashionistas, had a marvelous little matching bikini), with Bobbie, and another dancer from the Company - the beautiful Angela Kurtze, who always reminded me of movie legend Marlene Dietrich. I'll make a point of digging the picture out of my treasure trove and see if we can get it scanned into the website Photo Gallery... Here it is:
© Cecily Bressel & Arizona Ballet Theatre 2007|All Rights Reserved
Every picture tells a story they say. This story is about a great performer who handled a tough situation like a trouper. The adoring Greek fans never even knew. Bobby had many strengths; his performances were special, and I am sure many eager fans were disappointed that Bobby had to be replaced in the Festival, and never, until this day knew why.
I hope this story pleases you. I am always delighted to remember my dear friend, the great male dancer, Mr Robert Blankshine.
Miss Cecily Missing a Good Friend
Tuesday, July First, 2008
I Think I'll Share A "New" Bobby Blankshine Story.
"There I Was, In The Summer, In Greenwich Village, With Bobby Blankshine, and My Mother."
It's circa Summer 1967 - the only summer I was able to intensively study at any school in NYC. My older sister, Marilee, had gone with Trinette Singleton to study for three summers in New York at the Joffrey School a few years earlier. Now, I was going to have a turn at some Top Notch Ballet Training in The Dance Capital of the World - NEW YORK CITY. The Joffrey School which was known officially by another name, had a a fine reputation and turned out very strong dancers with a clearly defined "American" style (even though many of the Company's Dancers were from outside the USA); Joffrey, himself, was extremely highly regarded as a Ballet teacher and the affiliated School reflected the high regard New York Critics held for Joffrey, His Staff, and His Exciting Young Company.
I ended up there myself, which was fine with me for an odd reason. I had secret high hopes of catching a glimpse of the much discussed dance superstar on the rise - Robert Blankshine. The rumor mill was very lively when it came to Bobby - all kinds of juicy rumours were circulating not only about his dancing, but about his larger than life personality. I wanted to see for myself. I will continue in a later blog.
Tuesday, July 8th, 2008
I will continue a bit from my Blog entry last week, with my Robert Blankshine tale which is much more about me as a forming dancer than it is about Bobby.
I shared a Basement apartment on West Tenth Street in Greenwich Villiage the Summer I attended a Joffrey Summer Intensive in 1967. Everyday that I danced, I walked East on Tenth several blocks to Sixth Avenue for my classes in the School's narrow and hot Studios and back to the apartment at least twice per day, sometimes more. I was focused on my classes and exploring some independence in one of the coolest cities on earth, and in about the neatest neighborhood in the city. The West Village was about the best place I had ever been. It was certainly in the running for top honors.
Of course, I loved to look at all the sights while walking, I went into many of the interesting stores on my route, and generally was getting the feel of NYC during a "Hot Time, Summer in the City" to paraphrase a popular song of the day. One shop that was NEVER open once for all the weeks I was living in the West Village was a Little Thrift Shop on the Uptown side of Tenth. I was extremely curious about this little business. Why was it never open? How did they survive? Why didn't the owners care? I had all kinds of scenarios running through my mind. Trust me, I had no clue about business then; not too much has changed in that regard really, when I think about it, but I digress.
Then it happened that one Saturday when my Mom was visiting, that The Thrift Shop was open.
I made a beeline for the door AND was quite happy to look over the charming treasures, which, as I recall were quite artfully arranged. As my Mom and I were inside browsing - she was kind of into it too, but not as much as me. I LOVE BARGAINS! - Robert Blankshine ACTUALLY came into the store. OMG!!!!! The Talented Boy Genius, Whose Career I had Followed from Afar in Boston Was In My Sight! The Great Robert Blankshine had finally visualized before my eager eyes! In a Thrift Shop. Clearly a Magical Thrift Shop. I was so happy, I felt like I would burst. He wasn't dancing, that was true, but he was wearing white denim shorts and those legs were the Ballet legs of a dance G-d! OMG. OMG. OMG. This was big.
I had to alert my unsuspecting Mother that we were in the Presence of Genius. I sidled over to her, I imagined rather stealthily so as not to draw attention from the Dance G-d of Fleeting Appearances. I whispered to her, "Mom, guess who that is? Robert Blankshine. It's Robert Blankshine." I was on Cloud Nine. She and I had been chosen. I really admired him based on the ways dancers gossiped about him. I am attempting to convey my teenage euphoria combined with my personal Ballet Obsession. This was a Big Moment for me, why exactly I have no idea. Teen Madness, I guess. I was a huge fan. A fan of a dancer who all the critics wrote about and other dancers talked about. A Star. I needed to validate this experience with the only other person in the store. (Still didn't see any owner or worker bee.) All I could see was Robert Blankshine of Rumor & Gossip Fame. A Hot Topic on the Ballet Grapevine. A dancer with that mysterious quality - "It."
Mom naturally didn't have a clue what I said, why I was so excited, or for that matter what was happening in real time. She responded loudly, "Who? Who is that? Should I know him? What's going on?"
Embarrassed and unsure of what to do was I. My Sweet Mommy was embarrassing me in front of THE Robert Blankshine.
Ridiculous, I now realize. After all, I was a teenager in a weird but wonderful situation with my Mom. Egads. Had I been more savvy about the ways of the world, or had I known Bobby and how much he adored his fans, I would have rushed right over to introduce myself.
Instead I rushed Mom out of the store and on to other less stressful (for me) events. Inside I was ecstatic to have finally seen my secret idol. Little did I know then that I would soon have a much better Bobby sighting. That week he surprised us all and me especially by attending a ballet class taught by my incredibly demanding teacher, the late, great Perry Brunson.
Mister Brunson was in the best mood I had ever seen him in on that special day. Of course, the Joffrey faculty adored Bobby. He was a shining Superstar in a company of shining stars. Having him in class was an artistic thrill that any dance person could appreciate.
I'll describe Bobby's dancing more at a later date. Just know that seeing Bobby's Dance Genius with my own eyes fired my imagination like it had never been before.
Some dancers simply change your life when you see them. Nurevey had that effect on people around the globe. Eddy Villella also. Alicia Alonso for sure. Allegra Kent and Mimi Paul, too. Of course, there are many others. Robert Blankshine belongs in. this Pantheon. I am so happy that I saw him, and so sad that no one has yet to post dance footage of him on YouTube.
Miss Cecily Very Happy, But Also Missing A Dear Friend
©Arizona Ballet Theatre 2008|All Rights Reserved
Sunday February 24, 2008
I believe with all my heart, brains, and soul, that if only Bobby Blankshine had been a defector from the former USSR instead of a sweet farm boy from Upstate New York, not only would he still be alive, he'd be rich!
I have received this wonderful message from Wanda Ruggiera, a student and friend of Bobby.
Dear Miss Cecily,
Your memorial page to Robert Blankshine is beautiful. I had the good fortune to take class and be friends with Robert Blankshine a few years before his death. It has always bothered me a great deal that he was so talented and so unique and yet, after his death, it seemed as though his existence was swept under the rug. Yours is the first tribute to his genius that I have seen in all this time and I am so very glad that someone has taken the time and care to showcase even a small part of what a real artistic genius he was.
Recently, while sorting through various articles to scan, I came across this two page article from 1985. I thought you should have a copy of it to add to your memories and if you choose to do so, to your memorial page for RB.
Thank you ever so much for remembering this lovely guy.
Dear Wanda, Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful words. I am so happy you remember Bobby too. I am so thrilled to actually have some photos of Bobby teaching at Steps to post here. Warm wishes, Cecily
Monday, February 11th, 2008
Seeing the picture of Robert Blankshine featured as the "Latest Image" on our ABT website thrills me. Thank you, Chic.
Bobby's talent was recognized by everyone in the New York dance scene when he arrived in Manhattan to study at the School of American Ballet on a Ford Foundation Scholarship in the 1960s. He had been dancing in Upstate New York with the best local teachers, and confided in me when we became best buds a decade later, that the goal of coming to The City never left his eager young mind. To my amazement, Bobby was a self-described farm boy who had won numerous awards for his involvement with the local Four H Club, and absolutely adored animals and daisies; in my limited experience, Bobby was the connsummate sophisticate - the ultimate City Boy. Despite his metropolitan manner, Bobby remained a farm boy at heart, whose dance talent could only thrive in a city with the many other dancers, teachers, and choreographers who also had gravitated to Manhattan.
Bobby's talent was matched by undeniable charisma - that magical quality all performers should possess. Here is what the Critics said...
–NEW YORK POST• "ONE OF THE MOST PROMISING YOUNG DANCERS IN THE WORLD" CLIVE BARNES• "FIREWORKS OF BLAZING VIRTUOSITY: DISCOVERY OF THE SEASON" CHRISTIAN MONITOR* "DAZZLINGLY ACROBATIC" NEWSWEEK • "SUPERB BRAVURA DANCING, SPECTACULAR BY ANY STANDARDS" WINTHROP SARGEANT, THE NEW YORKER• "EXPLODES ALL RESERVE IN THE AUDIENCE, A SHIMMERING PERFORMER" VARIETY• "COMBINES THE LIGHTNESS OF A GAZELLE AND THE STRENGTH OF A PANTHER. . . OUR OWN NUREYEV, REMARKABLE"
© Cecily Bressel & Arizona Ballet Theatre 2007|All Rights Reserved
Friday, December 21st, 2007
We have been watching some excellent ballet video on You Tube featuring a remarkable male ballet dancer from Japan named Tetsuya Kumakawa. I highly recommend that you view clips of this technically outstanding dancer.
Here he is in Ballet Bayadere Solor Variation
He reminds me so of my dear friend Robert Blankshine who died twenty years ago this week, a sad milestone for me and all those who adored Bobby. Very little information is available about Bobby; woefully, nothing has appeared on YouTube but I have reason to hope that someday, some footage may turn up. While Bobby made his big splash in the New York Dance Scene of the 60s as one of the standouts in the Joffrey Ballet, he also had a long career in Europe. I know that he was filmed for a few European dance movies back then, and I have my fingers crossed that someday that film will surface. In the meantime, I have very vivid memories that I can view in my head..
Interestingly enough, what comes to mind first is the very first time I saw Bobby years before we became best friends. I was strangely enrolled in a Summer program at the Joffrey School on Sixth Ave in Greenwich Village. (Those of you who know me realize I should have been at SAB - but that is a completely different story for another time.) I was in the top level and my main teachers were the late, great Perry Brunson and the charming Hector Zaraspe who still teaches (I believe, at Julliard.)
I had heard wild and glorious rumors about Robert Blankshine in Boston for years. His talent was so unusual that even then - before cell phones and email - serious ballet dancers had a pretty accurate grapevine and New York talent was the main attraction.
Bobby appeared one day to take Mr Brunson's class. Company members occasionally dropped in and were greeted with appropriate deference by all. Mr Brunson was clearly exceptionally delighted to see Bobby; the class was even more demanding than usual. (His classes were the most difficult I ever experienced.)
Bobby was a revelation. He seemed to be dancing in his own, self-generated glow. I had never seen anyone like him before, and, remember, I had worked with amazing dancers whose talents were outstanding. Bobby was dazzling. Every thing about him was better .... more.... cleaner, sharper, higher, softer, "bendier" - more turns, higher jumps, better extension, quicker petite allegro. Almost unbelievable, yet there he was, small, compact with a focus that was palpable, in person in my favorite place - the Ballet Studio. What a day!
In 1971, we worked together for John Taras in Berlin at the Deutches Oper where Bobby was an adored principal dancer. We became true friends that year, a friendship that was to last until his sudden death over the Christmas Holidays in 1987.
I remember Bobby every day. His dancing was so beautiful AND he was an amazing teacher as well. He was a major teaching attraction at Steps in NYC, and Carol Paumgarten, Steps owner, was a devoted fan and admirer.
I hope that someday you will be able to see that dance footage of Robert Blankshine that I know is out there waiting to be uncovered. While the photographs and reviews are tantalizing, it would be so great to see Bobby move again. He was completely sensational.
Cecily Travsky Travesky (E. Virginia Williams' version) Winslow Bressel