Next Generation Ballet
Patel Conservatory Dance Department
George Balanchine Trust and
Jerome Robbins Rights Trust
During a master class at School of Richmond Ballet, famed dancer for New York City Ballet and former Miami City Ballet artistic director Edward Villella hand-picked Philip Neal for School of America Ballet (SAB). Neal was 12 years old. He cut his teeth in SAB summer classes with the legendary teacher Stanley Williams. Often, Philip found himself in class surrounded by NYCB principles including Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Neal continued to train at SAB during the summer, attending another school during the year, with his eyes always on a spot with New York City Ballet. At 19, he joined the company, immediately thrown into principle roles because his height matched the rather tall ballerinas suited to George Balanchine’s style.
His first rehearsal was with none other than Jerome Robbins.
Neal arrived at SAB in the very last years of Balanchine’s life. He and his cohort group were the last generation of dancers to grace the halls while Balanchine still worked. When “Mr. B” emerged from a rehearsal room, Neal recalls, dancers silenced, the space filling up in reverential awe.
Neal performed for two decades with NYCB, touring the world and training constantly in Balanchine’s and Robbins’ styles. “Jerry called me in on almost all of his rehearsals, so I was able to study, to train in his work. He was direct, he was always like ‘no, it is this way’ whereas Balanchine was more of a figure-it-out-for-yourself choreographer, more open to his work adapting to different dancers. Balanchine has a little wiggle room, but Jerry? No,” he says.
The yin-and-yang dynamic between Robbins and Balanchine is well-known in the dance world and often cited in historical accounts of the wildly prolific and popular era of NYCB during the duo’s heyday as the company’s artistic powers. In fact, it’s legendary. So, it is no small honor for Philip Neal, who began his career with NYCB in a Robbins rehearsal, to have performed in the choreographer’s beloved Dances at a Gathering at Robbins’ funeral
When Neal left NYCB to take over the balletprogram at the Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center, both the Robbins and Balanchine Trusts engaged him as trust holder of the great choreographers’ works, what is known as a repetiteur, or, someone who has been approved by the choreographers’ trusts to set their works on other companies. Neal joined the direct lineage of these master dancemakers, and, now, he brings this legacy to the dancers studying at the Patel Conservatory. In May 2017, Next Generation Ballet performed Robbins’ Circus Polka and Balanchine’s Donizetti Variations as part of their spring concert.
“It was a milestone performance,” Neal says. “My colleagues in New York know what is happening down here, and they are paying attention. We’re only going to grow and go on to bigger things.”
Written by Marlowe Fairbanks