Tuning Up - Spring 2023

George’s Angels

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Remembering my time with Balanchine’s dancers

By Jerome Charyn | March 1, 2023
Illustration by Eric Hanson
Illustration by Eric Hanson

Fifty-one years ago, to be exact. I met a blond angel at a health food store on the Upper West Side. The angel smiled at me. I smiled back. She was a dancer, a soloist at George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet. She was startled when I recognized her stage name, Deborah Flomine. She was even more startled when I talked about my favorite dancers—Allegra Kent, Jacques d’Amboise, Eddie Villella, and Patricia McBride, all of whom she’d danced with at Lincoln Center and other venues around the world when the company went on tour.

You weren’t supposed to meet a stranger at a health food store who could examine one of Balanchine’s ballets with all the incandescence of an x-ray machine. I was Debbie’s dark angel, I suppose. I must have reminded her of Nureyev, with my high cheekbones. We fell in love. Eventually we moved in together, into an apartment house on West 67th Street originally built for artists—it had magnificent studio space with northern exposure. Our landlady offered us a reasonable rent because she liked having a “young couple” in her domain.

Unluckily, we lived on the same block as Balanchine, or Mr. B, as all his dancers and everyone else called him. He was famously possessive of his female dancers and didn’t like them to have boyfriends. Marriage might come next, and then a baby, and that could mark the end of Mr. B’s interest in that dancer’s career. A marriage might be forgiven, but a baby was most often a kiss of death.

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