Jacques d'Amboise was most definitely a "force of nature." A popular Principal Dancer with NYC Ballet, in 1976 he turned his radar to the young people of the city who lacked access to the one thing he loved over and beyond anything else--dance.

By the time he retired from NYC Ballet, the National Dance Institute was on its way to becoming a major supplier of dance rituals and exhilaration. Originating in NYC, it soon spread throughout the nation and beyond to China and now Lebanon.

I remember sitting next to d'Amboise at Skirball --it was not unusual to spot Jacques at dance and theater performances-- and hearing about China's invitation to visit and discuss the establishment of an NDI program. Those early roots have since flourished as evidenced at the Gala April 17 at the Ziegfield Theater. OF course there was the usual dinner, chat, silent auction items and awards, but more unusual for city galas was the nonstop performances by NDI students.

Young people powered the stage in dances to live music, ranging from modern dance to musical theater dance, hip hop, belly dance, and freestyle. One word described all the children --joy. Yes, sheer joy filled those hopeful bodies and the gala audience responded in-kind.

Stars of Broadway, Charlotte d'Amboise and Terrence Mann introduced the show-stopping Ariana DeBose who gave a heartfelt speech about finding her way through dance with the help of her mentor Charlotte. Carmen and Ray Debbane were honored as well. Generally disinclined towards galas, Carmen changed her mind after attending her first NDI Gala. Not only that, she, along with her husband, drew dancers from Lebanon into NDI programs. Clearly, Carmen saw dance as the language of empowerment.

That sense of reaching out to help one another dominated the evening, and when the live auction came around, auctioneer Harry Santa-Olalla, was another amazing performance. By running through the room, flirting and cajoling everyone in sight, he secured over $200,000. There were donations to "adopt" or "support" an NDI school or donations for a single class or just plain give to see more children dance.

Another seminal member of NDI, Kay Gayner, Artistic Director, spoke of the sense of accomplishment felt by the students and a state of satisfaction filling all the NDI teachers. In fact, the current Executive Director, Jermaine Jones was once an NDI student as was my seat mate Trudy Chan who proved a delightful, successful young woman who sits on the NDI board.

Most importantly, the room was filled not just with funders, but with dance professionals, teachers and choreographers. That mix made for a dynamic evening and of course, a program worth supporting.
EYE ON ThE ARTS, NY --- Celia Ipiotis


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