Jacques d'Amboise and Arthur Mitchell share the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities for moving beyond their own individual achievements as two of America's - and the world's - premier classical dancers. They have individually rededicated their extraordinary talents to offer inner-city children a golden glimpse of a world not governed by poverty, deprivation or conflict, but rather one of discipline, of dreams, of hope - a world of art.
As young men, both resisted the potentially destructive enticements of the mean streets of their New York City neighborhoods, Mr. d'Amboise in Washington Heights and the Harlem of Mr. Mitchell. Their talent was unmistakable, however, and led both of them to careers with the New York City Ballet in the 1950s. Mr. d'Amboise electrified audiences with his virility and exuberant athleticism. Mr. Mitchell, as the first black male dancer to become a member of a major ballet company, was mesmerizing in his elegance and strength.
Despite their successes, neither of these incredibly talented dancers was content to rest on his professional laurels. In 1969, Mr. Mitchell responded to the death of Martin Luther King Jr. with a determination to share with the children of Harlem the kind of opportunities he felt had been given to him and so, 30 years ago, in a New York City garage, the Dance Theatre of Harlem was born. In a similar personal commitment, in 1976, Mr. d'Amboise founded the National Dance Institute, the goal of which was to permit inner-city school children the opportunity to experience, as he had, the sheer joy of pursuing excellence in an art form, be it dance, painting or music.
Today, the Dance Theatre of Harlem is a world-famous institution, credited with playing the single most significant role in helping to break down racial stereotypes in dance and with pioneering a uniquely American perspective in classical ballet. Arthur Mitchell's extraordinary commitment to identifying and developing artistic talent has provided a chance for professional achievement and recognition in the arts for scores of leading dancers who might otherwise have been denied the chance to share their creativity. The Dance Theatre of Harlem, its birth, survival and success, ranks as one of this nation's most inspiring cultural achievements.
Likewise, the National Dance Institute is today one of the nation's largest arts education organizations, having fostered a heightened awareness of the arts and self in over a half million urban students. Using a distinctive combination of dance classes, performances and educational materials, the Institute offers a unique experience in developing self-esteem, discipline and a standard of achievement among inner-city youth. Its success must be credited to its founder's commitment to make the arts accessible to all children as an integral part of their education and with performance goals that inspire hard work and perseverance.
Jacques d'Amboise and Arthur Mitchell have demonstrated that it is simply not sufficient just to be legends. They have generously taken their individual joy in dancing and channeled it into new directions. In the process, they continue to nourish the spirit of young people by using their art to instill feelings of hope, courage, understanding and pride in those who might otherwise never know such accomplishments.
Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.
UPDATES SINCE RECEIVING THE HEINZ AWARD
May 2004 - d'Amboise is honored with a Mayor's Award for Arts & Culture which is given "to individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to the cultural life of New York City." - Education Update Online
May 2003 - A group of d'Amboise's students, known as the SWAT (Super Wonderful Advanced Team), from the National Dance Institute perform a show entitled "Jacques d'Amboise: The Magic Man" in Albuquerque, N.M. Originally choreographed by d'Amboise, the show details "d'Amboise's journey from Manhattan street kid to dance icon." - Albuquerque Tribune
May 2003 - d'Amboise's National Dance Institute of New Mexico opens its new headquarters. The new institution marks the presence of NDI in 10 states, and is extra special to d'Amboise as he "bought a second home in Santa Fe more than a decade ago" and has since lived and worked there extensively. - Albuquerque Tribune
February 2002 - d'Amboise receives a Christopher Award. The award, founded by a Maryknoll priest, annually honor those who "affirm the highest values of the human spirit." - New York Voice
January 2002 - d'Amboise receives the 2002 Arison Award for his dedication "to sharing the arts with children all over the world." The Arison award is given by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, a body which was created "to identify and nurture exceptionally talented young artists." - PR Newswire
January 2002 - d'Amboise is named People First honoree by People magazine for his exceptional and tireless effort to involve America's youth in the arts.
3/5/2001 - Acceptance Speech
Thank you to so many people. Tonight of course, there were the jurors, the nominators, the panel, the Board, Teresa. Other people that I'm not even aware of that somehow brought me here. But thank you to those influences that kept me from being one of the world's greatest gangsters and criminal minds, and with my gang on the block in Washington Heights, it was so easy to fall into that. And somehow or other, those early teachers, those influences that write the scripts that we end up performing through out our life were seminal and I want to thank them. A lot of them are gone, Balanchine among them.
Anyway, I got a phone call from Teresa saying that you won this Award, and I was so excited about it, because I knew what it was, and I knew what a prestigious thing... and it had a monetary gift, and it had a history, even though it was short, of some amazing, amazing people. And then Teresa said, 'You're going to share it with another artist because, the panel couldn't decide on the two of you - they liked you both.' I said, 'Who is it?' And she says, 'Oh, I can't tell you that.' And I said, 'I hope it's Arthur Mitchell.' I'm not kidding, Arthur. I said, 'I hope it's Arthur Mitchell.' We shared dressing rooms together, we danced on the stage together, we partnered ballerinas of the finest, we were Balanchine's students, and he was our mentor, and there's no one in the whole world that I, would rather be together with again, than you, Arthur. So, anyway - I want to go on and find out more about these extraordinary people that we're sharing this award with tonight. They're amazing.
Thank you all.