SAB Trailblazer – Albert Evans
Albert Evans was an exuberant, warm, and skillful dancer, choreographer, and ballet master, who in 1995 became the second Black dancer to reach the rank of principal at New York City Ballet, following in the footsteps of Arthur Mitchell.
Having been interested in ballet from a young age, Mr. Evans received his early training in his home city of Atlanta, studying ballet and modern dance with Annette Lewis, who had trained under Martha Graham, and noted ballet teacher Patsy Bromley. He first attended the School of American Ballet’s Summer Course at age 13 and returned at age 16 as a full-time student for the Winter Term. He trained at SAB from 1985 to 1988 before joining New York City Ballet.
For SAB’s 1987 Workshop Performances, Mr. Evans performed the “Phlegmatic” variation from Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments – a part that became one of the signature roles of his dance career. While still a student, Mr. Evans was cast in Eliot Feld’s The Unanswered Question for the 1988 American Music Festival, a three-week extravaganza that New York City Ballet presented that year at Lincoln Center. And at that same festival, choreographer William Forsythe chose Mr. Evans to replace an injured dancer in his punk-infused ballet, Behind the China Dogs.
While with the Company, Mr. Evans danced lead roles in many Balanchine ballets including Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the aforementioned “Phlegmatic” variation, which he also danced in his farewell performance in 2010 before retiring from the stage. Additionally, Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon, and Susan Stroman all created roles for him, which frequently highlighted his mix of ebullience and engaging stage presence. He often partnered Wendy Whelan and can be seen dancing with her in this brief clip of a ballet by Karole Armitage.
He began pursuing his own choreography while still dancing, and created a number of ballets for NYCB as well as for several other companies. His ballet Haiku, set to the music of John Cage, received critical acclaim upon its NYCB premiere. He also created a solo work for fellow dancer Peter Boal entitled One Body, which Mr. Boal performed at the Joyce Theatre.
While searching for solos to present during the Pacific Northwest Ballet 2020/21 season, Mr. Boal, PNB’s current artistic director, was inspired to revive One Body. In the process of recovering this solo, almost lost but for one worn-out VHS tape, PNB had the opportunity to revisit the choreography and legacy of Albert Evans.
Wendy Whelan, Aesha Ash, Carla Körbes, Peter Boal, and Christopher D’Ariano speak about the brilliant life and work of Mr. Evans in this short documentary of the restaging. Watch to the end for a full performance of the solo One Body:
After retiring from the stage in 2010, Mr. Evans remained with NYCB as a ballet master, a post he held until his death in 2015. He also regularly returned to SAB as a guest teacher for variations classes, imparting his experience and insights to the students with encouragement and kindness.
Mr. Evans stood out as much for his positive, upbeat spirit as for his enormous talent. He continues to inspire through his legacy of work as a performer and choreographer, but also through the fond memories held by those who knew him, worked with him, and learned from him.