Back in December of 2008 during my brief departure from DanceArt.com to the now-defunct Dance.com, I wrote about seven of the amazing ballet accompanists who play for some of the classes I take in New York City. The response to the post was so positive that I've decided to bring it back and add four artists to my original roster of those who know exactly how to inspire dancers. Many of the top-flight musicians on my list play from memory or improvise on the spot, feats that continue to astonish me. Unless you're blessed with accompanists at your studio, you've probably taught or taken class to CDs by these seasoned professionals. If you'd like to add to your collection, Google the musicians' names to find their distributors. Here then, in alphabetical order, is an updated roll call of my favorite artists who tickle the ivories at studios around town including Steps, Broadway Dance Center, Manhattan Movement and Art, Ailey Extension, Ballet Academy East, Peridance, Joffrey, and Ballet Arts.
- Flora Arbitman has a vast repertoire in her head that includes the classics as well as folk tunes from her native Russia. In addition, she improvises with ease and picks precisely the right tempo for each exercise and combination.
- Michael Cherry is a consummate master of the keyboard with an understanding of exactly what motivates a ballet dancer to execute each step with a movement quality true to the discipline.
- Josu Gallastegui hails from Spain but he is often in New York City, especially in the summer. His compositions typically have an exciting Iberian flavor and the tempi are spot on for ballet exercises. Josu has been praised, and rightly so, by such luminaries of the dance world as Mikhail Baryshnikov, David Howard, Susan Jaffe, Galina Panova, Cynthia Gregory, and Allegra Kent.
- Nick Levinofsky frequently offers selections that have the jazzy mood of a cocktail lounge but he is also more than capable of delivering fine interpretations of the classics.
- Miro Magloire brings to his music the sensibility of someone who is himself a dancer and a choreographer. His original compositions reflect this background. He is the founder and director of the New Chamber Ballet.
- Ron Musicus plays ballet and opera classics with an innate sensitivity that has been honed during a long and illustrious career during which he has worked with such legends as George Balanchine, Alexandra Danilova, Melissa Hayden, David Howard, and Suki Schorer.
- John Rich is a superb veteran ballet accompanist who clearly enjoys what he does and who has been known to pepper his selections with verbal wisecracks -- as long as the teacher doesn't mind!
- Mary Beth Roberts brings to her work at the keyboard an impressively varied background in music and publishing. Her performing career began with her debut as an eleven-year-old prodigy. She is extraordinarily engaged with the dancers in class. The sense of connection she exudes enhances the experience for everyone.
- Steven Rosenthal has had a storied career as a rehearsal pianist for the American Ballet Theater, the Joffrey Ballet, and such choreographers as Leonide Massine, Agnes de Mille, George Balanchine, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Jerome Robbins, and Paul Taylor, among others. Steven renders the ballet classics with particular precision and respect.
- Vladimir Shinov makes music that is in itself worth the price of admission to a ballet class. His verve and passion are unmatched. Vladimir's official bio says that his "ability to improvise . . . was developed in early childhood, before he had started his first piano lessons." No wonder he has been tapped to work at leading institutions such as Juilliard, Washington Ballet, Houston Ballet, Memphis Ballet, Hubbard Street Chicago Dance Company, Netherlands Dance Theater, Cincinnati Ballet, and American Ballet Theater among others.
- Doug Shultz is a composer in his own right. He plays his original works as well as excerpts from ballets and operas, jazz-inspired pieces, baroque melodies, and contemporary themes. His credits include American Ballet Theatre, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Adelphi University, Alvin Ailey, Bard College, The Joffrey School, Martha Graham School, Merce Cunningham School, and New York University. Doug also plays for the most important ballet classes around town where teachers and students alike applaud his virtuosity.
In addition to these eleven exemplary accompanists, there are many more of equal talent and dedication. Hats off to each and every one of them!
Remember the words of Mr. B: "Dance is music made visible."