You can take the dancer out of Balanchine, but you can’t take the Balanchine out of the dancer—or at least, that’s Darla Hoover’s experience. As artistic director of Ballet Academy East’s pre-professional division, following an 11-year career with New York City Ballet, she readily recognizes that aspects of her class—the speed, clarity, musicality and energy—are inarguably Balanchinian. But she was surprised to find she also takes after the late, great choreographer when it comes to classroom demeanor: “Just like Mr. Balanchine would say, I’ll tell my students, ‘Great! That was so much better.’ They’ll think, ‘Oh, thank goodness,'” she says. “And then I’ll turn around and say, ‘More. Do it bigger.’ That was always him—it was never enough.” That constant quest for perfection will be on display this month, when the BAE students perform Balanchine’s Donizetti Variations, a cheery but technically challenging 26-minute ballet, in their spring recital, May 19–21 at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College in NYC.
How she chooses which ballet to restage for her students “I really assess the group that’s in front of me each year. I want to get the right fit. Number one, how many strong girls and strong boys do I have? For instance, this year, choosing Donizetti Variations—I have more than one advanced boy who I would like to have an opportunity to learn a Balanchine ballet. And that’s not always the case. Some years, it’s just one strong boy. Or do I have someone who’s a jumper? Each ballet has a different flavor, and I have to make sure that I have the ingredients in front of me.”
Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of BAE
On knowing a student is destined for a professional career “I can pick it out every single time. Think of it as a pie with many pieces. One, obviously, is the body that they’ve been given: The proportions are right; the flexibility; there’s a nice line in the legs and the feet. Then there’s this tenacity that they all have. There’s gotta be a hunger in them. And there’s a certain energy they’re just born with. They all want to be perfectionists. They all enjoy the process.”
Her prep method as a dancer with NYCB “I wouldn’t do mental preparation, because that made me freak out about it even more. I’m a huge New York Rangers fan, and that’s what I would warm up to backstage. People knew they could always find out the score from me. If I think too long about anything, I’ll just psych myself out. I don’t prepare my classes, because it throws me off. I have to go start teaching and see what they need that day.”
Training: Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet; School of American Ballet
Performance: Dancer with New York City Ballet, 1980–91
Teaching: Artistic director of Ballet Academy East’s pre-professional division, 1995–present; associate artistic director of CPYB; répétiteur for the George Balanchine Trust