JORDYN RUSSELL – STAFF WRITER
After 38 years spent fostering excellence, School of Dance Director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux is retiring. Throughout his time at Chautauqua, he spent his career emphasizing the importance of preparing the next generation of dancers for success, leaving a sizable impact in Chautauqua that will forever be remembered.
At 14, Bonnefoux began his professional career and joined the Paris Opera Ballet, named danseur étoile (star dancer) at just 21 years old. Serving as a principal dancer for seven years, he trained with the likes of Serge Peretti, Gérard Mulys and Raymond Franquetti.
French by birth, Bonnefoux decided to move to the United States to join the New York City Ballet in 1970. He stayed with the company for 10 years, studying with world-renowned Artistic Director George Balanchine, Andrei Kramarevsky and Stanley Williams.
Throughout his time as a dancer, Bonnefoux also danced with the Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky Ballet) and Bolshoi Ballet, as well as the Royal Danish Ballet.
It was in 1980 that Bonnefoux realized his true lifelong dream, training young dancers as a choreographer, teacher and coach.
Alongside his career at the Institution, Bonnefoux also served as chairman of Indiana University’s dance department from 1985 to 1996 and as artistic director of the Charlotte Ballet from 1996 to 2016. His choreography includes works commissioned by the New York City Ballet, the Lincoln Center Institute, the Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company and the Pennsylvania Ballet.
“From the very beginning, I understood the need for dancers to actually perform, not just take classes, incorporating choreographers that I love, as well as top guest teachers,” Bonnefoux said. “Part of the legacy is that as a teacher, you really trust your students — you give them the chance to gain confidence and find themselves throughout the summer, and you trust their willingness to learn and take classes, while also providing the right people that they can truly learn from, fast.”
Bonnefoux also spoke about dancers’ progression throughout the summer, as well as the faculty behind the magic.
“The (ballet company) directors will call me and say that the dancers that have progressed the most are from Chautauqua, leading them to continue sending students year after year,” Bonnefoux said. “Patricia McBride, director of ballet studies and master teacher, is so generous, caring, trusting — the energy she gives her students is so unique; I am so proud of her and her work passing on the tradition of Balanchine, which she knows probably better than anyone else.”
Bonnefoux also recognized the coaching style utilized at the School of Dance, working to build mutual respect and assurance with the dancers.
“It is an honor to have started coaching that works very well with the students,” Bonnefoux said. “We have two students an hour that come together and work together closely, with 40 students over the course of the weeks — the goal is to become close enough to the dancers and gain the trust to continue to help them grow and solve problems by the end of the summer.”
Bonnefoux extended valuable advice to young dancers and Chautauquans alike, emphasizing the importance in trusting the process.
“Students are always so worried about what is not working that sometimes they forget the things that are working, as well as just how lucky we are to be so close to the music here in Chautauqua,” Bonnefoux said. “We are not here just to show the tradition — we are also here to bring in new voices to show the dancers what they want and lack, while discovering who they truly are and the types of dancing they really enjoy.”