- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

More than 1,000 people showed up at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall Monday evening to celebrate the life of the late Mary Day, co-founder of the Washington School of Ballet and founder of the Washington Ballet. Miss Day died July 11 at age 96.

The large gathering was a tribute to her prodigious achievement, which shaped the face of dance in Washington, and the way she inspired generations of children to seek quality in their lives whether as dancers or in other fields.

The 11/2-hour program captured her many accomplishments with tenderness, zest and style. The evening was produced by Elvi Moore, former general director of the Washington Ballet and Miss Day’s close friend.

It included a slide show, a television documentary, anecdotes from many periods in Miss Day’s 70-year career and seven short performances by dancers who ranged from aspiring students to accomplished professionals. The culmination was a pas de deux from “Swan Lake” danced by Amanda McKerrow partnered by John Gardner. When Miss Day took the 17-year-old Miss McKerrow to Moscow and she became the first American to win a gold medal there, it brought both of them international acclaim.

Many behind-the-scenes stories illuminated some of the highlights of Miss Day’s life: her early collaborations with Howard Mitchell, then conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra; her opening of the first ballet-academic school in the country — which flourished from 1962 to 1977— and her founding of the Washington Ballet, which put Washington on the national dance map.

The evening was led with humor and charm by Victor Shargai, Miss Day’s longtime friend, and by breathless-voiced comedian Georgia Engel, a former pupil. Alice Bralove, an early student and then a teacher in her school, made the early years come alive; headmistress Faith Jackson described the rigor of the ballet academy; Virginia Johnson, graduate of that academy, leading ballerina at Dance Theatre of Harlem and now editor of Pointe magazine, said of Miss Day: “She opened the world for me and taught me a feeling for artistry rather than flash.”

Kevin McKenzie, a prize pupil, leading dancer in American Ballet Theatre and now its artistic director, described his first meeting with Miss Day, when he auditioned to enter her ballet academy. He performed a wildly ambitious dance he had made up, full of every extravagant gesture he could think up. “Mary Day fell off her bench laughing,” he said, adding, “She took great delight in chutzpah.”

Television newsanchor Barbara Harrison (WRC-NBC4) screened a documentary she had made of the vibrant Miss Day in the studio and at glamorous receptions.

Interspersed with reminiscences were performances. Members of the Washington Ballet danced the snow scene from Miss Day’s “Nutcracker.” It was announced that Patricia Berrend, a founding member of the company, will present Miss Day’s “Nutcracker” in Olney next month.

Other pas de deux were from Choo San Goh’s “Momentum” and Jerome Robbins’ “In the Night.” Chanteuse Karen Akers made a cameo appearance, and there were performances by Miss Day’s students who are on the first rung of their careers — Maxence Bush, Likolani Brown from the New York City Ballet, and a tour-de-force tap improvisation by Carter Williams with Lily Neill on the Celtic harp.

Mary Day was a class act, and so was the celebration of her life.

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