John Clifford (choreographer)

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John Clifford, born June 12, is the founder/artistic director of the original Los Angeles Ballet[1] (1974–85), and the chamber-sized touring ensemble, Ballet of Los Angeles (1988–91) and the creator of “CASABLANCA, THE DANCE” produced by Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, Inc. (which premiered in Beijing, China, at the historic "Great Hall of the People" in 2005) and his Los Angeles Dance Theater. He is currently (2019) developing more large scale dance-musicals and staging his and Balanchine's ballets for the world's major companies, and editing his autobiography “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, From Hollywood to Balanchine and Back.”

Clifford was a principal dancer and choreographer with George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet (1966–74), and guest artist from 1974–80, and was widely considered to be Balanchine’s protégé (Saturday Review). He choreographed his first (of eight) ballets for the NYC Ballet under Balanchine at age 20, thus making him the second-youngest choreographer in history ever to be attached to a major company. The first was Balanchine himself, who was 20 yrs-old when he choreographed his first ballet for Serge Diaghilev's "Ballets Russes." During his time with Balanchine, in his early 20s, he also was a guest choreographer with companies ranging from the San Francisco Ballet, to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, to the Deutsche Oper Ballet in Berlin. Clifford's works were also featured in many TV shows and movies, such as "Flashdance," "The Man Who Loved Women," and TV series such as "Dynasty," "Glitter," and other shows produced by Blake Edwards and Aaron Spelling.

Trained in Los Angeles by the teachers Carmelita Maracci, Katherine Etienne, George Zoritch, Natalia Claire, David Lichine, Eugene Loring, Maria Bekefi, Irina Kosmovska, and Eleanor Powell's Tap teacher, Willie Covan, his first ballet appearance was at the age of 11 as the “Nutcracker Prince” in Balanchine's New York City Ballet production of “The Nutcracker” at the Los Angeles Greek Theater. Other early performances were as a regularly featured dancer on the Danny Kaye and Dinah Shore television shows. He also was a child actor often seen on the Donna Reed Show and Death Valley Days (hosted by Ronald Reagan). His first major choreography, at age 16, was for a production of West Side Story (conducted by Leonard Slatkin) for the Los Angeles Youth Theater. His other Los Angeles choreography was for an early attempt at the establishment of a resident ballet for Los Angeles, the “Western Ballet Association.” Clifford was a principal dancer and choreographer for this company, which was founded in 1965 by Balanchine under the name of “Ballet of Los Angeles.” The name was changed when Eugene Loring followed Balanchine as director of this short-lived company, but this is where Balanchine first became aware of Clifford's choreography (he created two original ballets in the summer of 1966). After seeing rehearsals of these ballets Balanchine invited Clifford to New York to begin choreographing for his School of American Ballet.

In October of the same year, at the age of 19, he was invited to join the New York City Ballet (NYCB). He choreographed his first of eight ballets for that company at the age of 20. At NYCB Clifford quickly rose to principal dancer status and had numerous principal roles created for him by Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, John Taras, Todd Bolender, and Jacques d’Amboise, and danced the leading roles in over 45 ballets. Before he founded the Los Angeles Ballet, Clifford was the first American male guest artist in history to dance with the Paris Opera Ballet. He was also a popular guest star on numerous European galas, dancing on the same programs as the legendary Russian dancers Yuri Soloviev and Irina Kolpakova to name but two great artists. During these early years, he was also commissioned to choreograph new ballets by the San Francisco Ballet, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Deutsche Oper Ballet (Berlin), and was also invited by this same company, at the age of 25, to become their artistic director. He felt he was too young at that time, and did not want to leave Balanchine's tutelage, or the New York City Ballet, so he declined their offer.[citation needed]

Established in 1974 under his direction, the Los Angeles Ballet went on to perform five critically successful U.S. National tours, including New York City (twice at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic, and at the Joyce Theater and the Brooklyn Academy of Music); dance in the Far East, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and Canada, and appear in numerous films and television programs. The Los Angeles Ballet disbanded after facing financial troubles; upwards of $400,000 in unpaid loans and grievances filed by 45 dancers for 40 weeks of unpaid wages, resulting in a settlement of over $1,000,000.

This company also appeared twice at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and at the Greek Theater, the Los Angeles Music Center, Ambassador Auditorium, the Shrine Auditorium, the Pantages Theater, and virtually every theater and University of note in Southern California. They also renovated the John Anson Ford Theater thus transforming it into a major dance venue. The company performed approximately 100 times annually in the Los Angeles area, as well as offering free performances to over 150,000 local school children. This company also supported the largest ballet school in Southern California, the Los Angeles Dance Center, which supplied numerous dancers to not only the Los Angeles Ballet, but also to the NYC Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Zurich Ballet, and American Ballet Theater. Students of his and his school include the well-known stars of the NYC Ballet of the 1980s and '90s Damian Woetzel and Darci Kistler, and students from his school have become leading dancers with the major companies in Germany, Switzerland, France, London, and Holland; as well as across the United States.

As a freelance choreographer Clifford has created ballets for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, (4) Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, (4) Deutsche Oper Ballet, Berlin, (2) Zurich Ballet, (2) Maggio Danza, Florence, Italy, and has staged his works for the Ballet du Nord, France, (4) the Rome Opera Ballet, (2) and Ballet British Columbia. In America, in addition to his eight works for the New York City Ballet, his ballets have been commissioned by the San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet (Seattle), Dallas Ballet, Santa Fe Festival Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theater, Atlanta Ballet, Chicago Ballet, Oakland Ballet, and the Sacramento Ballet.

Clifford is also a Ballet Master/Repetiteur for the George Balanchine Trust. In that capacity he has staged the master choreographer's ballets for: The Bolshoi Ballet, (3) The Paris Opera Ballet, (10) The Mariinsky Ballet, (2) The Royal Ballet, (2) Ballet of La Scala, (3) Rome Opera Ballet, (2) Ballet di Opera San Carlo, (Naples, Italy) Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, (4) Deutsche Oper Ballet and Staats Oper Ballet, (Berlin) The Universal Ballet, and the National Ballet (Korea) The Zurich Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, (Montreal) Ballet Belles Artes, (Mexico City) National Ballet Teresa Carreneo, (Caracas, Venezuela) The Hungarian National Ballet, and nearly every major American company. Clifford has also been a most popular guest teacher for all of these companies teaching classes to Rudolph Nureyev, Sylvie Guillem, and virtually all the great dancers of the late 20th and early 21st century.

Clifford was the artistic director of Robert Redford's Sundance Institute Video/Choreographer Program and produced “Pas De Deux,” a video distributed by VAI (Video Artists International).


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