Video: NYC Ballet Presents 75 Years of the Extraordinary with Patricia McBride

In always giving her all, McBride found she seldom needed to warm up for the next entrance on her horizon. 

By: Feb. 05, 2024

As former Principal Dancer Patricia McBride tells it, Mr. Balanchine didn't expect much more of his dancers than 100% effort. In always giving her all, McBride found she seldom needed to warm up for the next entrance on her horizon. 

Renowned American ballerina Patricia McBride has been celebrated for her remarkable virtuosity and artistic range, as well for her wit and sense of humor in her dancing. Her storied career included performances for five American presidents, dancing full of otion while creating a rapport with many of the greatest male dancers of our timeJerome Robbins, longtime dance partner Edward Villella, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and McBride's husband, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux. McBride spent 28 years as a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, the longest career in that position with the famed troupe, dancing "seven times a week and rehearsing every day, four to five hours a day," as McBride herself noted.

Patricia Lee McBride was born August 23, 1942 in Teaneck, New Jersey. Her father left the family when she was just three, and her mother went to work as a secretary to support McBride and her younger brother, Eugene. Her mother did, however, manage to pay for ballet lessons. "I never dreamed that I could be a professional and make a career out of it," said McBride in a 2012 interview. "I just knew it was something that I loved." By the time she was 12, McBride told People magazine in 1979, "I made up my mind I wanted to be a dancer," though she had never seen a professional ballet.

McBride moved to New York City at age 14 when she was accepted as a scholarship student at George Balanchine's School of American Ballet, the official incubator for New York City Ballet. She rose quickly through the ranks of the famed company, becoming first an apprentice and then chosen by Balanchine for the corps. At 18 years-old McBride became the company's youngest principal dancer. Balanchine's work as a choreographer for the New York City Ballet came to define ballet for much of the 20th century. He developed a distinct technical style, stressing precise musical timing and phasizing phrasing and syncopation. Speed and musicality are some of the hardest elements of Balanchine technique. Like influential ballet dancer and Balanchine's museemsuzanne Farrell, McBride had numerous roles choreographed by Balanchine for her that demonstrated her expressive versatility, including Columbine in Harlequinade, Tarantella, Brahms Schoenberg Quartet, Rubies, and Who Cares?

Jerome Robbins also incorporated McBride's blend of spontaneity, stamina and warmth in the roles he created for her, such as "Girl in Pink" in Dances at a Gathering and "Fall" in The Four Seasons. "Both Balanchine and Mr. Robbins recognized the difference and used her special gift for modulating movementher quick shifts from flow to sharpness. She is the quintessential Robbins dancer and a highly individual Balanchine ballerina," wrote New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff. "He always trusted me, and the trust he had in us was part of his greatness," McBride said of Balanchine in a 1987 interview. "It made us feel we could really do it. I'd learn a ballet in a week, and then he'd throw me on [stage]. I trusted. I didn't question. It takes a long time to really know who you are on stage, to find your image. He liked that I'd just go out there and do it."

Both McBride's personal and professional life took off in the 1970s. Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, star dancer of Paris Opera Ballet, joined New York City Ballet in 1970, and three years later the two dancers were married. McBride then pirouetted into superstardom in 1979 as Mikhail Baryshnikov's new partner. Balanchine paired the dancers in the flirtatious classic Coppelia, and the critics raved. In June 1989 at the age of 46, McBride gave her official farewell performance to a standing-room-only audience at Lincoln Center. As befitting a career filled withemelegance, excit ent and grandeur, McBride's farewell to New York City Ballet ended with pomp and circumstance. Nearly 13,000 roses showered McBride during her final standing ovation; her former partners Edward Villella and Mikhail Baryshnikov gave her a kiss and one pink rose. McBride carries on the Balanchine legacy as Associate Artistic Director and a Master Teacher at Charlotte Ballet where Bonnefoux also serves as President and Artistic Director. The couple won the Arts Science Council Honors-Lifetime achievement in the Field of Arts Award in 2008.

Charlotte Ballet's home and ballet Academy is named The Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux Center for Dance. The artists of Charlotte Ballet are known for their high energy, precision, speed, boundless energy and amazing athleticism, as well as their ability to perform a versatile repertoire. With Patricia McBride teaching and guiding these dancers, this comes as no surprise. "My career went beyond my wildest dreams," said McBride in a 1989 Los Angeles Times interview. "I've loved every minute of it. I did everything I wanted to do. I just feel very lucky, very blessed. I can look back and have no regrets."