Six dancers smiling at each other

Jean-Pierre Frohlich on Mistake Waltz for our Summer Performances

Our Summer Performance season is fast approaching and is the culmination of this year’s training. Students will perform works that showcase their skills and artistry, from classical ballet to contemporary works.

Mistake Waltz is an enchanting piece amongst them which portrays a more comedic element by the dancers. Jean-Pierre Frohlich is the Repertory Director of the New York City Ballet and was previously a member of the corps de ballet. He later transitioned to roles involving staging and coaching ballets, especially those of Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine. Frohlich visited our studios to rehearse with our Upper School students who are dancing in the piece.

We spoke with Jean-Pierre about continuing Jerome Robbins’s legacy and his experience staging Mistake Waltz for our upcoming Summer Performances.

Can you tell me about your background as a dancer and choreographer?

J:  I’m a native New Yorker. My parents came from Europe a little after World War Two, and I started my ballet training at the School of American Ballet at 10 years old. Balanchine choreographed a few things on me when I was a child, and I was in the annual Nutcracker, playing the role of Fritz.

The first year was in Lincoln Center, and eventually, I played the prince. I joined the company at the age of 17, a year before Balanchine wanted me to join, but someone else decided not to join, so I was up next. I danced until I was 36 years old. At that point, I was ready to stop.

You were involved in a lot of Robbins’ and Balanchine’s ballets. How did you transition to assisting Jerome Robbins?

J: Yes, both cast me frequently. After Robbins did his Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, I came back to the company, and they were doing a festival of his ballets. I approached him and said, “If you need any help, I’m willing to help.” He said, “Sure, come on up. We have a rehearsal right now.” It just clicked, and he wanted me to stay on. I retired right after the festival and worked with him as an assistant until his death. I travelled with him to The Paris Opera and the National Ballet of Canada, and we staged ballets together.

I learned so much from him and from Balanchine, but Robbins’ theatricality, his focus on finding the truth in why you do things, and the histories of characters were profound. I started by writing down his corrections for the dancers during rehearsals, which helped me understand his thinking and recreate his ballets for new generations now that he’s not alive.

Let’s talk about Mistake Waltz, the piece you’re working on with the School for our upcoming Summer Performances. Can you share more about it and your role in staging it?

J: I added to it this time, but usually, when we do an excerpt from The Concert, it’s the Mistake Waltz because it involves a group of dancers, and the audience can easily understand it.

I added an opening where the gentlemen are like museum workers trying to save ancient vases and statues in a chaotic scene, with the women representing the items. This gives the piece a beginning, middle, and end. Doing it at the School is special because I reproduced it for The Royal Ballet years ago, connecting it to when Robbins was alive.

Jean-pierre frohlich on mistake waltz for our summer performances

What do you like about the piece and Robbins’ choreography style?

J: I love the piece because it’s unique and leaves the audience in a good mood. Robbins’ ability to piece together music and drama is fascinating. He continually refined his work, and if you don’t stick to his framework, it doesn’t work as well. His ballets teach dancers to be real human beings, not just performers. This human quality and intimacy between dancers are what I love about his work.

It’s considered a comedy, how do you ensure the dancers understand the comedic aspect without overacting?

J: Yes, it’s all about timing and being in the moment. Comedy must seem real. For the students, it’s a great experience to work in a different way from classical variation.

What was it like working with The Royal Ballet School and the company?

J: It was wonderful. I have vivid memories of The Royal Ballet coming to New York when I was a child, and later, I got to work with them. There’s always been a connection for me. Working in London and reproducing the ballet is a dream come true.

How do you approach working with students compared to professional dancers?

J: You need more patience and empathy. They’re still learning and dealing with anxiety about their futures. I always try to be positive and supportive, understanding the challenges they face.

What do you hope the students gain from performing this piece, and what advice have you given them?

J: I hope they learn to never let anyone say they can’t do something. Hard work and perseverance are key. I encourage them to stay positive and dedicated, as results come with effort.

What do you hope the audience takes away from the performance?

J: I hope they see the versatility of the students. The Royal Ballet School produces many brilliant dancers, and this piece shows another side of their talent. It’s important for the audience to see that these students can handle both classical and comedic roles.

Purchase your Summer Performance tickets to see Mistake Waltz on stage at Opera Holland Park and the Royal Opera House.