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In his recent book President Kennedy: Profile of Power, the historian and columnist Richard Reeves writes about the real balance of power within the White House during the early 1960s--Camelot days now filtered through a golden haze. Jacqueline Kennedy was America's "unofficial Minister of Culture," Reeves tells us, and "it was she, with the help of [JFK's press secretary] Pierre Salinger, who had trained as a concert pianist, who brought the cellist Pablo Casals, the composer Igor Stravinsky, and George Balanchine, the dance master, into the White House."

But Mrs. Kennedy, on whose time great demands were often made, sometimes drew a line, as she did one day when asked to greet a delegation of Girl Scouts in the White House Rose Garden. It was important to the President that his much-admired wife meet the delegation, however. In conversation with Kennedy, Salinger expressed his concern about Mrs. Kennedy's refusal to perform this small diplomatic duty.

"Just give me a minute," Kennedy said. "I'll straighten this out."

The President and Mrs. Kennedy had a short private conversation, after which the President emerged to report the outcome to Salinger.

"Mrs. Kennedy is going to [meet with the Girl Scouts]," he told his friend.

"How did you do it?" Salinger asked, bemused.

"It cost me," Kennedy answered. "But you won't guess what it is."

"A new dress?" Salinger asked.

"No," Kennedy laughed. "Worse than that: two symphonies."

Kennedy's own tastes were well known and quite different from those of his remarkable young wife, who managed to focus the nation's attention on what were then known as the "fine" arts and to give impetus to the growth of a new national arts-consciousness which eventually led to the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts. In the midst of social and political upheavals, Mrs. Kennedy showed us that another view of the world was possible, one in which self-expression and love of the humanities were even more potent forces than war and the politics of confrontation; she set a tone in Washington unlike anything we had ever known there before--or, unfortunately, since.

Mrs. Kennedy's passion for dance (she was on American Ballet Theatre's board of directors twenty-five years), for literature (she worked, really worked, at Doubleday), for music, and for the decorative arts, as well as her ability to use her considerable resources to promote her causes, did more for America--and American dance--than we will ever be able to measure.

Robert Joffrey's rock ballet Astarte was a child of the sixties and, dance being very much a product of the era in which it is created, bears some thought-provoking comparisons with our own times. (See pages 28-33 for the Astarte story; also, "Haiti Dances to a Different Drummer," touches on dance and politics in that troubled Caribbean society today, pages 38-41.) Christian Holder, who was a principal dancer with the Joffrey in those days, inherited the role of the goddess Astarte's victim and has written a book, based on his diaries and letters, from which we've extracted a chapter.

Holder's first-person account and balanced insights help us understand not only what went on but why. Civilization does not move forward in a smooth arc with measured pace but, rather, in clumsy lurches and dizzying eruptions, interspersed with quieter periods of stasis. The 1960s sometimes seemed to be lurching out of control, and many of the values we took for granted were put on trial--and found deficient. Nothing was sacred. It was a time of experimentation in the arts, of action and irreverence. It was also a time of conflict and contrasts: of brotherhood and of racial strife, of love-ins and head-bashing riots at the infamous 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Bucolic Woodstock was followed by bloody Altamont, the Beatles were cute but the Stones were brutes. Nureyev and Fonteyn embodied the ideals of classical ballet in almost violent contrast to Astarte's world of acid rock in which an uptight guy in a business suit is lured out of the audience at Manhattan's venerable City Center, strips to his briefs in a trance, and, undone by Astarte, the personification of uninhibited eroticism, finally wanders, reeling and mad, naked and vulnerable, off the stage and down West 56th Street.

There are parallels here to the Romantic classics, such as Bayadere and Swan Lake, but the differences are even greater--the differences, in fact, are the point, the point nobody in the new generation of dance-goers in 1967 missed.

It was a new view.
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Title Annotation:tribute to the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, her contribution to 1960s culture and the creation of Robert Joffrey's ballet 'Astarte' during that era
Author:Philp, Richard
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Aug 1, 1994
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