Albert Evans was a former principal dancer and choreographer of the New York City Ballet, and one of the most prominent African-Americans in classical dance. He died on June 22, 2015, following a short illness, at the age of 46. His death shocked and saddened the dance world, as he was widely admired for his ebullient personality, versatile talent, and pioneering role.
A Passion for Dance
Evans was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 29, 1968. He started training in ballet and modern dance after watching The Nutcracker on television. In 1986, he entered the School of American Ballet on a full scholarship, where he received rigorous training in the Balanchine style.
He joined the New York City Ballet in 1988, and quickly rose through the ranks. He was promoted to soloist in 1991 and principal dancer in 1995, becoming the second African American principal dancer in the company, after Arthur Mitchell. He was the sole one during his career.
A Versatile Performer
Evans was known for his ability to perform a wide range of roles, from classical to contemporary, from comic to dramatic. He excelled in the works of George Balanchine, the founder of the New York City Ballet, as well as in the creations of other choreographers, such as Eliot Feld, William Forsythe, Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon, and Susan Stroman.
He was especially noted for his interpretation of the Phlegmatic variation in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, a role that showcased his fluidity, musicality, and charisma. He also danced in other Balanchine masterpieces, such as Apollo, Agon, Symphony in C, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
He was equally adept at performing in more modern and experimental works, such as Forsythe’s Herman Schmerman, in which he partnered Wendy Whelan in a witty and daring pas de deux. He also created roles for new ballets, such as Ratmansky’s Russian Seasons, Wheeldon’s Polyphonia, and Stroman’s Double Feature.
A Creative Choreographer
Evans had a keen interest in choreography, and started creating his own ballets while he was still performing. He made his choreographic debut in 2002, with Haiku, a ballet for six dancers set to music by John Cage. He followed it with Broken Promises, a duet for himself and Whelan, in 2004.
He also choreographed for other companies, such as The Washington Ballet, for which he created Seego, a playful piece inspired by video games. He also collaborated with Justin Peck, the resident choreographer of the New York City Ballet, as an assistant and a mentor.
A Beloved Teacher
Evans retired from performing in 2010, after a farewell performance that featured The Four Temperaments and Herman Schmerman. He then became a ballet master with the company, teaching and coaching the dancers, and staging the ballets.
He was a generous and supportive teacher, who shared his knowledge and experience with the younger generation. He also appeared in the documentary Ballet 422, which followed the creation process of Peck’s Paz de la Jolla.
A Tragic Loss
Evans died at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, following a short illness. The cause of death was septic arthritis, a joint infection caused by a bacterial infection. He is survived by his mother, his sister, and his partner.
His death was mourned by his colleagues, friends, and fans, who remembered him as a joyful, kind, and brilliant artist. He was a trailblazer, who broke barriers and stereotypes, and inspired many others to follow their dreams. He was a star, who shone brightly on and off the stage. He was a legend, who left a lasting legacy in the world of ballet.