On Thursday and Friday, July 13 and 14, the Idyllwild Arts Summer Program’s Native American Arts Festival paid tribute to Soto, a much honored principal dancer of the New York City Ballet.
On Thursday the festival screened “Water Flowing Together,” a PBS/Independent Lens documentary. Gwendolen Cates directed the film that follows Soto as he prepares for his retirement after 24 years with the New York City Ballet. Soto, one of the most influential of modern American ballet dancers, inspired the creation of 100 new roles choreographed for him by, among others, dance legends George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins. He was one of the last four dancers to be chosen by Balanchine to be part of New York City Ballet. Soto joined the company in 1981 at the age of 16, became a soloist in 1984 and principal dancer in 1985.
The film juxtaposes highlights of Soto’s New York career along with his returns to the vistas and people of his Arizona and Puerto Rican roots. It concludes with his farewell performance on Sunday, June 19, 2005 and provides unprecedented backstage access and looks into the workings of New York City Ballet. “It was better that I decide when it’s enough rather than have somebody tell me,” said Soto in the film about his emotionally difficult decision to retire. As the documentary observes, 24 years is a long career for a dancer. It is an arduous and physically demanding career. And in his career, Soto spent most of his years as principal dancer.
He was early on told he did not have a traditional dancer’s body. Nevertheless, he possessed a combination of grace, athleticism, and dramatic sensitivity that set him apart both as an individual dancer and as a partner and led to an unprecedented long and successful career.
Jock Soto, son of a Navajo mother and Puerto Rican father, said he knew at age 5 he wanted to dance ballet. It was not something that grew out of his Native American tradition.
Soto, while in residence at Idyllwild Arts in March, choreographed a Pas de Deux, “Dark Made Light,” for IA faculty members Jonathan Sharp and Ellen Rosa Taylor. The piece was performed on Friday, to original music by Laura Ortman, a White Mountain Apache. Soto attended.
Soto, who now teaches at the School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center in New York, continues his association with New York City Ballet. The school trains dancers for the company. Soto taught master classes to Idyllwild Arts dancers while here in March. Would he come back? “I’d come in a minute,” he said.