Most of us have a favorite teacher, a mentor who inspired us and shared wise words that have remained with us the rest of our lives.
For Sarah Jessica Parker, that teacher was David Blackburn, the former associate artistic director of Cincinnati Ballet, who died on June 15 at the age of 76. He had been treated for several different types of cancer in recent years.
She studied with Blackburn for just four years, from the age of 8 to 12. Rather than pursue a career in dance, though, she went on to a famously successful career in television and film (Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City”) on Broadway (“Once Upon a Mattress”) and as a producer of both television and film (“Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” and “Pretty Old”).
But Blackburn’s lessons have stayed with her to this day, 40 years after she began studying with him.
“I’ve always been very cognizant of the role that David played in my life,” said Parker, speaking to the Enquirer from her home in New York City. “Whenever the occasion allows, I like to recall and share with people that I had this incredible ballet teacher – David Blackburn.”
And now, Parker is eager to share those recollections even more widely. Blackburn’s family had already scheduled a small gathering of friends to commemorate his life. But Parker – a producer at heart – felt that if her enthusiasm was so great, surely there were others who felt the same way.
So, working with several of Blackburn’s Cincinnati friends, she is hosting a memorial gathering at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 20, in Patricia Corbett Theatre at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music.
It’s not a show, by any stretch of the imagination. But several of his closest friends and family members will share recollections and stories about his life and career. In addition there will be videos chronicling some Blackburn’s dancing and teaching career, as well as footage from “The Nutcracker. A Fantasy in the Making,” an Emmy Award-winning film commissioned by Frisch’s Restaurants in the 1970s.
Though Blackburn was widely known for his laughter, Parker valued him for being so serious.
“For David, ballet was a very serious endeavor,” said Parker, recalling a class when his words had a particularly profound impact on her. “He told us that ballet isn’t just about moving properly or finding the correct line. It’s the about the feeling that you can convey to an audience. Ballet is acting as well as dancing.”
That had never dawned on Parker, who was just 9 at the time.
“When he said that, it really unlocked something for me. I didn’t become a ballet dancer. But I understood that being effective onstage was in the head and the heart and the body. I’ve never forgotten that. We were so privileged to be exposed to such serious thinking at an early age.”
By “we,” she is including her brother Toby, known professionally as Timothy Britten Parker. Toby has had a distinguished stage career, too, performing in the original company of “Rent” and acting now as Doctor Dillamond in the national tour of “Wicked.”
Toby Parker, three years old than SJP, began ballet classes a year before her. Another sister, Rachel, was also studying ballet with Blackburn.
“Our family didn’t have much money at the time, but David arranged for all of us to be on scholarship,” recalled Toby Parker. “Think about that. Without him, none of us would have been able to afford the classes or the experiences that they provided us.”
Toby, who would go on to dance the leading child role of Fritz with the Cincinnati Ballet, was especially influenced by watching Blackburn perform the role of Drosselmeyer, the toymaker whose creations set the entire Nutcracker story into motion.
“David was more than a teacher for me. He was a role model, a person I looked up to and even feared sometimes. But I wanted to impress him. His praise was important to me. When I saw him as Drosselmeyer, I can’t tell you what an impact that had on me. When I saw him transform into that character, I saw him as an artist. I understood what acting could be.”
They were both very serious about performing. It was work that they enjoyed. But they understood that it was hard work, too. Their stepfather, Paul Forste, was an assistant stage manager at the Playhouse in the Park and the two children were often seen there, tagging along, observing and asking questions of anyone who might answer.
“One of our biggest thrills was when my mom (Barbara Forste) would let us come along when they fed the actors between shows on days when there were two performances. My mom would make all this food and then she would let us serve the actors. Oh, my God – it was the biggest … ” SJP is clearly moved by the experience all these years later. “It was like we were serving royalty. We were completely gobsmacked.”
Sarah Jessica Parker and Toby Parker plan to be in Cincinnati for the gathering, as will their mother and possibly other family members.
Source: Cincinnati News