“Dancing is singing with the body” shared Nancy Zeckendorf from the stage at New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. The celebrated philanthropist and former Metropolitan Opera ballerina returned to New York City from Santa Fe for a week filled with events to launch her new memoir, small town, Big Dreams. “I loved dancing to opera music and I love improvising to it. But you know, I wasn’t dancing because I wanted to dance. No, I wanted to be the music. And much later, my teacher Antony Tudor said ‘dancing is singing with the body.’ That’s what I was trying to do.”
She was joined on stage by American Ballet Theatre’s newly appointed Artistic Director, Susan Jaffe, who shared “When I first got into ABT, with Misha Golubitsky and Gelsey Kirkland there, I’d see them walking down the hallways – I didn’t close my gaping mouth for at least the first year. I could not believe I was there, that I could literally touch them… And when you think about it, Antony Tudor, Margaret Craske, and Martha Graham; these icons were her teachers! These are the stories Nancy shares in her memoir.”
Nancy’s audience included step-sons Artie Zeckendorf (with wife Elizabeth Zeckendorf) and William Zeckendorf III (and wife Anna Zeckendorf), ABT’s Sascha Radetsky and Stella Abrera, as well as Diana Byer, Candace and Frederick Beinecke, Penny Colman, Beverly D’Anne, Joan Duncan Oliver, Mercedes Ellington, Betti Franceschi, Magee Hickey, Judith Hoffman, Niel Hoos, Shelby Lamm, Ambassador Earle I. Mack, Ellie Manko Libby, Boulie and James Marlas, NYPL’s Jerome Robbins Dance Division Curator Linda Murray, Joan Duncan Oliver, Richard Osterweil, Liane Pei, Tara and Michael Rockefeller, Rosita Sarnoff, Ellen Rubin, Irene Shen, and many more.
Nancy’s book details a life on stage at The Old Met (formally known as The Metropolitan Opera House) at 1411 Broadway, where Nancy unveiled a commemorative plaque. Former Met Opera House stage manager, Herman Krawitz, joined Nancy. Now 96, Herman vividly recollected the many years he spent watching her dance, as well as Maria Callas, Brigit Nilsson, and Lily Pons. Nancy considered The Old Met “more of a home than my own apartment, spending days rehearsing, taking lessons, and performing most nights of the week for more than 9 years.” President of The Metropolitan Opera Guild and Advisory Director of the Metropolitan Opera, Richard J. Miller, Jr., opened the ceremony by ringing the traditional three tone xylophone, then saying “It is an honor to be here this morning as we dedicate this plaque and commemorate this important building – that was known as the Metropolitan Opera and stood here from 1883 through the Great Depression, and stewarded an art form for so many decades.” Nancy then pulled back gold curtains to unveil the plaque. The gold curtains and xylophone are traditions that began at The Old Met and continue today at its new home in Lincoln Center.
The plaque reads:
THE OLD MET
On this site stood the Metropolitan Opera House, opened in 1883, as an alternative to the previously established Academy of Music.
Originally designed by J. Cleaveland Cady, following a fire in 1902 Carrère and Hastings redesigned the interior adding the first of the Met’s signature gold damask stage curtains.
Many of the world’s greatest opera talents performed here including Maria Callas, Anna Moffo, Birgit Nilsson, Lily Pons, Rosa Ponselle, Joan Sutherland and many more too numerous to list.
Under general manager Rudolph Bing, The Met gave starring roles to for the first time to artists of color including Marian Anderson, Martina Arroyo, Leontyne Price, and Grace Bumbry.
While the theater was noted for its excellent acoustics and elegant interior, as early as the 1900s the backstage facilities were severely inadequate for a large opera company. With the development of Lincoln Center, The Met finally had an opportunity to build a modern opera house. The Met moved to the Lincoln Center location in 1966 and this opera house was demolished in 1967, to make way for the building that now stands here.
Nancy’s memoir also details life after dancing; her philanthropic work and her marriage to her late husband, William Zeckendorf, Jr.. Nancy and her step-son William Zeckendorf, III, unveiled the second plaque at Zeckendorf Towers by Union Square. Executive Director of the Union Square Partnership, Jennifer Falk, spoke to the importance of community and how Zeckendorf Towers remains one of the most influential draws for the Union Square neighborhood’s continued growth and progressive development. Board President, Melanie Wong, shared that when she first moved to New York, Zeckendorf Towers was a building she passed on her commute daily, and dreamed of one day living in.
The plaque reads:
Zeckendorf Towers / One Irving Place / 10 Union Square East
Union Square and the streets around it were designed in the 1930’s as a home for the city’s leading families. After the second World War, the neighborhood began to decline. This building, with its mixed use design, for both commercial and residential space, the largest ever on 14th Street, sparked a revitalization that continues to this day.
It was designed by architectural firm Davis, Brody & Associates. William Zeckendorf named the building as a tribute to his father. Both his sons, Will and Arthur, worked with him on the project. Ground was broken in 1984. Upon opening in 1987, neighborhood land values rose 50 percent.
Zeckendorf Towers, its businesses and residents, remain positive catalysts for further growth, a model of what thoughtful development can do for a neighborhood, and a testament to the enduring strength of this City.
Nancy Zeckendorf’s story is one of a young girl from small town Tidioute Pennsylvania with a big dream that took her to Juilliard, Broadway, summer stock, the stage of the Metropolitan Opera and the Santa Fe Opera. When her story merges with William Zeckendorf Jr. the couple facillitate extensive philanthropic work with American Ballet Theatre and Lensic Performing Arts Center. small town, Big Dreams is available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon, as well as other major retailers.