Nora Kimball

Eliot Feld Ballet (1975)
Stuttgart Ballet: Soloist (1975-1981)
Nederlands Dans Theater (1981-ca. 1985)
Frankfurt Ballet
American Ballet Theatre: Soloist

Nora Kimball‑Mentzos - Opéra national de Paris
Photo via Opéra national de Paris

Nora Koito Kimball-Mentzos, an African- and Asian-American dancer, was born in Brooklyn, New York ca. 1957 and grew up in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Kimball did not feel passionate about ballet until late in her training. She began dancing at age 11 at the National Academy of Ballet under Thalia Mara, but only attended class “because [she] wanted to hang around [her] older sister.” This sister is Christina Kumi Kimball, who performed on Broadway and with George Faison and Alvin Ailey.

At the Harkness House for Ballet Arts, Rebekah Harkness provided funding for Kimball’s tuition, ballet clothes, and academic education. Kimball also studied at the American Ballet Theatre School with Zena Rommett.

Still unsure about what career path she wanted to take, Kimball attended the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. She spent her senior year, 1975, performing with Eliot Feld Ballet and auditioned for Stuttgart Ballet while the company was on tour in the States. Though Feld was angry she was leaving, at 17 years old, Kimball joined the German company, then under the directorship of Glen Tetley. She believes she was accepted at such an early age because the company “wanted someone to mold.”

Kimball eventually reached the rank of soloist but left Stuttgart in 1981, when she joined the Nederlands Dans Theater. Here, she performed Jiří Kylián’s Songs of Wayfarer, November Steps, and Svadebka (Les Noces), among other pieces.

She then contacted Sir Kenneth MacMillan, who set up a meeting with Mikhail Baryshnikov, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre. After seeing Kimball dance in Paris, Baryshnikov offered her a contract upon her return to the US.

From left to right: Clark Tippet, Nora Kimball, and Robert Hill, rehearsing for Enough Said. Photo by Martha Swope, 1987

Sometimes credited as the second African American female soloist at ABT, Kimball may be the first, as one of her predecessors Anne Benna Sims, who was said to be a soloist, remained in the corps de ballet.

While with ABT, Clark Tippet choreographed a principal role in his first ballet Enough Said on Kimball.

Kimball also danced with the Frankfurt Ballet and worked with choreographers like William Forsythe, Karole Armitage, and Peter Sellars. She starred in Peter Sellars’ revival of The Seven Deadly Sins at the Lyon Opera and, this time under the stage direction of Sellars, was one of three solo dancers in an “opera-oratorio” El Niño, performing this in Paris and San Francisco. Kimball appeared in David Gordon’s 1987 production Made in U.S.A.

Kimball has taught for the Zena Rommett Floor Barre Technique and the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst. She has “created workshops that enable children to explore physical expression through dance.”

In addition to her extensive and successful dance career, Kimball has also modeled for Issey Miyake.



Nora Kimball, Wikipedia
Little Known Black History Fact: Nora Kimball, Black America Web
Nora Kimball-Mentzos, Opera national de Paris
Nora Kimball, Mentzos, Alienor Ballet
A Striking New Face with the Dutch Dancers, The New York Times
Old, new of ABT to share stage this week, The Miami Herald
She’s danced to Met, Daily News

See also:

Black dancers are still a rarity in classical ballet, The Morning Call

Video links:

John Adams – Nativity oratorio: El Niño (Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Kent Nagano) Part 1/2
John Adams – Nativity oratorio: El Niño (Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Kent Nagano) Part 2/2

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