Ballet director's last dance calls for some special shoes Performance: Pamela Moore of the National Ballet has saved her Moscow-made pointe shoes for a soft, silent farewell to performance this weekend.

January 29, 1998|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For a dancer, the passage of time is swift. One day, it seems, she puts on her first pointe shoes; the next, she's hanging them up for good.

Pamela Moore, artistic director of the National Ballet, whose studio and school is in Crofton, has been saving a special pair of pointe shoes for the day she hangs hers up. The shoes were made eight years ago in the shoe shop of the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, and she has been keeping them to wear for the second act of "Giselle," which she dances in a farewell to performance this weekend at Prince George's Community College in Largo.

This fairy tale of a jilted maiden who joins a band of winged spirits called "wilis" takes place in a clearing in the forest under moonlight. The wilis are the ghosts of girls who have been betrayed by their lovers, and they should seem weightless, mothlike, shadowy -- and silent.

So a ballerina who plans to perform Giselle breaks in a pair of her softest shoes for the second act, where the girl changes into a ghost.

Giselle is the role Moore always planned for the end of her performing career.

"It's most appropriate for a farewell," says Moore, 49, who has the slender figure of a younger dancer. "It's like what they say about old soldiers -- Giselle just fades away."

Moore is retiring, because it's too hard to do everything she once did. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis seven years ago, and the disease has led to balance problems because of degeneration of the inner-ear nerves. That affects her dancing and her stamina.

"It's better to go before people don't want to see you on stage," she says.

National Ballet was founded by her mother, Helen Moore, who opened a dance studio in District Heights in 1948, when she moved to the Washington area from Michigan with her husband and two children. William Moore, Pamela's father, was an aeronautical engineer who worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and was on the President's Space Council during the Johnson administration.

Both Moore children studied at their mother's school. Pamela's older brother, William Jr., who recently retired as a vice president of ABC News, was her dance partner during their teen years. William was asked to be the Nutcracker Prince when New York City Ballet visited Washington in 1957, and Pamela, then 9, got her first professional experience as a bonbon in the children's corps.

"I lost my skirt on stage," she says cheerfully. "But I didn't care, because I got to miss school."

Missing school became a tradition. When Pamela graduated from high school, she accepted an apprenticeship with Joffrey Ballet. But her father insisted she go to college, so she did her best to flunk out of the University of Maryland, where she was a music major. Although she never quite succeeded in failing, she also managed not to graduate until 1975, when she was 27.

In the meantime, she danced briefly -- three weeks -- with the Harkness Ballet, then assumed the artistic directorship of her mother's company in 1971.

The Moore name has been on the letterhead of the company for half a century, but the company's own name has changed many times. It began in the 1950s as the Prince George's Ballet, a student troupe of 25 dancers, then became the Regional Ballet of Washington. When Pamela took over, she restructured it as a professional company of 14 dancers and renamed it American Contemporary Ballet.

In the 1960s, a rivalry developed in the nation's capital between the Washington Ballet (run by Mary Day) and the National Ballet (run by Frederic Franklin and Oleg Tupine). Moore's company allied itself with the National Ballet and became, in effect, an off-season home for its dancers.

The Kennedy Center snubbed both companies when it opened in 1975, and the National Ballet folded shortly thereafter. In 1989, Moore's board bought the National Ballet name, apparently thinking it would sound more sophisticated. Instead, the name has raised expectations that a chamber ballet in the Washington suburbs could not fulfill.

Moore says she would have preferred to stick with American Contemporary Ballet. "I kept asking, 'National Ballet of what?' " she says.

The company was offered a residency at Bowie State University in 1985, and has performed there in the Meyers Theater. But that relationship is about to end in a dispute over finances. The ballet board is considering becoming the resident company at Prince George's Community College.

The ballet's facilities are scattered around Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties. Its school, which maintains an enrollment of 80 students and a certified Cecchetti curriculum, is in Crofton.

(Moore is a certified teacher of the methods of Enrico Cecchetti, the Italian ballet-master who defined dance training at the turn of the 20th century.)

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