Thirty some years ago I was a volunteer at the Richmond Ballet as well as a not so talented adult student who danced mostly for the exercise as well as the friends I made. We all knew this kid, Phillip Neal, who was extremely talented and a favorite of Arnott Mader who taught us adults as well as the boys.
We watched him grow up. All of us were excited for him when he went to New York to study summers at the American School of Ballet, part of the New York City Ballet. And one year I one of my volunteer jobs was to sew him into and out of his Prince costume for one of the “Nutcracker” performances. After he started dancing with NYCB, I would try to get tickets to ballets he performed in the hope that I would hit the correct performance. I saw him once in “Nutcracker” and once in “Mozartiana”. I’m sorry I never saw him “Who Cares?”
And now I’m feeling old because after 22 years he has retired. The New York Times had a review by Roslyn Sulcas of his final performance on June 14.
After the bouquets and flowers from his colleagues, the laughter and hugging and joking, Philip Neal stood alone on the stage, his final performance as a principal dancer with New York City Ballet over. His bearing was that of the danseur noble — upright, shoulders back, head high, one hand placed flat against his heart. As those in the audience rose to their feet, Mr. Neal slowly opened out his arms, his face grave, acknowledging the wave of love and appreciation that flowed over him as tangibly as the confetti that rained from above and the flowers that flew onto the stage.
It was a deeply touching moment, and one that Mr. Neal managed with the same elegance and dignity that he has shown in performances over his 22 years with City Ballet. There was no sobbing, no emoting, just a full and appropriately graceful acknowledgment of the intensity and meaning of the moment.
He was always a quiet, dignified boy. Unpretentious, but serious. Polite to all of us ladies who were most likely older than his mother.
Mr. Neal has never been a flashy dancer, nor has he seemed to particularly seek the limelight. But he has a quiet showmanship, a stylish accomplishment in movement that nonetheless brought the limelight to him, shining on his beautifully honed technique, his impeccable placement and gifts as a partner to countless grateful ballerinas.
Have a great rest of your life staging ballets and living in Florida with your husband. You haven’t a clue who I am, but like thousands of others I can say it was great watching you dance. And I’ll also remember that young boy at the Richmond Ballet.