Earlier this month, Anne Wilson Wangh choreographed and directed a troupe of nine dancers preparing to put on a production of numbers from The Nutcracker Suite.There is nothing unusual about that, until you realize that Wangh is 92 years old, and she and the dancers are all residents at the Lasell Village retirement community.
"When I arrived here in 2009, I found a community of people who it seemed knew everything there was to know about music, but not a thimbleful about dance," Wangh said. "And I've been working to change that."
Wangh, a professional dancer since before World War II, has started a popular lecture series at Lasell and the Riverside church in New York City on ballet in its historical context, and is in talks to bring the lectures to other retirement communities in the area. She also leads a series of informal teas on ballet technique; the Nutcracker performance is her latest endeavor.
"It's been standing room only at all of the events," Wangh said. "People love to learn more about dance."
Wangh was born in 1918 and became one of the founding members of the American Ballet Theatre in 1940. She founded the Ann Wilson Company in 1957, and toured all over the country teaching people about the historical antecedents of modern ballet.
"We went as far as Fairbanks, Alaska. We traveled across the country," Wangh said. "Sometimes it would be just me doing a few demonstration dances or delivering a lecture, but if it was a short trip the entire company would come. I think it was really informative to show the historical roots of pre-ballet classic dances, and we'd often perform in folk costumes as well."
Her work even took her abroad. In 1972, she began traveling to Israel, and in 1984 she settled there as a full-time resident until 1998. She founded the Dance Library of Israel in 1975, still the only archival collection of its kind in the Middle East.
"It's so marvelous, how much she knows about the history of dance. Her talks are wonderfully informative," said Myril Axelrod, one of Wangh's neighbors at Lasell and a frequent attender of her lectures. "I'm always amazed at how large a crowd comes out, as well as by the performances she gives."
As for modern ballet, Wangh said she still regularly travels to Boston and New York to see new shows. She's still dancing, too, though she will not be performing with the Nutcracker dancers.
"It's mostly just illustrative at this point, to show how I do it in my own little way," Wangh said, and she also said she has no plans to stop.
"The language we can never stop speaking is the language of the body," Wangh said. "And no matter what, we always have to pay attention and listen."
Wangh's next event will be a lecture on January 18 from 1 - 2 p.m. at the Belmont Council on Aging.
Sarah Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.