By Olan Beam, Photography By John Walsh

Patricia McBride and Jean Pierre-Bonnefoux

Patricia and Jean-Pierre at the Patricia McBride & Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux Center for Dance.

Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux radiate warmth, grace and an eagerness to share something they have loved, lived, taught, innovated and enhanced since the 1960s: ballet.

If ever there was a couple destined to share a passion, Patricia and Jean-Pierre are the perfect example.

Their lives’ work started when they were children and hasn’t stopped. Today, Jean-Pierre and Patricia lead the Charlotte Ballet in Charlotte, N.C., as the artistic director and associate artistic director, respectively. The husband and wife team moved to Charlotte in 1996, and together, they have taken a fledgling company to new heights in a city that has embraced them and the art of ballet.

Patricia McBride & Jean-Pierre-Bonnefoux BB&T Perspectives

Left to right: Patricia and Jean- Pierre performing with the New York City Ballet; Jean-Pierre and Patricia performing; Patricia demonstrating a pose (photo courtesy of Jeff Cravotta)

Child Prodigies

Both came from modest upbringings, Jean- Pierre in Paris and Patricia in Teaneck, N.J. They were recognized as prodigies at an early age. Once they were introduced to ballet, each immediately excelled and loved it.

Jean-Pierre’s mother encouraged him and his twin sister to try out for the renowned Paris Opera Ballet School when they were 10 years old. The school has a rich history and tradition, extending back to its founding in 1713. It was extremely competitive – 800 young people tried out that year and only a handful of individuals were selected. Jean-Pierre and his sister were among them. By age 21, Jean-Pierre was named Danseur Etoile at the Paris Opera Ballet, a title reserved for the most distinguished dancers in France.

Patricia grew up with her mother and younger brother, Eugene. They lived with her grandparents, but when she was 9, her grandfather died and her mother supported everyone. Still, her mother was determined to send Patricia for dance lessons, which she began at age 7. Although she was enthusiastic about dance, Patricia didn’t see a professional ballet company until age 13. “Seeing a Balanchine ballet for the first time inspired me. It was a miracle to see such beauty – Serenade – a ballet that is still performed today all over the world.”

Earning Her Slippers

At the age of 14, Patricia was selected for a scholarship to the School of American Ballet, the official school of the New York City Ballet. “My mom and I were so excited,” she remembers. “We couldn’t have afforded it otherwise. The school is where I got to meet George Balanchine for the first time. He would come and watch our classes to look for his future dancers.”

At 16 Patricia became one of those dancers, when Balanchine invited her to join New York City Ballet. By 17, she was selected to be a soloist, and at age 18, she became the youngest principal dancer ever at the New York City Ballet.

Taught By A Master

Patricia McBride and George Balanchine

Patricia McBride and George Balanchine

George Balanchine, the cofounder and director of the New York City Ballet, was the ongoing inspiration for Patricia and ultimately for Jean-Pierre. “He was a genius and the most celebrated choreographer of the 20th century, but he was also like a father figure to me,” Patricia says. “He was so humble and supportive. He would give so much to his dancers.”

Balanchine cared for his dancers but also set high standards and a rigorous work and performance schedule for them. He recognized hard work and long hours not only improved strength, technique and stamina of the dancers – it also kept them from dwelling on the pressure and responsibility. It let them concentrate just on dancing and improving. “We all worked very hard to please him. I was focused on the work and pleasing Mr. Balanchine who I idolized. He understood us better than we understood ourselves,” Patricia says.

Meeting Destiny

Jean-Pierre knew George Balanchine not only understood how to develop his dancers, but knew how to rejuvenate the ballet tradition. “Tradition has always been important to ballet. Yet, to maintain and enhance that rich tradition you have to innovate,” Jean-Pierre says. “George Balanchine was the preeminent innovator for ballet. At age 27, I knew I needed that innovation and inspiration to continue my career. I was in Paris, but had worked with Mr. Balanchine previously. I called him and ultimately he invited me to New York. As I look back, it was fate – both professionally and personally.”

Jean-Pierre’s and Patricia’s fates were sealed when they first met. “I was invited to New York to perform along with my partner, Violette Verdy,” Jean-Pierre remembers. “Before the performance, I went to the women’s dressing room to speak with my partner. I knocked on the door and Pat opened it. That was it. We both knew.” Jean-Pierre joined the New York City Ballet in 1970, and in 1973, he and Patricia were married.

As artistic director of the Charlotte Ballet, Jean-Pierre’s experiences have prepared him well to expand ballet’s reach. “We came to Charlotte in 1996 because we had an opportunity to continue that rich tradition of ballet. We get to expose new audiences to exceptional grace and beauty, and our board and audiences have given us the support and encouragement to further innovate and bring contemporary dance and choreography to a vibrant, growing city. I see our work as an extension of what Mr. B taught us,” Jean-Pierre says.

Patricia and Jean-Pierre have two children, Melanie and Christopher, and three grandchildren. “I’m not sure if our grandchildren will be dancers, but I love exposing them to dance and taking my two granddaughters to ballet classes at our academy,” Patricia says. The youngsters couldn’t have better role models.

Apparently, many others agree as Patricia was selected as a Kennedy Center Honoree in December 2014. The Kennedy Center Honors was one of the highlights of her career. “It represents the greatest award a dancer can receive in America. Dancers don’t receive Emmys or Oscars. I felt incredibly privileged and thrilled,” Patricia says.

performance for President Richard Nixon and Indira Gandhi; Patricia and Jean-Pierre at the Kennedy Center Honors Ceremony; Patricia and George Balanchine.

(From Left) Performance for President Richard Nixon and Indira Gandhi; Patricia and Jean-Pierre at the Kennedy Center Honors Ceremony.

“The Kennedy Center Honors producers invited our dancers because they knew it would create a beautiful surprise for me. The entire evening was a surprise. The opportunity to dance at the Kennedy Center for President Barack Obama was such extraordinary exposure for our amazing Charlotte Ballet dancers,” Patricia explains. She certainly knows: Patricia danced at the White House for five presidents – John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Looking To The Future

Patricia McBride & Jean-Pierre-Bonnefoux with Charlotte Ballet dancers BB&T Perspectives

Charlotte Ballet dancers.

While Patricia and Jean-Pierre appreciate recognition, they have much more interest in sharing what they’ve loved, learned and experienced with others – first and foremost, their Charlotte Ballet dancers. “I feel that I learned from the very best, and it is my responsibility to pass along what I learned,” Jean-Pierre says. “We pledge to continue to bring great choreography and ballets to Charlotte. It is the most valuable thing for a dancer, the greatest gift you can give them. As they improve, they give that gift of refinement and beauty to the audience and to the city.”

So What Does The Future Hold?

“We expect to be in Charlotte for a long time,” Patricia says. “We are proud to be part of Charlotte. The Charlotte Ballet board and supporters have energy and ambition and are committed to maintaining an outstanding and forward-looking ballet company here. Our dancers and staff are exceptional and committed. We couldn’t do it without them.”

When you see Jean-Pierre and Patricia with their dancers, they seem eager to jump in and dance with them, and as the dynamic young men and women perform, they gaze like proud parents. The tradition of ballet is well represented in Charlotte, and you can expect Jean-Pierre and Patricia to share that beauty for many years to come.

Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s Wealth advisors are Brenda Seligmann and Jessalyn Rochefort.

By Olan Beam, Photography By John Walsh

Patricia McBride and Jean Pierre-Bonnefoux

Patricia and Jean-Pierre at the Patricia McBride & Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux Center for Dance.

Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux radiate warmth, grace and an eagerness to share something they have loved, lived, taught, innovated and enhanced since the 1960s: ballet.

If ever there was a couple destined to share a passion, Patricia and Jean-Pierre are the perfect example.

Their lives’ work started when they were children and hasn’t stopped. Today, Jean-Pierre and Patricia lead the Charlotte Ballet in Charlotte, N.C., as the artistic director and associate artistic director, respectively. The husband and wife team moved to Charlotte in 1996, and together, they have taken a fledgling company to new heights in a city that has embraced them and the art of ballet.

Patricia McBride & Jean-Pierre-Bonnefoux BB&T Perspectives

Left to right: Patricia and Jean- Pierre performing with the New York City Ballet; Jean-Pierre and Patricia performing; Patricia demonstrating a pose (photo courtesy of Jeff Cravotta).

Child Prodigies
Both came from modest upbringings, Jean- Pierre in Paris and Patricia in Teaneck, N.J. They were recognized as prodigies at an early age. Once they were introduced to ballet, each immediately excelled and loved it.

Jean-Pierre’s mother encouraged him and his twin sister to try out for the renowned Paris Opera Ballet School when they were 10 years old. The school has a rich history and tradition, extending back to its founding in 1713. It was extremely competitive – 800 young people tried out that year and only a handful of individuals were selected. Jean-Pierre and his sister were among them. By age 21, Jean-Pierre was named Danseur Etoile at the Paris Opera Ballet, a title reserved for the most distinguished dancers in France.

Patricia grew up with her mother and younger brother, Eugene. They lived with her grandparents, but when she was 9, her grandfather died and her mother supported everyone. Still, her mother was determined to send Patricia for dance lessons, which she began at age 7. Although she was enthusiastic about dance, Patricia didn’t see a professional ballet company until age 13. “Seeing a Balanchine ballet for the first time inspired me. It was a miracle to see such beauty – Serenade – a ballet that is still performed today all over the world.”

Earning Her Slippers
At the age of 14, Patricia was selected for a scholarship to the School of American Ballet, the official school of the New York City Ballet. “My mom and I were so excited,” she remembers. “We couldn’t have afforded it otherwise. The school is where I got to meet George Balanchine for the first time. He would come and watch our classes to look for his future dancers.”

At 16 Patricia became one of those dancers, when Balanchine invited her to join New York City Ballet. By 17, she was selected to be a soloist, and at age 18, she became the youngest principal dancer ever at the New York City Ballet.

Taught By A Master
George Balanchine, the cofounder and director of the New York City Ballet, was the ongoing inspiration for Patricia and ultimately for Jean-Pierre. “He was a genius and the most celebrated choreographer of the 20th century, but he was also like a father figure to me,” Patricia says. “He was so humble and supportive. He would give so much to his dancers.”

Balanchine cared for his dancers but also set high standards and a rigorous work and performance schedule for them. He recognized hard work and long hours not only improved strength, technique and stamina of the dancers – it also kept them from dwelling on the pressure and responsibility. It let them concentrate just on dancing and improving. “We all worked very hard to please him. I was focused on the work and pleasing Mr. Balanchine who I idolized. He understood us better than we understood ourselves,” Patricia says.

Patricia McBride and George Balanchine

Patricia McBride and George Balanchine

Meeting Destiny
Jean-Pierre knew George Balanchine not only understood how to develop his dancers, but knew how to rejuvenate the ballet tradition. “Tradition has always been important to ballet. Yet, to maintain and enhance that rich tradition you have to innovate,” Jean-Pierre says. “George Balanchine was the preeminent innovator for ballet. At age 27, I knew I needed that innovation and inspiration to continue my career. I was in Paris, but had worked with Mr. Balanchine previously. I called him and ultimately he invited me to New York. As I look back, it was fate – both professionally and personally.”

Jean-Pierre’s and Patricia’s fates were sealed when they first met. “I was invited to New York to perform along with my partner, Violette Verdy,” Jean-Pierre remembers. “Before the performance, I went to the women’s dressing room to speak with my partner. I knocked on the door and Pat opened it. That was it. We both knew.” Jean-Pierre joined the New York City Ballet in 1970, and in 1973, he and Patricia were married.

As artistic director of the Charlotte Ballet, Jean-Pierre’s experiences have prepared him well to expand ballet’s reach. “We came to Charlotte in 1996 because we had an opportunity to continue that rich tradition of ballet. We get to expose new audiences to exceptional grace and beauty, and our board and audiences have given us the support and encouragement to further innovate and bring contemporary dance and choreography to a vibrant, growing city. I see our work as an extension of what Mr. B taught us,” Jean-Pierre says.

Patricia and Jean-Pierre have two children, Melanie and Christopher, and three grandchildren. “I’m not sure if our grandchildren will be dancers, but I love exposing them to dance and taking my two granddaughters to ballet classes at our academy,” Patricia says. The youngsters couldn’t have better role models.

Apparently, many others agree as Patricia was selected as a Kennedy Center Honoree in December 2014. The Kennedy Center Honors was one of the highlights of her career. “It represents the greatest award a dancer can receive in America. Dancers don’t receive Emmys or Oscars. I felt incredibly privileged and thrilled,” Patricia says.

performance for President Richard Nixon and Indira Gandhi; Patricia and Jean-Pierre at the Kennedy Center Honors Ceremony; Patricia and George Balanchine.

(From Left) Performance for President Richard Nixon and Indira Gandhi; Patricia and Jean-Pierre at the Kennedy Center Honors Ceremony.

“The Kennedy Center Honors producers invited our dancers because they knew it would create a beautiful surprise for me. The entire evening was a surprise. The opportunity to dance at the Kennedy Center for President Barack Obama was such extraordinary exposure for our amazing Charlotte Ballet dancers,” Patricia explains. She certainly knows: Patricia danced at the White House for five presidents – John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Looking To The Future
While Patricia and Jean-Pierre appreciate recognition, they have much more interest in sharing what they’ve loved, learned and experienced with others – first and foremost, their Charlotte Ballet dancers. “I feel that I learned from the very best, and it is my responsibility to pass along what I learned,” Jean-Pierre says. “We pledge to continue to bring great choreography and ballets to Charlotte. It is the most valuable thing for a dancer, the greatest gift you can give them. As they improve, they give that gift of refinement and beauty to the audience and to the city.”

Patricia McBride & Jean-Pierre-Bonnefoux with Charlotte Ballet dancers BB&T Perspectives

Charlotte Ballet dancers.

So What Does The Future Hold?
“We expect to be in Charlotte for a long time,” Patricia says. “We are proud to be part of Charlotte. The Charlotte Ballet board and supporters have energy and ambition and are committed to maintaining an outstanding and forward-looking ballet company here. Our dancers and staff are exceptional and committed. We couldn’t do it without them.”

When you see Jean-Pierre and Patricia with their dancers, they seem eager to jump in and dance with them, and as the dynamic young men and women perform, they gaze like proud parents. The tradition of ballet is well represented in Charlotte, and you can expect Jean-Pierre and Patricia to share that beauty for many years to come.

Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s Wealth advisors are Brenda Seligmann and Jessalyn Rochefort.