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Pioneering dance promoter dies

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The Emmy Award-winning Merrill Brockway, a tireless promoter of the beauty of dance, died May 2 in Santa Fe at the age of 90.

Brockway directed both the 1967 CBS series “Camera Three” and 2001’s “Dance in America” for PBS. Through the celebrated “Camera Three,” he brought the world of performing arts to the “vast wasteland” of TV in its early years. He worked with the greatest artists of his day –– George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Eugene Ormandy, Stella Adler, Merce Cunningham and more –– bringing “high art” into the homes of the average American.

“He’s probably the nicest man I’ve ever met,” said Peter Boal, artistic director of Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet. Brockway called Boal regularly just to check in through his 22 1/2 years as a New York City Ballet dancer.

After seeing Boal on the New York stage, Brockway made sure he had access to the Mikhail Baryshnikov version of Balanchine’s “The Prodigal Son,” originally written for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

Born in the small Indiana town of New Carlisle, Brockway began studying the piano at age 7 and continued throughout his young adulthood.

He graduated with a Master of Arts in Musicology from Columbia University.

He served in World War II in Europe with the rank of master sergeant and used his war points to enroll at Columbia. He taught piano, coached singers and toured as an accompanist until age 30, when he joined the television industry.

By 1962, he was invited to direct at WCBS New York. In 1967 he was asked to produce and direct “Camera Three.” He featured such stars as Beverly Sills, Pierre Boulez, Maurice Bejart and others.

He pioneered dance with “Dance in America,” bringing the great artists of the day with their unique choreographic visions.

He returned to CBS in 1980 to work as executive producer of arts programming for its newly formed cable cultural channel. From 1990 to 1993, he produced the independent projects “Les Ballet de Monte Carlo” in Monte Carlo and “The Romantic Era” in Mexico.

He retired to Santa Fe in 1993, where he became involved with the National Dance Institute of New Mexico and in the fledgling New Mexico School for the Arts.

For Boal, he was more than a mentor.

“He wanted to make sure I had access to all the footage of Balanchine and Baryshnikov, that intense coaching,” Boal said. “He felt that Balanchine was the voice for every generation. He felt the same way about Jerome Robbins’ choreography, Twyla Tharp’s choreography and Martha Graham’s.”

Brockway was integral to bringing Boal’s company to Santa Fe to perform at the Lensic Performing Arts Center.

“I think he brought Suzanne Farrell’s company, too,” Boal added.

“We last talked about six months ago,” he said. “I could tell his voice was getting weaker every time. He was a man who really found what he believed in and spread it for the rest of his life.

“He was a dance aficionado as well as a promoter.”

Brockway is survived by many friends, colleagues and collaborators.

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