professor Robert Cook leads a classical ballet workshop on
technique for members of U.Vas newest student dance
group, Rhapsody Dance Ensemble.
blends artistic roots with scholarly pursuits
(Can you speak French?)
de la danse classique?
(Do you know ballet?)
(Are you a pilot?)
might ask such questions in class to improve their conversational
skills. And if the teacher answering these questions happens to
be U.Va. professor Robert Cook, the answer to all three would
who grew up in Georgia and North Carolina, was exposed to the
world of dance and language of France before he could scarcely
walk or talk. My mother was a dance teacher. She took me
to her classes as a baby before the days of child care,
he said. I was le danseur at a very young age because there
werent many young men in her classes. As a result, I got
lots of roles and tremendous amounts of stage performance in parts
way over my head but good for me, he said.
continued to study classical ballet through college, primarily
at the urging of his father, a professor at what is today Appalachian
State University. The senior Cook drove his son one-and-a-half
hours each way to dance lessons while he was in high school. He
graded papers in the cloak room while he waited for me,
interest in French culture flourished at this time due to good
teachers, he said. My high school teacher was using active
teaching methods in the 1950s recordings of real French,
French comic books, reel-to-reel film instead of teaching
in a vacuum.
high school, Cook chose to attend King College in Bristol, Tenn.,
for its French program, and because the city was home to one of
the countrys best dance companies at the time.
in both his parents footsteps, Cook became a college professor
and community dance instructor upon earning his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt
University. He joined U.Va.s faculty in 1975, at which time
he also began teaching classical ballet to area youngsters. Occasionally
hes invited to teach dance on Grounds. He led a ballet workshop
for U.Va.s newest student dance group, Rhapsody Dance Ensemble
students in Rhapsody are strong dancers whove received good
training, Cook said. They dance with a great deal
of alertness and intelligence, much the way they perform in their
the years, beautiful dancers have come through U.Va.
medical students, law students, undergraduates, he said.
Rhapsody will be an outlet for some of these dancers now
to continue an art they love.
continues to perform as well as teach dance, most recently in
the Fairfax Ballet in June. There are still important roles
for older company members, he said. His role was as father
of the reluctant bride in Pecos Bill and the Cyclone.
noted that the Fairfax company often has U.Va. alumni perform
in its productions. His friend and U.Va. alumna Mary Marshall,
who received her doctorate in philosophy here in May and now teaches
at Virginia State University, choreographed this particular ballet.
has also performed with the dance arm of the Virginia Players,
and said of U.Va.s current arts initiative, which is part
of the Virginia 2020 plan: Its a source of great satisfaction.
Bob Chapel is a great leader.
what his favorite ballet is, Cook replied, to watch, its
Troy Game. Performed by men, it combines impressive
athleticism with a strong sense of humor, he said, noting
that its still in repertory in the Dance Theater of Harlem.
most memorable performance, however, was seeing Englands
Royal Ballet perform Swan Lake at the Wolf Trap in
Northern Virginia. In the middle of the third act, the prima
ballerina is required to do 32 constant turns, called fouettes,
Cook said. During her execution of this difficult routine,
lightning struck the stage and knocked out the power. But
we could see from the emergency generator lights that she just
kept on going, he recalled. Her male dance partner
got into the spirit and started doing triple sauts de basque
in the dark. It was a feat that defines tour de force.
teacher, scholar, pilot Cook, himself, could be described
as a tour de force. His research specialty is Medieval French
literature about the Crusades and the historical setting of that
literature. On sabbatical this semester, he is completing two
long-term projects that involve editing and translating two poems,
the 25,778-line Baudouin de Sebourc and the 6,011-line
Italian version of The Song of Roland. Both poems,
by anonymous authors, are considered 14th-century epics and are
major Crusade texts. Hes also developing a new U.Va. course
on Croisade et Culture: La France et lIslam au Moyen
said his varied interests come from the need for balance in his
life. In the humanities, theres much room for interpretation
of the material and ideas arent necessarily considered right
or wrong, he said.
pilot since 1991, he said that dance and flying have very specific
rules that must be adhered to. They require mastery of fundamentals
that you cannot get around, such as gravity. Training is
systematic and the aesthetic is orderly, he said. Its
refreshing to go back and forth between these two worlds.
After Hours is a feature section exploring the noteworthy
non-work pursuits of U.Va. faculty and staff. Please submit nominations
for future columns to Matt Kelly at s.