10 Questions With…
Many thanks to Roger Lee who interviewed Richard Villaverde from BalletX for us here…enjoy!
- How did you become involved with dance?
I first got involved in dance because of my older brother. He was always interested in dance but didn’t want to start studying it alone. My brother actually signed me up without even telling me! I didn’t really have much of a choice when he showed up at our house with dance belts and tights.
- What are you currently doing in the dance field?
I’m currently in a contemporary ballet company in Philadelphia called BalletX. I am focusing on the company and couldn’t be happier!
- How did college prepare you for your professional dance career?
Our “10 Questions With…” feature is back! Dancer/teacher/writer Roger Lee got in touch with Christina Pastras from The Rock School for Dance Education and sent us this lovely interview to run on the site…enjoy!
1. How did you get involved with dance?
My mom put me in dance because I had too much energy and not the right outlet to express it. I could not sit still and was always moving. I was a bit of a troublemaker! Once I began dance classes, even at an early age, my parents could not get me out of the dance studio. I instantly fell in love with dance and it became my world. I begged for a ballet barre and mirror for my play room. I could be found dancing in every picture and video from events in my life.
- What are you currently doing in the dance field?
I had a wonderful career dancing worldwide as a professional ballerina. I had a chance to perform roles in amazing ballets including Swan Lake, Gisele, Les Sylphide, Coppelia, Don Quioxte, and Jewels. I unfortunately ended my ballet career with an injury. I thought my world had ended but I quickly found a new passion through teaching. I was fortunate to become a faculty member at The Rock School for Dance Education. I found love, support, and teacher and choreographer mentoring through The Rock School’s Directors Bo and Stephanie Spassoff and Ballet Mistresses Jennifer Wheat and Gina Grace.
After several years on faculty, I additionally began teaching in and later managing The Rock School’s outreach program, RockReach. My passion was reignited! RockReach’s a mission is to bring dance to as many undeserved youth in and around the Philadelphia area. Since becoming manager, we have grown tremendously over the past two and a half years. Through the support of the Directors, the growing need for arts and physical education in the school district, and the amazing dedication of Sue Rock, we are reaching close to 18,000 school children a year through our various programs. We also hold residencies in 19 schools. The program would not have the success it does today without the wonderful RockReach faculty and the support of The Rock School and communities we serve.
- What are your favorite things about dance?
Dance has been in my life longer than anything. It is the air I breathe. I love that dance can brighten my day. I can be having the worst day and once I walk into the ballet studio, my world shifts. I leave my feelings at the door or I take them out on the floor. Everything becomes clearer and sharper as I take my first breath and step into B+ or first position. The love I receive from my students is also very inspiring. Their hard work and dedication gives me strength and elation. It is very similar to the feelings I have as a mother. My kids are my world. They are the light that guides me. They inspire me to be the best dancer, teacher, and choreographer that I can be. I also love that in dance we never ever stop learning, growing, and striving to be our very best. We do this for ourselves–and the people in our lives.
- What was the proudest moment of your career (to date)?
I am proud of my students’ individual triumphs such as mastering a combination, nailing a performance, getting into a company, or landing a dance job. I am also extremely proud of how RockReach has evolved so drastically.
- What has been the hardest or most challenging aspect of your career?
I met Maxwell and his parents at Dance For Life Chicago and thought he’d be a great interview for 4dancers. Learn more about him here…
1. Tell me a bit about your background in ballet.
I took my first ballet class when I was four – in my neighborhood – a way for an overactive kid to burn off some energy. I did that until the “boy taking ballet” teasing kicked-in, and then I switched to Jazz. I concentrated on Jazz for a few years and ended up at Giordano Dance where a very wise teacher explained the importance of ballet. I have had a love-hate relationship with ballet ever since! Studying with many great Chicago Ballet teachers – Lizzie MacKenzie, Laura Wade, Homer Bryant, Claire Bataille, Mike Gosney, Peff Modelski, Fury Gold, I also concentrated on summer programs that were strong in ballet – Milwaukee Ballet, Haird Conservatory, San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and The Juilliard School.
2. What are you currently doing?
I am pursuing a BFA in Dance at NYU – Tisch School of the Arts – in my second year of a three- year program.
3. Can you share some of the best advice you have received from a teacher/mentor?
I feel so blessed to have a great support system from my family, friends and teachers. It has been eye opening, as I expand my dance universe, not everyone has it. It has made me appreciate ALL the support that I have. The very best advice that I have received is, “There are things in store for you that you can not even dream of. Just let it unfold.”
4. What is the thing you enjoy most about being a dancer?
When I am able to give-in and experience true release – allowing the music, movement and environment to consume not only the audience but the performers. I love being attuned to my own body and soul; dancing is an expression of my whole self.
5. What has been the high point of your career so far?0
Well, its not my full career. I also make my career out of acting, and singing. The limelight has always been in me from my first dance class to going to see my first musical. For me, going into the arts was never a question. I always knew that I wanted to be onstage somehow. I also enjoy choreographing though and being behind the scenes. I specialize in musical theater choreography, but don’t mind teaching ballet, contemporary, or partnering.
3. What are you currently doing?
Currently I am dancing with the Metropolitan Ballet for their 2012-2013 season in the Twin Cities; right now we are working on ‘Swan Lake.’ I also choreograph for a local theater company.
4. What do you think is the most challenging aspect of a career in dance—and why?0
Meet Michael Levine…dancer, teacher, app creator…yes, I said app creator…read on to find out more…
1. How did you become involved in dance?
My mother. Isn’t that what we all say? My Mother was a recreational ballet dancer and attended performances while living in San Francisco. When I was younger and jumping around from activity to activity, she put me in “ballet”. I took to it and progressed fairly quickly beyond the level that my small town could support. I was lucky to have two parents that were willing to drive me further afield to get better training.
I ultimately left school early to attend the San Francisco Ballet School as a full time scholarship student. I was never a dancer because of the pretty parts: tutus and tights, etc. I loved the physical, the theatrical, and the transformative. Interests that expressed themselves throughout my career.
2. Where did your career take you?
Artistically or Physically?
Artistically it took me far beyond what I dreamt possible for me. The roles that I have portrayed and the ballets that I have gotten to be a part of still amaze me. Part of what I loved about being at Joffrey during the time that I was there was the mix of contemporary and historic ballets that we were doing at the time. When I look back at the roles that really strike a cord with me they are all theatrical in nature. For example: Romeo from Cranko’s Romeo & Juliet; Death from Kurt Joos’s The Green Table; and the Lover from Tudor’s Lilac Garden. Romeo and Death because I saw both of those ballets as a kid and loved them, but I never thought I’d do them, much less the leads. The Lover because it was the first time that I was moved beyond myself in the role I was portraying.
Physically my career took me all over the world. I was lucky while I was in both Joffrey and ABT that both companies were traveling a fair amount. I always found it fascinating how people in different countries would react to performances. In the end I was fortunate to travel to the Mediterranean several times: Greece, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Egypt. I was on multiple tours to Europe, Asia, Middle and South America. I was fortunate to work with my wife for most of my career and we took advantage of the travel. After one tour to Australia we stayed on in New Zealand for 10 extra days (we considered that our honeymoon even though it was years before we got married). It was a fabulous way to see the world and I feel very blessed to have all those memories.
3. What are you doing now?1