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
I met this lovely man at Dance USA when he came up to talk to me after the panel on Dance Writing–he had a pretty cool idea that he wanted to share–and now I’m pleased to be able to share it with you…
1. What is your dance background?
When I was in third grade, San Francisco Ballet’s Dance In Schools Program (led by Charles McNeal) came to my school, and following the residency I received an outreach scholarship. I started training at the San Francisco Ballet School from the age of eight until I graduated at eighteen. After ten years in the School, I became the first outreach student to get into the professional company as an apprentice in 1993. At that time SFB was becoming a world-class company, and I was very blessed to grow up watching and then performing with some of the best dancers from all over the world.
In 2001, after seven years performing professionally with the San Francisco Ballet, I moved to New York to join Dance Theatre of Harlem as a soloist. Under the guidance of Arthur Mitchell, I felt myself become more than just a dancer, but a true artist. I felt real satisfaction and fulfillment as I was promoted to a principal dancer and given the opportunity to dance leading roles in many iconic neoclassical ballets. For two weeks we performed at Lincoln Center, the heart of dance in America, and I felt I had reached a very high point in my career.
Unfortunately, after only four years dancing with DTH, the company closed its doors. I was blessed enough to join the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago and landed nicely on my feet (as always!). After my experiences in San Francisco and New York, I felt confident in my abilities as a technician and as an artist. One of the highlights of my two years at the Joffrey was working with Sir Antony Dowell on the role of Oberon in Frederick Ashton’s The Dream.
My time in Chicago was short and sweet, and in 2006 San Francisco called me home again. This time, I had the fortune to dance with Smuin Ballet. Michael Smuin was one of the best artistic directors I have worked with. He had a way of bringing out the best dancing in me and giving the audience a really great show. Mr. Smuin had been the director of San Francisco Ballet when I was just a kid, and we had worked together at Dance Theatre of Harlem as well. It was great to work with him on a full time basis because I felt he appreciated me as a dancer and as person. Up until the day he died in the studio, my experience with Smuin was marked by some of the best dancing I’ve ever done.
Since I left Smuin in 2008, I’ve been freelancing around the Bay Area. I am currently working with the San Francisco Opera as a resident corps dancer. One of the best things about working with the Opera is being back on the War Memorial Opera House stage. This is the very same stage where I did my first Nutcracker as a Mother Ginger kid. It feels like home, and the opera singers are amazing too…
2. What is “Just Turns” and why did you decide to found it?
Just Turns is an interactive classical ballet workshop. The two-hour Just Turns workshop is designed to focus the student’s approach and maximize turning technique in order to increase confidence and ability in all kinds of turns. The class structure and progression are designed to break down every part of turning technique— training spot, balance, force control, and placement from the ground up. Students are encouraged to ask questions, experiment, and take notes throughout the workshop in order to realize their ideal turning method.
My inspiration for Just Turns is in helping dancers with one of the hardest and best parts of ballet technique. While I was dancing in New York, I would take class at Steps on Broadway with Willy Burmann. In his class I really started to develop a great turning style. My turns were always good, but with the Mr. Burmann’s help they became great! When I returned to San Francisco, dancers would frequently ask me for help working on their turns after class. One day I was talking with my friend Vanessa Zahorian (principal dancer with SFB who is a great turner as well), and I thought, “How great would it be to bring back the ‘turning class’ that we would take during summer sessions?” That thought brewed in my head for a while, and when I started teaching ballet two years ago, it was time for Just Turns to be born. Now, as I am moving toward the next phase of my career as a teacher, I am finding my specific niche as a turning coach. Just Turns is my way of reaching the broader dance community and using my passion and specific expertise with turns to help dancers everywhere.
3. Who can benefit from the “Just Turns” approach?0
Today our 10 Questions With… features Michael Cornell, developer of the Align Ballet Method…
1. How did you become involved in dance and what is your background?
I loved my middle school art class and the process of learning in a studio environment. I was fairly talented with the pencil, and my teacher kept handing me photos of Baryshnikov to draw. These photos expressed an athletic power, yet also communicated simplicity and purity. I was immediately drawn to these elements.
I eventually was awarded a scholarship to The National Academy of The Arts in Champaign, Illinois and then the Pennsylvania School of Ballet summer program. There I was offered an apprenticeship with the company, but I had already made a commitment to work with BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio. I spent 10 years with BalletMet, and looking back I am very grateful I had the opportunity to work with many of the world’s notable, innovative movement artists. My family was not very culturally minded, but they were open-minded enough to let me explore what probably seemed like a strange pursuit for a young man. Studying ballet was definitely my decision.
2. What are you currently doing in the field?
I have been teaching in Los Angeles for ten years. A little over a year ago I started a class called BALLET 101, which has evolved into the ALIGN BALLET METHOD. This is a unique program I have developed to help adults learn the fundamentals of classical ballet.
We have a roster of about 120 full time students who are working at various stages of development. Our goal is to provide a gateway, where adults with no prior experience have the opportunity to experience authentic ballet training at the highest level. Our unique ALIGN method helps them gain skills rapidly.
3. Would you explain a bit about how the Align Ballet Method works?0