February 20th, 2012

Villella: dance and guys

Edward Villella’s position at the helm of the Miami Ballet appears to be in trouble.

You might ask: Who? What? If you read the piece, you’ll see that the issue seems to be one that pervades the arts these days, where the money people often don’t quite get what the arts are all about, and quality suffers.

But although that’s an idea that interests me, what interests me even more about the article is Edward Villella.

Ah Villella! He taught a master class I attended once; don’t remember where. I had a long and jumungous crush on him (my ex-husband actually looked something like him, and I think that was no accident). Villella was that rarity: a seemingly “regular guy” who nevertheless danced ballet with great energy and flair. His technique wasn’t perfect (he’d taken time off to get a college degree, at his father’s request) but it was plenty good enough.

Strangely enough, I can find no videos of Villella dancing in his heyday. Pity. But these photos may give you a rough idea of what I found so compelling:

It turns out that age has been very, very kind to Villella. Or perhaps he’s been kind to it. Or maybe he’s got a great plastic surgeon, but I see no evidence of that (although hair dye is probably part of the deal). Here’s a talk Villella gave in Chicago when he was 74 years old (no, that’s not a typo). It’s long, but just watch the first minute or two and I think that his personal story (which lasts only for about the first 10 minutes) will fascinate you (it starts with a longshot but fairly quickly moves to a closeup):

His story reminds me so much of this, from “A Chorus Line”:

I don’t know why it’s so hard to find any video sof Villella dancing; after all, it’s not as though he was famous back in 1850. But in my search I came across this video, which was supposed to feature him but has nothing to do with him. But it’s pretty great anyway; Gene Kelly tapping away with Sugar Ray Robinson, and Sugar Ray gives him a very creditable run for his money:

12 Responses to “Villella: dance and guys”

  1. Fausta Says:

    Great, magnetic performer. Excellent teacher. Nice guy.

  2. Curtis Says:

    He’s got the face of a warrior and a scholar. (I won’t even mention the mannerisms and voice of Al Pacino, that can’t be anything but good, right?)

    Neo, you were right. I watched the first minute or two and was fascinated.

    His oral delivery is tortured but it’s not bad for that and one gets this sense of a boiling energy and at some moments I expected him to burst into tears or flame or laughter or something, anything, because words just weren’t doing it. Most of all, what comes through, is humility.

    Minute eleven is very touching.

    “Dance showed me how to swim in time.”

    ” . . . dance gave me the freedom and knowledge to move . . .”

    Wow. Another way of expressing the theme of Neo’s sonnet, as well.

    Freedom for a few is found when love meets form.

  3. SteveH Says:

    Great stuff. But i’m pretty sure that must be the Sugar Ray of the Robinson variety and not the Leonard.

  4. stu Says:

    I saw him dance in the early 70′s in Norfolk,Va and met him several years ago at a performance in Miami. A real gentleman and to the untrained eye a great dancer. Neo what were your reservations about his technique?

  5. KLSmith Says:

    SteveH & Neo : Yes, that’s Sugar Ray Robinson.

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    SteveH and KLSmith: of course! I knew that, sort of—after all, I remember both of them—but had a little brain glitch there.

    Corrected.

  7. rickl Says:

    I’ve never followed Villella’s career, but I seem to remember that he was on an episode of the Odd Couple TV show.

  8. holmes Says:

    Re: Sugar Ray. Athletes are athletes be they boxers, golfers, dancers. etc. LeBron would have been an amazing tight end in football. Tiger could have probably been…anything. Kind of cool when you see a clear example of that.

  9. Indigo Red Says:

    Villella danced on the 1969 Perry Como Christmas show at the Hollywood Palace. Dancing begins at 3:00 minutes right after Kukla and Ollie.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZ9wSmHvlx8

  10. goldby621 Says:

    He IS gorgeous! (But his wife is no slouch either, unfortunately for all of us with crushesj.

    I grew up on Miami Beach, and I remember when he was signed to be Director. It’s actually the Miami Beach Ballet but serves the Miami Arts community so often goes by moniker of Miami Ballet. I remember when they built the ballet’s building — right around corner from my high school and next to the Miami Beach Public Library. The building was designed such that people could view dancers rehearsing through windows designed for just that purpose.

    And it was thrilling to get Mr. Vallella to take the leadership of the troupe. Not sure what’s going on now. My Dad was at the Ballet on Fri. Nite. He NEVER in his life went to the ballet — until the whole new Center for the Arts in Miami was built in downtown Miami and it was a huge deal and many of his friends — heck most people who cared about the arts donated to get the thing done. And then when Miami (Beach) acquired its own corps de ballet, headed by Edward Vallella — who has done a wonderful job, it’s become a staple of the arts scene.

    I grew up with no arts, no museums, no nothing! I’ve always attributed a great deal of expansion in the arts to the influx of Cubans who supported the arts in a big way — Now Miami has its own Ballet, it has it’s own museums, it’s own symphony, and even Art Basel which is as huge art exibition and market — maybe the largest in the world except for the original Art Basel at of Switzerland. People come from all over the world to see artists and dealers, representatives, and personal buyers of art. Miami has turned into a happening place!

    My almost 90-yr. old father has season tickets and loves it — he went last Fri night and he has actually learned enough to give quite fair critiques for someone who had never seen a performance before some 8, maybe 10 yrs. ago. I’ll have to check with him and see if there isn’t more local gossip about this early Vallella retirement. I am shocked, and obviously many others are too. I’ll let Neo now if I hear anything and she can deside if it merits space on the blog for follow-up.

  11. neo-neocon Says:

    stu: my reservations about his technique are things like feet and turnout. His feet were not as stretched as they should/could have been, nor was his turnout that good. He was of a type of dancer that is less flexible naturally and more strong, which in his case was part of his intense appeal (they tend to be very good jumpers, which Villella was, and quick as well). Some dancers, though, have it all (extreme strength and flexibility)—such as, for example, Barishnikov.

    But don’t get me wrong—I LOVED Villella.

  12. neo-neocon Says:

    goldby621: yes, agreed about his wife (sigh).

    Did you see this? He’s so adorable here:

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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