NEW YORK (PIX11) – Mr. G met the most celebrated American male ballet dancer.
Edward Villella was born October 1, 1936 in Bayside, Queens.
“I would hang out in the streets and get into physical trouble. I got knocked unconscious by a baseball when I was about eight years old,” Villella remembered.
“My mother is very upset and said can’t trust you on the streets anymore. You now have to go and watch your sister’s [dance] class.”
He was so bored, but then the girls started to jump. Villella could always jump.
“Then my mother found out about this guy called George Balanchine and something called the School of American Ballet.”
But, not everyone was happy about his new hobby.
“My father’s two best friends were prize fighters. He drove a truck in the garment center,” Villella said. “He did not have the same aesthetics that I was pursuing. So for him, no, it was not what he wanted.”
To appease his father, Villella put his dancing on hold and went to college.
“I’m a graduate of the New York State Maritime College,” Villella said. “I won my letters in high school and college in baseball and I was welterweight boxing champion.”
While, he was not actually working on ballet, he was still practicing similar skills.
“It’s all physical, in addition to which timing, speed, quickness, awareness and your mind.”
I joined the New York City Ballet in November of 1957,” Villella said.
His father did not approve and refused to speak to him for a year. Eventually, his family did come to watch him perform.
“I go off stage left, and I hear something and I see something. There are my mother and father, in the wings, in tears.”
That was only the beginning. Villella went to hold lead roles in dozens of legendary performances across the world.
Among his most noteworthy were: Oberon in George Balanchine’s ballet A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Tarantella and Rubies in the Balanchine ballet Jewels, and Prodigal Son.
Villella was the first American male dancer to appear with the Royal Danish Ballet, and the only American ever asked to dance an encore at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.
Villella appeared on television shows like Gene Kelly’s “Dancing: A Man’s Game” and “The Odd Couple.”
On top of all that, he has received dozens of prestigious awards such as a National Medal of Awards from President Bill Clinton and a Kennedy Center Honors.
But, it’s what he’s done since his professional dancing career that makes him the most proud.
He started the Miami City Ballet in 1985. “Twenty-five years later it became a national and international company”
Villella left the company somewhat abruptly last year. It is believed his departure was due to artistic and business differences with the Board of Trustees.
But, he is more than happy to be back here, where it all began.
“[He] is one of the most supremely brilliant classical dancers of the 20th century,” Silas Farley, dancer at the American School of Ballet and New York City Ballet, said.
“[Villella] is a living legend.”
PRODUCED BY: KIM PESTALOZZI