VAIL, Colorado - Miami City Ballet's founder and artistic director Edward Villella will bring his company to Vail, Colorado for its debut at the Vail International Dance Festival on Aug. 1. At age 72, Villella is frequently cited as this country's most celebrated male dancer and the only American ever asked to dance an encore at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.
He is also now famous for creating one of America's most important ballet companies, Miami City Ballet, which made its New York City debut this past winter to critical and audience acclaim.
Villella enrolled in the School of American Ballet at the age of 10, but then interrupted his studies in order to complete his college education. While in school at the New York Maritime Academy, he not only lettered in baseball, but also became a Golden Gloves championship boxer.
With his boxing title and a degree in maritime science firmly in hand, Villella returned to the School of American Ballet, becoming the principal dancer for New York City Ballet in 1960. He was destined to prove that a tough brash kid out of Bayside, N.Y. could turn into a major artist, and in doing so, change the way men danced in America as well as the way male dancers were perceived.
"I remember watching films of Eddie Villella dance when I was a kid, and he inspired me in so many ways to become something that didn't really exist before his career, an American ballet dancer," said Damian Woetzel, director of the Vail International Dance Festival.
"There was of course Nureyev, and then Baryshnikov- famous Russian dancers who had defected from the Soviet Union- but there was also the great Edward Villella," Woetzel said. " His dancing was spectacular, powerfully athletic, and graceful all at once - and his manner on the stage was absent old world traditions and pretensions making him a dancer for his time and a trailblazer for male dancers in this country."
Villella danced at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, and also performed for Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Ford. In 1975, he won an Emmy Award for his CBS television production of "Harlequinade". He also used his many television appearances to bring ballet to a more mainstream audience, including star turns on the "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Odd Couple," and even the soap opera "Guiding Light".
Following his retirement as a performer, Villella served as artistic coordinator for the Eglevsky Ballet, director of the Oklahoma Ballet and artistic advisor to the New Jersey Ballet. He founded Miami City Ballet in 1986, currently serving as the company's artistic director and chief executive officer.
In 1997, he was named a Kennedy Center Honors recipient and was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton.
In addition to the Vail International Dance Festival debut performance of Miami City Ballet on Aug. 1 at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Villella will also be the subject of an UpClose evening at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek on Aug. 3.
The unique UpClose format of discussion, demonstrations and performance, hosted by Woetzel, will examine the many works created for and made famous by Villella, including masterpieces by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.
While boxing may not necessarily be the cross training method of choice for all aspiring dancers, Villella and legendary fighter Muhammed Ali definitely do have one thing in common - they could both "float like a butterfly".
Tickets for the Festival debut of Miami City Ballet on Aug. 1 are at $65 and $85 for reserved amphitheater pavilion seating and $17 for general admission lawn seating. Tickets for the Aug. 3 UpClose evening are priced at $45 and $55 at the Vilar Performing Arts Center.
Tickets for all performances of the 2009 Vail International Dance Festival are available online at www.vaildance.org or by phone at either 970-845-TIXS (8497) or 888-920-ARTS (2787).