VAIL, Colorado --Ballet is not all about pink tutus, pointe shoes and being feminine, as Edward Villella knows.
Villella, a former championship boxer who went on to dance in the New York City Ballet and perform for several U.S. presidents, founded the Miami City Ballet in 1986 and brings his company to Vail for the first time this weekend.
Villella's unique style of dance influenced many in the ballet world, including Vail International Dance Festival Director Damian Woetzel. Woetzel's final ballet performance before retiring last year was in "Prodigal Son," a dance choreographed for Villella by George Balanchine, a prominent Russian choreographer who founded the New York City Ballet in 1948.
"Some of the roles I cherished most were 'Villella roles,'" Woetzel said. "Before I was a professional myself this was a dancer that changed ballet in America for men. This was a stamp of validation that 'guys can dance too.'"
Woetzel had personal experience with the power of Villella's persona when he danced in the Nutcracker as an eighth-grader. Villella's photo appeared in a science slideshow of great athletes.
"They clicked through several familiar household names ... and then there was Eddie Villella, flying through the air," he said. "It gave a context to all my little colleagues in eighth grade who knew every year I was in the Nutcracker. They didn't quite understand what that meant. They saw the picture and said, 'Oh, that's what you're trying to do?'"
Villella has also given Woetzel professional help in the form of dance critiques, which will continue in Vail this weekend as the two dancers discuss the process of creating a ballet for the Miami City company in the UpClose evening Aug. 3.
Dancers with the Miami City Ballet are looking forward to the Vail tour, especially as the company's tour season was shortened because of the economy.
"The buzz around the company is one of excitement," principal dancer Jennifer Kronenberg said. "I think we'll come in with lots of energy, as we always do."
Kronenberg will perform the principal female role in "Rubies," part of a three-part dance choreographed by Balanchine. "Rubies" is one "Villella role" that will be repurposed in Vail this weekend, as Villella's dancers perform pieces originally choreographed for him.
Kronenberg has been dancing the lead for 10 years, so has grown beyond the challenge of learning the steps. Her biggest challenge now is rehearsing the part with different male lead dancers.
"It's a very playful role - we play against each other and with each other the whole time. We're challenging each other back and forth," Kronenberg said. "It's been fun the past few years dancing it with Renato (Penteado) because we're actually friends on the outside, so that adds something to the playfulness of the whole thing."
The company's performance on Saturday will be an all-Balanchine night, with performances of Serenade - choreographed to Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings"; "Four Temperaments," a ballet choreographed to a string orchestra and piano piece by composer Paul Hindemith; and "Tarantella," choreographed to Italian folk dance music for Villella when he was a dancer at the New York City Ballet.
The Miami City Ballet replaces the Pacific Northwest Ballet, which has given Balanchine performances for the last two years.
"They really do have a Miami energy. it's very dynamic. It feels hot in a way," Woetzel said. "UpClose starts with Villella teaching a class, and that's where it begins. ... It's like doing scales: how do you do those scales? Is it just very methodical? Is it perhaps a little jazzy in some ways? That all trickles down to how the ballets are danced."
The Miami City Ballet's energy comes in part from Villella, the company's artistic director and CEO. During his time at the New York City Ballet, Villella performed pieces choreographed for him by Jerome Robbins and Balanchine, two revered choreographers in the ballet world.
"I was a very fortunate individual, growing up under the same roof as Balanchine and Robbins, and both of those guys did incredible master work for me," Villella said. "They understood you, they knew your abilities and they choreographed toward your abilities."
While Villella has seen improvements in the dance world during his time, the 72-year-old is still waiting for a new master choreographer on par with Balanchine or Robbins to appear.
"We have a better level of technique. That's like any other physical endeavor. We improved physically. The problem is you can't replace immediately a Balanchine or a Robbins," he said. "We can train bodies; we have the ability to do that. What you can't do is invent talent."
But Villella has no qualms about his chosen profession, even with the changes it has seen.
"If you have a love and a passion, that's what you follow, that's what you do," he said. "Certainly I would do it again in a heartbeat."
Ruth Moon is a freelance writer. E-mail comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Miami City Ballet, Vail debut
Where: Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Cost: $17/$65/$85 depending on seating
More information: Call 888-920-ARTS or visit www.vaildance.org