In early October, Colorado Ballet's Francisco Estevez will take the stage as Basilio, his first role as a principal. While this is a momentous occasion for any dancer, it's amplified for Estevez, who since 2013 has battled two cancer diagnoses.
After undergoing surgery for testicular cancer, the now 30-year-old dancer was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a rare form of blood cancer, in April 2018. He spent the following summer layoff undergoing treatment, adjusting to the many side effects that come with the oral chemotherapy drug. Though Estevez still takes the pills each night, he's hopeful that down the road he'll be able to stop. "The research is advancing quite quickly," says Estevez. "Twenty years ago this would have been a terminal illness, but with the advent of this new drug, people have been able to stay on it and live fairly normal lives."
And Estevez has done just that; he's taken little time off from company life, and believes that dancing every day has helped his recovery process. "I'm so active that the medicine actually reacts really well," he says. "I'm lucky to have a job where I get to exercise." Nevertheless, frequent side effects include migraines, fatigue, muscle weakness and fever-like symptoms. Normally he's able to balance these effects with careful attention to his diet, supplements and allowing his body ample recovery time, but there have been days over the past year and a half when he hasn't been able to make it to the studio. His promotion came at a time just like that.
Last February, Colorado Ballet was preparing to debut Septime Webre's new The Wizard of Oz; Estevez was dancing the role of the Tin Man. He spent the week leading up the premiere fighting a stomach virus, made worse by his weakened immune system. He was so dehydrated that he ended up spending the night before the opening in the emergency room, surrounded by his family. The next day, Estevez was back on his feet and ready to perform. In a company meeting before the curtain rose, he found out that he was being promoted to principal. "It's kind of a funny story, depending on how you look at it," Estevez reflects wryly.
Since day one, the Denver dance community has rallied around Estevez. Last fall, they organized a benefit concert called Dancers for a Cure to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and to aid Estevez in his medical costs. This year, Estevez and his community are expanding their efforts. They've founded a new organization, Dancers for a Cause. "We felt it was important to carry this momentum of collaboration to different causes in need," says Estevez. This year, Dancers for a Cause will support Children's Hospital Colorado with a gala performance October 19 and 20. "This all came out of a desire to turn what I had gone through into something positive," he adds.
In terms of Colorado Ballet's upcoming season, Estevez is looking forward to dancing Twyla Tharp's In The Upper Room and George Balanchine's Theme and Variations, in addition to Don Quixote. "I am humbled by this opportunity and beyond grateful. I am thankful for all of the people who helped me get here and supported me a long the way. Especially my family and my wonderful wife, Tracy Jones," he says of becoming a principal. "This is truly something that growing up, I never thought could be a reality."