James Whiteside and Isabella Boylston. Courtesy In the Lights PR.

James Whiteside on His Upcoming Pop Collaboration With Isabella Boylston and Singer Rozzi

"Cindies" fans, this one's for you. February 9-10, American Ballet Theatre's James Whiteside and Isabella Boylston are collaborating with pop singer Rozzi to put on a full-length show titled When I Think Of You at The Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum, Idaho. Set to Rozzi's debut album Bad Together, performed live by the singer and her band, the show features choreography by Whiteside, Boylston, ABT's Gemma Bond and commercial dancer Ai Shimatsu with dancing by Whiteside, Boylston and ABT soloist Calvin Royal III.

Whiteside is no stranger to pop music. The principal dancer doubles as singer/songwriter JbDubs, known for choreographing and producing his own wild music videos and performances. We touched base with Whiteside to hear all about how When I Think of You came to be, what this unique show will look like, and how he balances his musical career with his work at ABT.


How did you become familiar with Rozzi's music?

It was actually through Isabella. Rozzi found her on Instagram and asked her to dance in a music video for a song called Mad Man that should be released later this month, and Bella asked me to choreograph the piece. Bella had me listen to the song and I loved it, it's just excellent pop vocal music. That girl's got pipes for sure.

What was the process of choreographing the music video like?

I wanted to come up with something that would make Bella feel powerful and feminine. I obviously know Isabella really well and know some of her favorite steps, so I'm really excited for people to see it when it comes out.

How did the idea for this show come about?

Isabella and Rozzi got along so well that they started talking about doing a show together. Rozzi's debut album came out at the end of 2018, so we thought it would be a really good time to do some cross promotion and make something really different and special. So essentially this show, called When I Think of You, is an abstract narrative about relationships, and our relationships to music and dance and art as therapy. Bella talked to the Argyros theater in Idaho, it's a new theater there near her hometown, and they agreed to produce it.

What's your role in the show?

Bella asked me to choreograph a number of pieces for it, so I've choreographed Mad Man, which is a solo for Isabella, and I'm choreographing a solo for Calvin Royal titled Joshua Tree, which is wistful and sad and nostalgic. And I'm co-choreographing a piece with Isabella called Never Over You, which is a classical pas de deux with pointe shoes, and then another duet for me and Bella in sneakers, which is more of a popular dance number to a song called 66 Days. It's about missing someone that you'd seen a lot.

How is the show structured?

It's in two acts. We're building it on the theme of Rozzi's album, which is generated around a breakup. So we wanted the show to have a feel of a relationship's timeline. Isabella and Calvin and I play different characters in this narrative, song to song. There are some songs where we're all playing Rozzi's character, and there songs where one of us is playing her lover. Each number is built with a transition so there can be time for costume and shoe changes, because it goes seamlessly from pointe shoe numbers to street numbers to numbers with high heels.

What are rehearsals like?

Rozzi is based in Los Angeles, so it's been hard because we're trying to coordinate with the live versions of the songs. She's been recording herself with her band, so we're actually rehearsing to her live rehearsals with her band to get a sense of what it will be like. They're definitely different than her studio recorded vocals.You've choreographed a number of music videos to your own pop songs.

What does it feel like to do that kind of work for someone else's vision?

I almost prefer choreographing to someone else's music, because when I'm making the dances to my own music I am constantly criticizing my work. But Rozzi is a really talented vocalist and her producers and team are really slick, so it's been fun exploring the nuances of her music through movement.

What's it like for you and your ABT colleagues to work on outside projects like this together? Does it affect your work relationships when you're back in the studio?

All of these side projects bring us closer together and make us work together much better. All of these shared experiences are going directly into our performances. You can hopefully see that in our relationships onstage, and see that it's real, even though we may be playing a character. The foundation of the emotion is real.

How do you balance your interest in pop music and commercial choreography with your career at ABT?

Commercial choreography interests me greatly because I have a very classical background but I also trained in jazz and tap and acrobatics. So it's a marriage of my past and my present. I think I have an understanding of what commercial dance is to a point, and I think that the added classical element is interesting for viewers and and looks different than perhaps what is overdone at the moment. I'm hoping it's a welcome change.

Latest Posts


Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career

This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.

Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.

"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
iStock

Ask Amy: My Parents Want Me to Get a Job and Cut Back on Dance Classes

I am thinking about pursuing a career in ballet. However, my parents have made it clear that at some point they want me to get a job, which they acknowledge would mean possibly dropping dance, or at least not taking as many classes. I agree that getting a job is important so that I'm able to make my own money, but dropping dance classes is the exact opposite of what will get me to where I want to be. Any suggestions? —Kaia

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Laurent Liotardo (post-production by Nik Pate), Courtesy ENB

Catch English National Ballet’s Rising Stars in the Emerging Dancer Competition Livestream

The coronavirus pandemic may have postponed English National Ballet's annual Emerging Dancer competition last spring, but the show must go on—digitally! You can still watch ENB's best and brightest talent during the competition's livestream, taking place on September 22 at 7:20 pm BST (that's 2:20 pm ET). Now in its 11th year, the competition for the Emerging Dancer Award will be broadcast live from the company's East London production studio for the first time. Tickets are available for $6.99 per device and will remain available to view on demand until September 29.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks