Principal dancer Francisco Estevez as Basilio in Colorado Ballet's Don Quixote. Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.
When talking about a role like Basilio in Don Quixote, it's easy to throw around terms like "virtuosic" and "powerhouse." "Cancer survivor" is less common, but so is Francisco Estevez, the unflappable 30-year-old Colorado Ballet dancer who took on the role this fall. Not only has Estevez overcome testicular cancer and continues to receive treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia, but he is the company's newest (and youngest) principal.
Nicolas Pelletier in Carmina Burana. Francisco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.
Last week, Colorado Ballet interrupted Nutcracker rehearsals for an exciting announcement: Four dancers were being promoted. Though all made the jump from the company's corps de ballet, Nicolas Pelletier ascended directly to the rank of soloist, while Sean Omandam, Emily Speed and Melissa Zoebisch were promoted to demi-soloist. This news comes hot on the heels of last August's promotion of Francisco Estevez to principal.
Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based ThePointeShop chats with Colorado Ballet soloist Tracy Jones to hear all about her pointe shoe hacks (particularly for dancers with sensitive skin), her darning tips and the differences between what students and pros are looking for in their shoes.
Francisco Estevez as the Cavalier in The Nutcracker. David Andrews, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.
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."
Colorado Ballet's Dana Benton as Dorothy. Kate Rolston, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.
Picture The Wizard of Oz, and your head probably fills with yellow brick roads, flying monkeys, emerald cities and ruby slippers. Now imagine what it takes to translate that magic to the stage—and what it would look like in pointe shoes.
On Friday, Colorado Ballet will present the company premiere of Septime Webre's The Wizard of Oz, a ballet they produced jointly with Kansas City Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet (KCB presented the world premiere back in October, and RWB will have their turn this May). The three companies split the costs of creating the full-length story ballet, which includes an original score by Matthew Pierce; 120 colorful costumes (plus 112 hats!) designed by Liz Vandal; projection technology and flying effects; and puppetry (including a puppet Toto) by Nicholas Mahon, who recently worked on the opening ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics. The result is a major new production none of the companies likely would have been able to pull off on their own.
Earlier this summer, we followed master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop as she made her on a pointe shoe fitting tour around the West Coast and California. Now she's back, this time on a 45-day tour from California to Chicago, educating students on all things pointe shoes and helping them to find their perfect fit. Lee's making stops at top ballet companies and academies across the country, interviewing school directors and chatting with professional ballerinas to find out how they customize and break in their pointe shoes. Below, check out Lee's stop at Colorado Ballet. She touches base with principal dancer Dana Benton and academy director Erica Fischbach. Stay tuned for more!
Colorado Ballet soloist Francisco Estevez. Photo by David Andrews, Courtesy Dancers for a Cure.
Francisco Estevez is only 29 years old, but he's battling cancer for the second time. In 2013, the Colorado Ballet soloist was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which was swiftly treated with surgery. But during a routine physical in April, doctors noticed that Estevez's white blood cell count was severely elevated. They concluded that he had chronic myeloid leukemia, a very rare form of blood cancer. "At first I thought, how can this be happening again?" says Estevez. "I've had a few moments of sadness, but I've tried to find the humor in it, which has helped. Thankfully my wife [Colorado Ballet soloist Tracy Jones] and I are fortunate to have a good support system here in Denver and around the world."
That support system is coming together in a big way this week. Roughly a dozen Colorado dance organizations are joining forces to participate in Dancers for a Cure, a benefit performance for Estevez on September 6 and 7 at the Lone Tree Arts Center. The concert was spearheaded by Alison Jaramillo, artistic director of Littleton Youth Ballet, where both Estevez and Jones have taught classes during their off-season. "She asked if we wanted to do a benefit performance to raise money for some of the medical costs, as well as future costs," says Estevez. "We didn't know how to feel about it initially—it's always awkward to accept help from those who aren't your family." They eventually agreed, with the condition that the concert also give back to the community somehow. Now, half of the proceeds will go towards the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.