Villella in rehearsal with members of Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami earlier this summer. Photo by Joe Gato, Courtesy DDTM.

Edward Villella on Keeping Balanchine's Legacy Alive and His Exciting Next Steps with NYCB

This summer the legendary New York City Ballet dancer Edward Villella marked two full-circle moments. He returned to Miami for the first time since his controversial 2012 departure from Miami City Ballet, the company he founded, to coach members of Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami. This new troupe was founded by former MCB principals and Villella protégés Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra in 2016. Villella worked with DDTM dancers on George Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux and Tarantella, signature pieces during his performing career. While there, Villella announced that he would be coaching dancers at NYCB starting in September—his first time returning to the troupe where he defined major ballets like Prodigal Son and Rubies, which the company performs this fall.

We spoke with Villella about keeping Balanchine's legacy alive, his big news, and his post-Miami life back in New York, where he lives with his wife Linda.


What is it like to coach dancers led by dancers you worked with at MCB?

It's terribly reminiscent. History has its way of repeating itself. But you have to know history. Or else how do you go forward? You never stop thinking. You continue. I'm not the same person now that I was then. So there's a little more that I might have to offer. This field doesn't sit still. We have to understand it, so that it progresses. The unfortunate part of our field is that people hear this word classical and all they think about is the 19th century. Classicism doesn't stop. It's a continuum. And you have to know the past to develop and to understand what's coming. That's the beauty of it all. Balanchine said it in the simplest of manners: "Ballet is a passing art form. You pass it body to body, but more importantly mind to mind."

Villella and classmates with Balanchine at SAB. Photo Courtesy Villella.

What's rewarding and what's difficult about coaching dancers in Balanchine works now?

The rewarding part is the look in their eyes when they get it, when you pass something on to them that's a revelation.

I had a call from Alexei Ratmansky. He said, "I'm about to premiere my version of Harlequinade, and I know you did Balanchine's, and I would love for you to come to rehearsals and work with me and some of the dancers." What he was after was not the technical part of it. And all I could see was technique, which is second nature and primary to them. There's nothing wrong with that, so long as you understand who are you onstage.

What'd you tell them?

Think of the character first, because the technique is with you forever. But you have to decipher who that character is and let the technique follow and support you.

Villella rehearsing DDTM founders Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra in "Don Quixote" at MCB in 2006. Photo by Joe Gato, Courtesy Villella.

Dancers have incredible technique now.

It's the period of technique.

Are there other things that dancers today don't know?

Yes—they don't know who they are onstage! [laughs]. Technique and positions are not hard to provide. But the internal understanding of a role is not obvious. You have to be guided in this.

The first time I worked with Balanchine he was choreographing Square Dance. So I'm looking, and I'm like where do I get this from? Then I start to watch him, because in demonstrating a single gesture Balanchine gave you what he was interested in. He wasn't articulating and verbalizing them. He was physicalizing them. All I did was watch him. And every once in a while he said one or two words and I mixed those words with the visual. And it was perfect.

Villella and Patricia McBride in rehearsal with Balanchine in 1960. Photo by PhotoFest New York City, Courtesy Villella.

Tell me how you got invited to coach at NYCB, and what you think about it.

I was asked to teach a couple classes at School of American Ballet. Jon Stafford [one of the four interim artistic directors of NYCB] came to watch my class, and I had the pleasure of having lunch with him, and he asked specifically about coaching Prodigal and Rubies. I start on September 2nd with Patricia McBride on Rubies. They haven't asked me for a specific time for Prodigal but we've been mentioning it back and forth.

For years I've been contacted by dancers there asking if I would coach them. And I'd say, "I'd be happy to do it but unless I have permission from your artistic director I would be interfering. Ask Peter [Martins] if it's okay and if it's okay I'll be there tomorrow." But that was something Peter was uncomfortable with. My generation has never been asked to contribute to the New York City Ballet. And we originated so many of these roles.

Now there are four dancers in charge. You can imagine the responsibility that was thrown at them. They never knew Balanchine, they don't know what he was like, what he was about, how in one or two words he gave you a concise understanding of an entire role. They just made a logical conclusion to get the people who were originals in so many of those ballets while we're still here. There ain't that many of us left. How people could not think about that as a way to operate is a little beyond me. And it's not just me—I think they're asking a number of people

Are you excited to work in the Koch Theater again?

It's a familiar feeling that I'm looking forward to. It's nostalgic, its romantic, it's all those things.

Villella in "Prodigal Son" in 1960. Photo by PhotoFest New York City, Courtesy Villella.

How do you feel about the six years since you left MCB?

First of all I'm thrilled to be back in New York. I grew up there. I had my whole career there. Everyone in New York is very familiar with me. I thought, when I got back, who the hell is going to remember me? And maybe the third day, we were going to a pharmacy, and someone from across the aisle said, "Hey Eddie, welcome back to New York, boy did we miss you!"

I'm back in my hometown where they understand the level of my art form. I love the idea that I'm not directed by a board. I will never work for a board again.

I've had the opportunity to travel and continue doing what I do. I stay in touch with the field. The other thing is for the first time I have the whole family around me. So in my own way I have it all. My fantasy was to finish in New York in a brownstone. So how happy can I be?

Latest Posts


Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami City Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Getty Images

Thinking About College Ballet Programs? Here's a Comprehensive Guide to the Application Process

Gone are the days when you had to skip college in order to have a successful ballet career. College ballet programs are better than ever before, providing students with the training, professional connections and performance experience they need to thrive in companies postgraduation. But given the number of elements involved in the application process, choosing the right program can feel daunting. We've broken the college application timeline down step by step to help you best approach each stage along the way.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Evelyn Cisneros-Legate. Photo by Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West

Ballet West Academy's New Director on Dream Building During COVID-19

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.

Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.

As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks