Villella was a star among stars, the athletic ali-American boy of the New York City Ballet from the late 1950's through the...


PRODIGAL SON: Dancing for Balanchine in a World of Pain and Magic

Villella was a star among stars, the athletic ali-American boy of the New York City Ballet from the late 1950's through the 70's. His career spanned ""a golden age of ballet, an amazing era in which George Balanchine single-handedly transformed the art. I watched him do it. I was part of it all."" Villella's account of those years is as straightforward and forthright as this dancer himself. Villella followed his sister into ballet classes at age nine--risky business for a boy in Bayside, Queens. A year later, he was accepted into the School of American Ballet, NYCB's training ground. Villella went on to spend his entire performing career with NYCB and Balanchine. At his parents' insistence, he left dance for four years to complete a bachelor's degree--a hiatus that had physical ramifications for the rest of his career. However, those years ""gave me another perspective on dancing and kept me from becoming too ascetic and pretentious."" And certainly Villella held himself apart from most of the company; without rancor, he additionally attributes this to his short stature (5'8"") and consequent need to fight for new roles, his heterosexuality, and his eternally difficult relationship with Balanchine. The two never had an open, relaxed relationship: ""I was unusually tongue-tied around him....He made me uncomfortable because he was so sure of himself and his art."" Villella's decision not to take Balanchine's famous--and peculiar--classes because he found them physically destructive further distanced him: ""Until his dying day I don't think he forgave me for not praying at his altar."" There are plenty of sidelights here as well: tales of tours, other dancers, company intrigues. And Villella gives a complete account of his devastating, career-ending injuries, as well as of how he found his way to be the phenomenally successful artistic director of the Miami City Ballet. Throughout, Villella appears as his immensely talented, intelligent, self-absorbed, and opinionated self: a cleareyed account of a most remarkable career in a remarkable time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0822956667

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1991