Flying in the face of convention

Flying in the face of convention

Roberto Villanueva started his BalaSole Dance Company, taking on the stereotypical notion of what a dancer should look like.

When Roberto Villanueva started going to dance auditions at 19, he often heard he was too short, or otherwise not right, for a particular company. It wasn’t his technique that was the issue, but his height.

Frustrated but undaunted, the Philippine native was determined to become a professional dancer and forged ahead carving out a successful career.

After training in dance at SUNY/Purchase and the University of Buffalo, he performed with several dance troupes including Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance Company and Buffalo City Ballet and was eventually recognized for his technical virtuosity and compelling personality. He went on to work with choreographers such as Eleo Pomare, Kevin Wynn, Dwight Rhoden and Milton Myers, and has mentored and worked with artists from major companies including Elisa Monte Dance, Ailey American Dance Theater, the Joffrey Ballet, Philadanco, Donald Byrd/The Group, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Twyla Tharp Dance and the Rockettes.

Roberto Villanueva started his BalaSole Dance Company for underrepresented artists. Photo by Eric Bandiero.

Achieving success in dance wasn’t easy for Villanueva and, over the years, he watched as other gifted dancers, considered outside the conventional model, were passed over for jobs at larger companies. He grew compelled to help other artists make their dance dreams a reality. In 2010, he created the BalaSole Dance Company with a passion to provide a place for overlooked or marginalized dance artists who don’t fit the classical mold. He named the company BalaSole from “balance,” by bridging existing gaps that exist in the dance world, and “sole” because he features each artist as a soloist. “It was time to create an all-inclusive, multi-ethnic and multi-genre organization that would open its doors to underrepresented dance artists of all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds,” he said. Dancers from the Limon Dance Company, Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Parsons Dance and Lucinda Childs Dance, among many others, have been presented in BalaSole showcases.

Villanueva’s company allows him to mentor younger dancers, sharing things he’s learned over the years, and give maturing artists like himself (close to or over 40) an opportunity to continue their performing careers, firmly believing that artistry only improves with age.

His company’s premiere performance was in August 2010 at New York City’s Ailey Citigroup Theater. On April 1,  Villanueva will return to that theater to premiere a new solo program, Pieces of Me: An Inside Look at a Dance Artist’s Journey. The evening-length work is an evening of six dances choreographed and performed by Villanueva along with personal commentaries on being a dancer in New York. He’ll share his perspective on the challenges in the field of concert dance – a topic he’s passionate about – and his inspiration for each of the program’s solos. Viewers will see him prepare for the show, change from one piece to another, and interact with the audience through his commentaries. Villanueva received a grant to make the solo show from the Harlem Stage Fund for New Work, which receives support from the Jerome Robbins Foundation. Previous recipients of the award include Donald Byrd, Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, Nathan Trice and Earl Mosley.


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