Getting Personal: An Interview with Javier Velasco   1 comment

On our Facebook page, we asked our friends to come up with questions to ask our Artistic Directors Javier Velasco, and Robin Sherertz Morgan.  We are using these questions to warm up our new blog with an in-depth interview with Mr. Velasco. Enjoy:

Javier Velasco

Q: How did you get started dancing/choreographing, and how did it turn into a career?

A: I started dancing at age 15.  Before then I didn’t dance at all, certainly not socially.  I was (and am) a very shy person.  Anyway, my older brother was an actor and I just tagged along with whatever he did.  There was a high school musical we were both in and everyone had to dance.  I was very apprehensive about it, but as soon as the choreographer started to show steps, it was as if a lightning bolt had gone off in my head. It was a kind of flash epiphany moment. I ended up getting a little tap solo that day and I went home and announced to my parents “I’m going to be a dancer!”  To their credit, the only comment they made was, “Can you make a living doing that?”  I was lucky in that later that school year, the district started a pilot program for a performing arts school and that it was starting with a dance class at my high school.  It was taught by Jack Tygett, a wonderful teacher who had danced in Hollywood musicals.  The night after my first dance class, I went home and choreographed a 3 minute dance using the 3 steps I had learned in class that day.  Jack and his wife Marge choreographed and directed at Starlight and the Old Globe and I became their apprentice, so I just sort of slid into it.
Q: This season is a celebration of the 20th season at San Diego Ballet.  How do you feel you have changed (if at all) as an artist after working as Artistic Director for this Company after all this time?

A: Hmmmm.  I don’t know.  My parents tell me that as an infant I already acted like a 40 year old man.  And my friends all tell me I am a changeless.  I know that it is bad to think of an artistic life as being stagnant, but I guess I am a bit like Athena in Greek mythology: bursting out of Zeus’ head fully grown and in battle gear.

Q: San Diego Ballet’s mission statement is to “Excite, Enrich, and Entertain…..” how did you and Robin come to agree on this?  If you had to pick one “E” to be the most important, which would you choose?

A: I don’t know that we agreed on it or if she just accepted the inevitable. You see, not-profits are constantly having retreats where consultants lead them in re-examining their navels.  After the 3rd time that we had someone come in and had us revamp our mission statement, I decided to take a good long look at it and spare us from ever doing that again.  The alliteration was intentional as something that could be easily remembered.  That is a long introduction to say that I don’t believe that any of the 3 E’s is less important than the others.

Excite.  We live in a city where people want to have experiences, The Beach.  The Mountains.  The Zoo. Etc.  Going to the ballet (or any theatre) should be an exciting event.  Not a cultural chore.

Enrich.  For the most part, ballet is not a part of our patron’s known experience.  Many of the people who come to our shows have never been to a ballet performance.  So that performance has to be dealt with as a new quantity to them.  One that adds to their knowledge and experience.  We cannot just assume that people are going to come to us the same way one would go to a Padre’s game.

Entertain. Yes, ballet can be fun.  It is important to me to remember that there is an element to the performing arts that encompasses lightness, joy and laughter.

Q: You did choreography for the San Diego Rep’s recent production of “Hairspray.”  How do you approach working with Musical Theatre that is different from Ballet?

A: It is different in that in Musical Theater many of the choices are made for you.  If I am choreographing a new ballet, I can make it for one, two twenty different people.  I can also change things up until the last moment.  In a way, it is a simpler less collaborative process.

In musical theater, there are just so many other elements that have to be dealt with. Even if you are both directing and choreographing a show, in a way you need to collaborate with yourself.

In ballet, dance IS the main art.  Everything else needs to serve the dance.  In musical theater, dance sometimes takes center stage, but it needs to share it with singing and acting.
Q: Talk about one of your most exciting performance experiences.

A: As a dancer, I was a nervous performer.  So most of the time I would prepare myself NOT to get excited.  One of my favorite performances of my work would have to be opening night of A Midsummer Nights Dream at SDB.  The company was young and it was one of my first “story” ballets.  Titania was being played by  Jennifer Brown, a young dancer with beautiful lines, extension and a cool stage demeanor.  And she rose to the occasion.  As did Kristina Kravas, who took the usually under developed part of Hippolyta and made something beautiful out of it.  It was also satisfying because up until then, most reviews that came out about my work would always mention my musical theater background.  And that happened less after the piece.
Q: How do you maintain energy and enthusiasm for your work?

A: My father worked the graveyard shift in the foundry at National Steel and Shipbuilding Company or 35 years.  I work with pretty people making beautiful dances.  If I can’t maintain enthusiasm about that, then I am an idiot and should do something that pays more money.
Q: If you were not a dancer/choreographer you would be…..

A: A professional hermit.
Q: What are you looking for when you audition new dancers for the company?  Has this changed at all over the years?

A: I look for someone who is interesting to me.  Maybe they have a great jump.  Or extension.  Or an interesting body.  Or just a way of moving. Does he look like Michelangelo’s David? Or Dennis Hopper?  Does she look like Anouk Aimee?  Or Bottecelli’s Venus? And… are they nice.  I have to want to be in the room with them. I have to want to make dances on them.  We have people applying to us year round, who are capable dancers, but I just don’t see them really fitting into the SDB puzzle.

If you had an unlimited amount of resources (money, space, etc) what would be your dream piece to stage?

A: I don’t really dream about one piece.  With an unlimited amount of resources, I would make a stable place where dancers could come and thrive.  Also if we had an unlimited amount of $$$, I would want to mount revivals of some of the ballets that inspired me as I was discovering dance.  Things like Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table, Agnes DeMille’s Rodeo, Balanchine’s Serenade, Ashton’s Six Dances in the Manner of Isadora.  With the limited amount of resources that we have, I need to be a bit selfish with feeding my artistic persona.  Give me lots of money and you will get your Swan Lakes, Giselles, and Sleeping Beauties.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share about the 2010/2011 season?  Any surprises to expect?

A: If you were expecting it, it wouldn’t be a surprise. (;

That’s all for now!  Next up we will be putting Robin in the hot seat!

Do you have any questions you’d like to ask?  Did we leave anything out you are curious about?  Feel free to leave a comment, and we will make sure Javier answers the best he can!


Posted August 30, 2010 by sdballet in Uncategorized

One response to “Getting Personal: An Interview with Javier Velasco

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  1. I love this! What a great interview!

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