May 12, 2023
SAB Trailblazer – Edward Villella
As a dancer, Edward Villella was one of the most celebrated male stars in American ballet history and remains a true trailblazer for the art form. He is the Founding Artistic Director of Miami City Ballet and has helped destigmatize ballet for young men and promulgate the Balanchine repertoire to audiences all over the globe.
“There’s nothing like throwing yourself across a stage in seemingly total abandon and feeling a sense of abandon, but at the same time have total and complete control.”
– Edward Villella
He joined New York City Ballet in 1957 and quickly rose through the ranks of the Company. Known for his impressive jump, musicality, and exuberance on stage, Mr. Villella was a performing sensation who attracted audiences and even changed his father’s opinion of male dancers. Over his years with NYCB, Mr. Villella originated roles in several Balanchine and Robbins ballets and built up an impressive repertoire. Among his most noteworthy roles were Oberon in George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the lead male roles in Tarantella, Rubies from Jewels, and Prodigal Son. He made numerous appearances on television, often performing with his frequent partner Patricia McBride, and his accessible stardom paved the way for many other young boys in blue-collar families to see ballet in a positive new light.
Watch Mr. Villella in a performance of Tarantella from the 1960s with Patricia McBride:
Mr. Villella was the first American male dancer to appear with the Royal Danish Ballet, and the only American ever asked to dance an encore at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. From 1968 to 1974, he served on the NEA’s National Council on the Arts and received both the National Medal of Arts and a Kennedy Center Honor in 1997. After retiring from the stage, Villella worked with and taught at a number of dance companies – often coaching dancers in Balanchine ballets – before helping to found the Miami City Ballet, of which he served as artistic director until 2012. Within a decade the troupe was recognized worldwide and Mr. Villella succeeded in bringing Balanchine ballets to an entirely new community.
Mr. Villella has returned to SAB a number of times to teach and connect with the students who follow in his footsteps and dream of dancing one of the many roles he originated at NYCB. His excitement and passion for ballet continue to inspire young dancers and his contribution to popularizing ballet in the states, especially for young men, is simply immeasurable.