BWW Interviews: Roberto Villanueva
ROBERTO VILLANUEVA, born in the Philippines, is the Executive/Artistic Director and Founder of BalaSole Dance Company. He trained briefly at SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance and received his BA in Dance Performance from University at Buffalo. Acclaimed nationally and internationally for his abilities as a dance artist, Roberto has performed, conducted dance residencies, judged dance competitions, and taught master classes in U.S., Europe, and Asia. He has worked with renowned choreographers such as Dwight Rhoden, Kevin Wynn, Milton Myers, and Eleo Pomare and performed with dance companies such as Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance Company, Steeledance, Marie-Christine Giordano Dance, Pick of the Crop Dance, and Buffalo City Ballet. Roberto has mentored/worked with artists from renowned companies such as the Limón Dance Company, Elisa Monte Dance, Lucinda Childs Dance, Parsons Dance, Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadanco, Joffrey Ballet, Donald Byrd/The Group, Ballet Frankfurt, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Twyla Tharp Dance, Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble, The Isadora Duncan Dance Company, Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, and Rockettes.
Villanueva founded BalaSole Dance Company in 2010 as a multi-genre and all inclusive Dance Company. Since its official incorporation in July 2010 as an educational non-profit dance organization, the company has presented informational sessions and performances for the general public at prominent New York City dance venues such as the Baryshnikov Arts Center's Jerome Robbins Theater, The Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater, Dance Theater Workshop, and Tribeca Performing Arts Center. In June 2012, BalaSole Dance Company officially became the resident Dance Company of the College of Mount Saint Vincent.
BalaSole Dance Company is the only dance organization in the United States that is solely dedicated to bridging the gaps in the field of concert dance. BalaSole Dance Company's roster includes artists from renowned companies such Limón Dance Company, Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Parsons Dance, Lucinda Childs Dance, Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble, Philadanco, The Isadora Duncan Dance Company, Tulsa Ballet, Cirque du Soleil, as well as students/graduates from The Julliard School, New York University, SUNY Purchase, The Boston Conservatory, Columbia University, Harvard University, Long Island University, Rutgers University, University at Buffalo, Muhlenberg College, North Carolina University, East Carolina University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Marymount Manhattan College, University of the Arts, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, George Mason University, and University of Oklahoma. Many have received undergraduate/graduate degrees in Dance, Education, Neuroscience and Behavior, Exercise Science, Business Management, English Literature, and American Studies.
Broadwayworld Dance recently sat down to interview Mr. Villanueva.
Q. You were originally going to pursue accounting. How did you become interested in dance?
A. During my junior or senior year in high school, I realized I was good in accounting, so I decided to pursue accounting in college at SUNY Buffalo. At SUNY we were required to complete a few credits within the athletics department, so I took a gym class called "Introduction to Movement," which was taught by Tressa Gorman Crehan, a faculty member from the dance department. She told me I had a natural sense of movement, and to visit the dance department. I didn't know what a dance department was! She told me that the department offered a special major degree in dance and a performing opportunity through their Dance Company. I asked myself if people could really major in dance. Tressa encouraged me to watch some of the classes offered by the department, so I visited the department the next day and watched a ballet class in the morning. I was so taken by the whole experience; I ended up watching various dances classes offered by the department all week long. Then I decided I wanted to be dancer--not an accountant--and registered for all beginner level dance classes the department offered the following semester. After about a year, I was accepted to the University's Dance Company. I also started choreographing and performing for other small dance productions offered by the department. It was around this time that I invited my parents to come see me perform. I didn't tell them anything about the performance. They had no idea it even involved dance. The performance was in a small theater. Unbeknownst to me, my parents sat in the front row. I can still remember the shocked look on their faces. After the show, the first things they said to me were "Why are you doing this? It's a waste of your time. There is no future in dancing. What is happening with accounting?" So I replied, "I'm still going to pursue accounting. This is just a pastime." But I lied. I knew I wanted to dance. That was also the first and only time my father saw me perform.
Q. You won a scholarship to Alvin Ailey and the national title "Mr. Dance of America" from the Dance Masters of America. That must have been a great accomplishment.
A. About two years after I started dancing, Thomas Ralabate, one of the faculty members at SUNY Buffalo, asked me if I would be interested in competing for the Mr. Dance of America competition. I thought he was being funny. I asked him how I could compete in a dance competition when I just started learning how to dance. He said he was willing to coach and train me for the local "Mr. Dance of Western New York" competition that was to take place in six months. So I humored him and agreed to it. I ended up winning the competition, which qualified me to compete in the national "Mr. Dance of America" competition a few months later. To my surprise, I also won the national title. I just didn't think it was possible. I was very happy, but very sad as well, because my parents weren't there to witness my accomplishment. They didn't even know I won the local title and that I was competing for the nationals in New York City. I just knew they wouldn't approve. Anyway, I told them about it when I went back home after the nationals. At that point, they weren't sure how to feel. I knew they were proud because they shared the news with everyone they knew in the United States and in the Philippines. However, they kept asking me about accounting and telling me how important it was for me to get my accounting degree so that I could have a good future. To not upset them, I told them I was still pursuing accounting and kept them out of the loop in terms of my college education. Winning the competition gave me the confidence to move to New York City a year later and audition for the summer intensive program at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I was very grateful to receive a special scholarship from this world-renowned dance institution. The scholarship reaffirmed my decision to pursue a career in concert dance. I have to add that Mr. Ralabate still serves as my mentor and as a friend today.
Q. Your next few years were rough and fraught with unhappiness. Could you elaborate on this?