San Diego Ballet's Javier Valesco

Q & A with San Diego Ballet's Javier Valesco

Choreographer and San Diego Ballet Artistic Director, Javier Velasco, had a vision back in 1991: to present quality classical dance with imagination, verve, and excitement. Velasco has fulfilled that mission, along with SDB co-founder Robin Sherertz-Morgan. This season the company, having expanded from two to four productions per year, presents a slate of diverse, sure-to-please productions - and Velasco’s enthusiasm is hard to top.

EM: Please tell me about your background. When did you become artistic director of SD Ballet?

JV: I was born in Texas and moved to Chula Vista a month after I was born, so I’m an “almost” San Diego native. I actually started as a musical theatre dancer, but I had wonderful teachers who insisted from the beginning that we take all forms of dance; folk dance, ballet, jazz, and tap, so we were prepared for anything. I felt comfortable in all forms of dance. I got a little career going for myself as a choreographer of musicals in San Diego, and also had success teaching. That’s where I met Robin Morgan, who had been with the original San Diego Ballet and studied at the School of American Ballet in New York under George Balanchine. Together we started the new San Diego Ballet about 25 years ago and worked as co-directors, both artistic and administrative. Over the years, I took on more of the artistic director role because I enjoy choreography so much and working with dancers so much - it seemed natural. I’ve been with the company since its inception and artistically guiding it from the beginning.

EM: Now you’re celebrating a landmark anniversary. Congratulations, that’s fantastic.

JV: Thank you. Every year seems to go by so quickly. So many dancers have come through the company, stayed with us or gone on to other places. It’s great seeing them grow. The company has always hired professional dancers - we’ve had dancers from Australia, Russia, Mexico, Japan and Hungary. Part of the joy and challenge of the ballet company is not just to train the public about this art form, but also to excite them. Many people see it as something that isn’t very tangible or approachable. Once they come to a ballet performance, they understand it. A lot of times, women drag their husbands to the shows, and the husbands enjoy it as much as if not more than the wives. There’s also a misconception that we’re a school. There’s a school associated with us, but a lot of times in people’s minds they have this conception that ballet is something kids do. 

EM: Does it have something to do with the fact that dancers tend to be very young, with a fairly short career span?

JV: Where I started, we called even twelve-year-olds ladies and gentlemen. So I come from a place of respecting children behaving in a way that projects more maturity. We are, as human beings, living longer, able to do things longer, maintaining youthful appearances longer. The range of dancers’ careers has expanded, but they’re also doing difficult things with their bodies. Using their body for their job, vocation and livelihood, it does wear and tear. It’s something that has a limited amount of time. But it doesn’t mean that dance can’t still be a part of your life.

EM: Tell me more about this exciting season coming up. Are there any highlights you wanted to point out about the four productions you’re doing? I’d love to know how you created the collaboration with Azerbaijan for the premiere of “Seven Beauties.”

JV: Dr. Randall Tweed of Grossmont College had an interest in Azerbaijan. He had performed a suite of dances from a ballet originally composed and presented in Azerbaijan in 1952, based on a twelfth-century poem by a famous Azerbaijani poet, which is very important to both the Turkish and Azerbaijani communities. He started a conversation two years ago with the Azerbaijan Ministry in Los Angeles, who were very interested in exposing people in America and Southern California to Azerbaijani culture, about doing the full-length ballet and approached me about creating it. The Ministry is underwriting the whole production so the San Diego community can go see it for free. It worked really well for us as a pre-season opener for our 25 anniversary. The Grossmont Symphony is playing, and it will be at the Civic Theatre, a new venue for us. It’s giving lots of dancers an opportunity to perform a part they normally wouldn’t, and also gives the children in the school associated with us a chance to get on stage. 

EM: Aside from other exciting productions, “Synergy,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “Carnival of the Animals,” you’re doing “Nutcracker” as well? 

JV: We’re doing it at Symphony Hall this year, after Christmas, like we did in our first season. 

EM: I noticed you’re using dancers from all over the world.

JV: We always have, and local people, as well. In our “Nutcracker” we like casting children in children’s roles, because a lot of times it’s a young dancer’s first time on stage in a professional or semi-professional capacity, where people who aren’t their parents come to see them. It’s very inter-generational. We have very young children playing parts suitable for them, on stage with professional dancers and older people who used to be dancers playing parts like grandparents. 

EM: It’s a great introduction to ballet, but also, doesn’t a kid also identify more with it when there are children on stage?

JV: Yes. It’s a wonderful way for young people to go in and see other young people on stage. If Clara’s a child, you can project yourself there, and as an adult you can go, “Oh, yes, I remember when I was that age.” 

EM: Anything else you wanted to mention before we wrap up?

JV: It’s going to be a really interesting, exciting season for us, which will speak to all of the San Diego community. It highlights all the things we do: large, classical three-act ballet, family friendly stuff, but also things geared to adults, that if a couple wants to go out for a night out, will make them think a little more. This season is a great reflection of the variety of work we do.

EM: I really admire what you’re doing. It was a pleasure speaking with you.

JV: Thank you so much.