James Whiteside

BE EVERYTHING. DO EVERYTHING.

NYC Dance Project Exclusive Shoot

My friend and dressing roommate, Daniil Simkin told me about the NYC Dance Project a couple weeks ago. He said "YOU HAVE TO WORK WITH THESE PEOPLE!". Next thing I knew, I was at Deborah Ory and Ken Browar's studio doing a shoot. Check out the photos and Q&A below.

NYCDP Questionnaire:

CLICK OR TAP IMAGE TO VIEW NEXT IN GALLERY

James Whiteside,  Principal Dancer, American Ballet Theatre

What career would you choose if you could not be a dancer?
JW: I’d be a musician or another form or creator. However, when I was in school, I was obsessed with astronauts and dinosaurs. Go figure.
What are your worst fears (professionally or personally)?
JW: My worst fear is losing the people I love.
Which person (dead or alive) would you most want to dance with if you could?
JW: Janet Jackson, circa 1989
If a child told you they wanted to be a dancer, what would your advice be?
JW: Go for it! Go for everything!
If you could be an animal, what animal would your choose and why?
JW: I’d like to be an eagle. They are beautiful and the idea of being able to fly is incredible.
What is your greatest indulgence?
JW: My whole life! What a fairy tale!
What 3 items do you always have in your bag with you?
JW: My kindle (I love to read), my iPhone (music is my passion), and deodorant (boys are smelly).
What career would your family have chosen for you?
JW: Circus clown. Ha, I don’t know. I never gave them a chance to try to persuade me.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
JW: A house on the ocean with lots of coffee and all my friends.
Who would you most like to have a coffee with (could be dead or alive)?
JW: Roger the alien from American Dad. I feel like we would be the best of friends.
What is your favorite city to tour to and why?
JW: Tokyo. The food and culture suit me just fine!
What was your biggest mishap in a performance?
JW: Years ago, I did Lysander in Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and my sword got caught in the front cloth in the lovers scene. I had to stand there for a full minute untangling it. Hilarious!
Is there a special meal you have before performances?
JW: No, I don’t really care what I have before a show. I’ll eat anything!

View article on its original site here.

Don't dream it. Be it.

Gay News Network's Alistair Sutton chatted me up about ABT's upcoming tour to Brisbane (tickets here). It was nice to have some refreshing questions asked about homosexuality and ballet. 

 James Whiteside & Paloma Herrera in  Swan Lake .

James Whiteside & Paloma Herrera in Swan Lake.

PASSION FOR THE DANCE: AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE

CREATED ON // FRIDAY, 15 AUGUST 2014
AUTHOR // Alistair Sutton

James Whiteside, Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theatre, speaks to Alistair Sutton about the company's historic visit to Australia in 2014 – and how he earned the nickname ‘the monkey’. 

New York-based American Ballet Theatre (ABT) is coming to Brisbane for the first time as part of the 2014 QPAC International Series. Principal dancer James Whiteside started as a soloist with the company in 2012, previously having a distinguished repertoire with the Boston Ballet Company since 2003. Whiteside has been dancing since the age of nine; his passion for dance remains undiminished.

“I was a spaz as a child – still am,” he laughs. “I’d climb everything and my poor mother dubbed me ‘the monkey’! I’d tried everything from football to Boy Scouts and back. One day, my fed up mother threw me the phonebook and said, 'Pick something! I don’t care what it is, as long as you’re out of the house!' I was struck by an ad featuring a man lifting a woman over his head with one arm. It turned out to be for a dance studio! The rest is history.”

The ABT was founded in 1939 and is considered a national treasure. From August 28 to September 7, the company will be presenting two productions at QPAC. The first is Swan Lake, which Whiteside describes as one of ballet's “greatest hits”, choreographed by ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie. The second will be a triple bill featuring Bach Partita, Seven Sonatas and Fancy Free, by three of the greatest choreographers of the modern era: Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp and Alexei Ratmansky.

Whiteside believes the program showcases the company's versatility of style and eliminates any preconceptions people may have about ballet.

“We’re bringing the best of both worlds to Brisbane,” he says. “Swan Lake is one of the greatest ballets ever made and ABT’s production is top-notch. Our mixed bill showcases where ballet is heading in the future, and I think that will be really exciting for audiences to see. You’re getting new school and old school back-to-back!

“ABT’s Swan Lake is so successful because it’s the very definition of classical ballet and modern virtuosity. The corps of swans move as one, the sets/costumes shine opulently, and the principals give legendary performances. I recall watching videos of ABT’s Swan Lake as an aspiring ballet student and being blown away.”

This 2014 season in Brisbane is very much in keeping with ABT's vision to develop a repertoire of the best ballets from the past and encourage the creation of new works. The company has appeared in 132 cities in 42 countries over the years. The logistics of bringing the company's 90 dancers out to Australia were mind-boggling, according to Whiteside.

“Luckily, I’m not the one dealing with the touring schedule! We have amazing company managers and production staff who make sure we all arrive in one piece. I speak for everyone in ABT when I say that we’re beyond thrilled to be coming to Australia for the first time in the company's 75 year history.”

The dedication required of a classical ballet dancer is all-encompassing, the daily practice of endless routines and choreography comes at a price. Whiteside is on record as saying the attainment of perfection is an unattainable obsession, which is “strangely alluring.” As an openly gay man does his sexuality impact on his career?

“People always ask me if being gay hurts my career,” Whiteside explains. “It probably does but I’d never hide myself. My work speaks for itself. I don't need to hide behind 'the norm' to be taken seriously as an artist. With ABT, I’ve never felt that my sexual orientation has anything to do with my career and I’ve never made any attempts to conceal my sexuality.”

Whiteside always thought big from the beginning, but even he probably could not have envisaged how far this life has taken him. The support of his family has always been important.

“When I was first promoted to Principal my father said, 'You're actually doing this!' I'm a huge fan of having lofty goals. A broad vision and high dreams have gotten me very far. I never saw myself achieving my goals, I just knew I had to try. As for any advice I have for aspiring ballet dancers – there's a quote from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 'Don't dream it. Be it,' that pretty much sums it up.”

What does Whiteside have to say about Australia and more importantly Australian men? “I had never been to Oz before my press tour earlier this year. I thought the gentlemen were exceedingly handsome! I'm excited to have some good Aussie coffee too. We all know what American coffee tastes like!”

ABT Swan Lake, August 28 – September 4; Triple Bill, September 5-7, 2014, at QPAC, cnr Grey and Melbourne St, South Bank, Bookings: 136 246 / qpac.com.au

Read the article on GNN here.

ABT's Primo Ballerino

I recently appeared in New York Resident magazine. 

 photo by Renata Pavam

photo by Renata Pavam

And just what is a ballerino, you might ask? “Everyone always asks me, ‘What do I call a male ballet dancer?’ And I’m sick of saying ‘male ballet dancer,”’ he explains. “Ballerino. Done. You can even call me ‘Rino’ for short.”

Read the full article here.

ABT's Big Gun

I spoke with Abi at Gayletter about what it's like being American Ballet Theatre's newest Principal Dancer, what my schedule's like, and MILK of The Dairy Queens.

 Photo: Daniel Moss for Gayletter

Photo: Daniel Moss for Gayletter

Make sure to check out the original article on Gayletter for the exclusive photos by (Daniel Moss) accompanying the article! 

ABT’S BIG GUN: JAMES WHITESIDE

An in depth visit with the ballet dancer

By Abi

We met James Whiteside at a downtown social event where a friend of ours pointed out that he was the new principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. When we were introduced we were like OMG, he’s so hot and knew at that moment we had to feature him. After doing some research later that night we discovered that James’ boyfriend is non other than Milk, one of the contestants from this season’s Rupaul’s Drag Race. We had the rare opportunity to meet James at the ABT rehearsal studios, follow him to the locker room and rehearsal space for an interview and photo shoot. In anticipation of the May 12th start of ABT’s 2014 Spring Season at the Metropolitan Opera House we bring you this up close and personal vivid with James.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? I pee...

Anything after that? A morning routine? Yes. I always make a cup of coffee and bagels or eggs, and I read a book, whatever I’m reading currently, and then I walk over to the ballet building and listen to music while I stretch.

When did you start dancing? I started dancing when I was 9 years old at a school called D'Valda & Sirico Dance and Music Center, in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Is that where you grew up, in Connecticut? Yeah, Fairfield. Between Fairfield and Bridgeport.

Where did you go to school? I trained at the Dance Center when I was a kid until I was about 15, and then I went to Virginia School of the Arts in Lynchburg, Virginia, and then I moved to Boston and started working professionally when I was 17.

How did you make the transition from the Boston Ballet to American Ballet Theatre? So I had been in Boston Ballet for 10 years. I wanted new inspiration, new motivation, new repertoire and New York City, so I auditioned during Nutcracker season. On my one day off I took a bus to New York City and I took a company class here in this studio and the director spoke to me afterwards and he said he wanted to offer me something. So here I am! I’m very happy.

How many hours a week do you rehearse? We do a technique class every day for strength and maintenance, pretty much, and that is an hour and a half a day, and then we rehearse for six hours afterward.

What do you mean by ‘we’? Is it a standard of ABT? Yeah, we’re actually unionized so all of our schedules are the same pretty much. I mean, every day you can have six hours or you can do overtime, so some days you’ll do seven hours or more in a row without a break. We get five minute breaks on the hour, every hour, so if you don’t have a lunch break that day you have to sort of shove some food down your neck and get back to work.

What’s the most difficult role you have danced to date? That’s hard. The thing is there are roles that are technically easy but difficult to portray. So you can have a role that’s technically really hard but simple in a presentation sort of way. So I think it’s hard to say what the most difficult ballet I’ve done is because there’s always really hard parts and different facets of dance.

What modern choreographers would you like to work with? There are some standard European choreographers that I’d love to work personally with like William Forsythe andJiří Kylián, but there are also different styles that I’d love to get involved with. Musical theater and even hip hop and jazz. So I think it’s not as much choreographer as styles that I’d like to get involved with.

Have you always been open about your sexuality in a professional dance environment? I’ve always been out, so to speak. I never thought that there would be any other way. It never occurred to me to not be out, so it’s so interesting to me when people ask me if it was a decision to be out in the world of ballet because it never crossed my mind.

Yeah, maybe it’s just a thing that I hear from other people is that no one really comes out in ballet because they think it will affect their career. Well, it probably does and will.

In what way do you think it does? Well, as a gay guy it’s hard to play straight all the time. All of my roles are straight men, so I have to act counter to my nature. That’s very difficult and especially for me who is very open about what I do outside of work, that could really hurt me if the people controlling my career are very conservative. So I don’t want to be anywhere where that’s a problem and luckily it’s not.

I know about your collaboration with the drag group the Dairy Queens… When was the first time you did drag? I lived in Boston with three of my best friends, and we all rented a big brownstone in the South End of Boston, and my friend came down the stairs from the second floor in a pair of high heels and a feather boa and a sheer gown and said, “You have ten minutes to get ready, you can go through all of my drag, we’re gonna make some memories here and sing a couple of songs together.” And so we thought that would be a really fun idea, so we went and changed into whatever he had and we ran around the apartment singing Whitney Houston songs.

Did you guys take photos and videos? Yeah, we took videos of each other singing the songs. It was a party pretty much, just with four people.

Tell me more about your collaboration with the Dairy Queens — How did that start? So my boyfriend Dan Donigan, who is Milk, is the founder of the Dairy Queens. When we first met he was seriously opposed to drag, and it was something that my friends and I did for laughs basically. We’d go out and have an excellent time and create personas and mess with people and basically have a party and he thought it was really weird. So after awhile of dating he was willing to try it and it turns out he loves it more than all of us combined, so he thought it would be really fun to get our friends together and make a sort of house of drag, if you will. Since his name is Milk he thought it’d be fun to be the Dairy Queens — It’s Milk and the Dairy Queens.

Who are the members? It’s Milk, Yoohoo, which is me, SkimJugs, and Linda Lakes.

Are there any future plans with the Dairy Queens? I mean, it’s a fun side project, but Dan, Milk, is on RuPaul’s Drag Race season 6, so I feel like it’s gonna be hard to escape the Dairy Queens in a way because people are gonna want to see us out and about. But it’s very hard with work because I don’t do anything when I’m working, and I don’t go out on school nights. I behave myself. So generally it’s the Dairy Queens minus Yoohoo.

I guess you don’t really have days off. How many months a year do you have off? I can’t really count that because we do guest performances and I do ballet gigs around the world. I’m always doing something.

Was it always your goal to become principal at ABT? Ever since I was 11 I had a dream of being in the ABT. My dance teachers used to take me to the spring gala every year. I remember watching the dancers and being completely awestruck at their talent. This was even before I was even really interested in ballet. I just had this idea of being a principal in American Ballet Theater, and it’s been a dream come true.

So you’ve always been this ambitious? I don’t know, for some reason I always had this idea of being here.

What inspires you? I think music is my biggest inspiration. Music inspires me to dance. I can find inspiration in whatever. I love to cook, I can find inspiration in that. It’s just things that make me feel things. I can be inspired to dance by music, by a certain fashion, I can be inspired by a movie I saw last week. I can be inspired to feel a certain way because of something else, and I think I live better because of that, because I can take these things in and I appreciate the art.

What do you wear to bed? So last night I wore a pair of boxer-briefs that my friend gave me. They’re bright orange and have ears of corn all over them. Yeah, so I wore my corn underwear to bed last night.

James Whiteside will perform with American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House starting May 12th 2014. Get tickets here.

Catching Up With James Whiteside

I spoke with Renata Ogayar from Dance Informa, an online dance magazine, about everything from ABT's upcoming Australian tour to whether or not I'd like to be an artistic director someday. 

By Renata Ogayar of Dance Informa.


In celebration of its 75th Anniversary, American Ballet Theatre will tour to Australia this year for the very first time. Principal dancers James Whiteside and Gillian Murphy recently visited Australia on a promotional tour in the lead up and Dance Informa was lucky enough to speak with James. Here, he shares about his experiences touring around the world with ABT, who his artistic idols were growing up and his advice for young dancers. 


Is this your first time to Australia?


“Yes, this is my first time and we have been doing a whirlwind press tour to promote the upcoming tour to Brisbane, which is really exciting.”


You have just completed a tour in Japan, how long were you there for?


“Our tour in Japan was for two weeks and we were in Tokyo, Biwako and Hyogo. We performed Manon choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan and The Nutcracker by Alexei Ratmansky. We also danced two gala programs with several pas de deux, George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations and Alexei Ratmansky’s Piano Concerto Number One.”


What will ABT perform in Australia?


“In Brisbane, we will do Swan Lake, one of the most famous ballets of all time. We will also be doing a mixed program of three masterpieces. These include Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas and Twyla Tharp’s Bach Partita.”


Which one of these are your favorite?


“Oh, that is so difficult as they are all so different. They are all kind of like the greatest hits of ballet. Swan Lake really brings forth the classicism of ballet, whereas our mixed bill gives us a taste of every genre. We have modern, contemporary, jazz you know, and therefore, loads of different styles going on there, which is great.”


Aside from classical ballet, what other styles of dance do you enjoy?


“I really enjoy jazz. So, while I am here in Australia I will be dancing Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake. I will also be doing Bach Partita and Fancy Free, which is quite jazzy and set in 1940’s New York City. It’s about three sailors on shore leave and they meet two women, and there in lies the problem…”


Kevin McKenzie, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre, was speaking about the collaboration between The Australian Ballet, Queensland Peforming Arts Centre and American Ballet Theatre. How long has this collaboration been going on for and how do you feel it is working?


“This Australian tour and set of performances will mark the beginning of our 75th Anniversary. To think that American Ballet Theatre has never visited Australia in all this time is preposterous! I can’t think of a better way to kick off this relationship than to bring a brilliant set of ballets here.”
The fact that it has taken 75 years is quite phenomenal, isn’t it?


“It’s madness. However, Brisbanes’ reputation for the arts and performances, not to mention the weather, has really made the company excited about coming here later in the year. This will be a historical moment and we are bringing about 130-140 people.”


What is your favorite historical aspect of American Ballet Theatre?


“I think my favourite part of ABT’s history is the ability to persevere and create incredible art in circumstances that can be difficult. In addition to this, it’s the incredible artists that have changed the game essentially. I think that is the legacy that ABT will leave behind and the legacy that follows its art and performances.”


How do you feel like your style has contributed to the company?


“For me, it is really important to be versatile. So I have loads of different styles under my belt and I think that’s important in today’s ballet world.”


Have you had the opportunity to be involved in any Hollywood films?


“Oh yeah, I danced in a Disney film called the Game Plan and it was fun. They were long days and a lot of standing around on set.”


Do you enjoy the big screen production environment?


“Of course I do! It also pays fabulously. So sign me up! Nevertheless, as far as my craft, the stage is where I belong.”


What is your most memorable moment on tour or overseas in a particular country?


“One of my favourite things is to see how the audience reacts in different cultures. So, we were just in Japan, and they were so polite during the performance with their applause. In contrast, in New York they hoot and holler and stand up. So the Japanese people are very reserved in their appreciation until the very end of the performance. We were doing our curtain calls and you’d hear this great crescendo of applause that would go on for ages. Surprisingly you think, ‘Wow, they really did like the show.’ Meanwhile, you have been dancing for three hours thinking they disliked it. [Laughs.]“


How is the audience reaction different in countries such as Italy and Spain?


“They are quite rowdy actually. Which I love! I adore that sort of instant gratification, being an American. [Laughs.]“


Is that type of reaction distracting for you whilst you are dancing?


“No, not at all, I mean it is distracting in a fuelling way. You feel this inspiration to keep giving the audience a fabulous performance as you get this incredible energy from them that can’t be rehearsed.”


Who were your artistic idols growing up that harnessed a great energy?


“When I was younger, I did a lot of jazz, tap and acrobatics. I was greatly inspired by Janet Jackson and her style. When I transitioned into ballet, I was completely blown away by Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov. As I grew to learn about ABT, I would come into the city and make sure I’d get to see Marcelo Gomes when he was performing, because he is one of my favorite artists of all time.”


Being fuelled by such inspiration and having such a diverse background, do you aspire to follow Kevin McKenzie’s footsteps in becoming the artistic director of ABT one day?


“Ever since I joined the ballet company that has been in my mind. That is something that really interests me. I love the idea of bringing my creative vision to life and to hopefully push the boundaries of what a ballet company is. But, that is a while away, so fingers crossed. I have many more years in me!”


What is one quote that you live by to remain inspired and keep persevering?


“Make it work! “


For those aspiring to follow the footsteps of your career, what words of advise would you offer them?


“Dance because you love it! And don’t let little things limit you.”

 

Read the article on DanceInforma here.

One Giant Leap

I appeared on the May 2014 cover of Australia's Star Observer. I open up to Miles Heffernan about my wayward focus in the early days, my inner nerd, second chances and how I connect to characters as a gay man usually playing straight roles. 

Read the interview below the photos.

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BALLET is an art form known for its discipline
and exacting standards. Only the rare few can
physically achieve what it demands. If the mind
is not as strong at the dancer’s core muscles, then
success is a distant dream.
James Whiteside’s assent to Principal Dancer
of American Ballet Theatre is all the more
remarkable considering he didn’t care much for
ballet at first.
However, with some pressure he was pushed
down that path.
“Ballet wasn’t always my passion, I started
dancing at nine years old in jazz and tap classes,”
he told the Star Observer.
“My teachers saw that I had ballet potential
and they pushed me to improve but my heart
wasn’t in it.”
His teachers seemed to have seen something
beyond his passing interest, so they enticed him
with ABT during his spring break.
“It wasn’t until they started taking me to
ABT’s yearly spring galas that I saw what ballet
could be. I was given full scholarships to ABT’s
Summer Intensive two years in a row,” he said.
“I attended (the spring galas) with all the focus
of a wayward teen in hopes that I’d be selected to
be in ABT’s Studio Company. Such was not the
case. I wasn’t even in the highest level. In fact, I
was in the third-lowest.”
There were more bad news when ABT
dropped him altogether after he started to lose
his focus.
“Needless to say, it was time to get my act
together. I went to the now-defunct Virginia
School of the Arts in my sophomore year of high
school and cracked down on ballet. That year, I
received a letter stating that I would no longer
be receiving a scholarship to the ABT summer
course,” Whiteside recalled.
“Naturally, I was devastated.”
When looking at his career highlights, those
early days still sit with him: “I sometimes feel
that milestones and hurdles are synonymous. I
had many obstacles in my way before becoming
a principal dancer.”
Despite the rocky start to his career,
Whiteside’s talent and focus paid off and he
forged a career as a professional dancer, a
promotion to corps de ballet, second-soloist,
soloist, and finally, principal.
But he wanted something more. His
childhood-missed opportunity still nagged. He
had some unfinished business.
“I decided to audition for my old obsession,
American Ballet Theatre,” he said.
“I took class with the company on my day off
from Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker.”
He got the gig as a soloist, which was his fairy
tale.
“The next thing I knew, I was looking for an
apartment in the East Village,” he said.
“I spent a year as a soloist and was then
promoted to principal dancer. It was a real
Disney moment, dreams really do come true.”
Whiteside is openly-gay and his roles often
tell stories of heterosexual intimacy, but he did
not see it that way: “I’m a gay man, often if not
always portraying a straight man, so intimacy is
not always the best word to use when describing
my relationships with my partners. I’m acting,
pulling feelings from life experiences and
applying them to what I feel the scene calls for,
which is great fun. My personal life is very simple
and fulfilling, full of love and laughter.”
The question of the blokey Australian identity
was raised and whether male ballet dancers
had a tough time earning the reputation of
being manly, but Whiteside dismissed gender
stereotypes with some class.
“I’m probably the wrong person to answer
that question. It doesn’t actually matter, all this
current political nonsense will be long over in
a couple hundred years. Anybody have a time
machine?” he said.
Earlier this year, Whiteside trained with
Queensland Ballet Theatre. Even while relaxing
he had perfect posture, defined and muscular,
supported by hyper-flexibility. So much so,
that you wouldn’t think he was couch-dwelling
gamer.
However, he inadvertently admitted
otherwise: “I love going out to eat with my
friends, seeing movies, making music and doing
nerdy stuff like playing video games. It’s getting
increasingly difficult to stay connected to loved
ones, but I’m always trying to FaceTime my
friends.”
When he returns to Australia in August,
Whiteside planned to explore more: “I had an
incredible time on my advance visit. The people
were so kind and accommodating. Culturally, I
noticed that Aussies are extremely proud of their
food, wine, and coffee, which is a-okay in my
book.”