American Ballet Theatre’s principal dancer James Whiteside chats with XEX about expanding his ballet aspirations, dance idols, NYC nightlife & his alter egos!
Photographer Mike Ruiz – www.mikeruiz.com
- James Whiteside Principal Dancer @ ABT
- Rhys Kosakowski @ The Houston Ballet
- Harper Watters @ The Houston Ballet
Interview Brock Switzer
As a principal dancer in the American Ballet Theater, you have reached one of the most prestigious positions in the ballet world. Do you have any other aspirations within ballet, or the wider dance arena?
This is probably not kosher, but whatever. I miss dancing George Balanchine ballets. I’d love to be able to perform as a guest with New York City Ballet, as they have the majority of the Balanchine classics (and I’m a huge fan of the company). Perhaps that makes me greedy.
Dancing professionally since the age 17, and beginning your training at age 9, how do you keep your passion for the artform? Do you dread company class before rehearsal, or do you love every Tendu?
It’s impossible to love every tendu. Ballet is a perfectionist’s art, and much to my chagrin, perfection is unattainable, but then again, that’s really the allure of classical ballet. I get up for class every day because I want to, and because I owe it to myself and to the art to do so.
How do you approach each role? More than just performing the choreography, what do you do to breathe life into the role?
Depending on the nature of the dance, whether it be a story ballet or a contemporary ballet, I decide how to dance it. Sounds simple, right? Nyet. I use a lot of brain power on choosing how to use each movement. It’s like an actor reciting his or her lines in a flat, monotone voice. It would be my nightmare to dance that way, so I make choices to dance exactly how I want to, that way it’s my voice, not a robot’s.
Beyond company class and rehearsals, how do you stay in shape?
I lift weights and take protein supplements. I have an incredibly fast metabolism and dance so much that it’s hard to keep from getting waif-like. I eat whatever I want. Pizza, cheeseburgers, Chipotle, you name it. Annoying, I know.
Who were/are your dance idols? And how has your perspective of them changed as you have advanced in your career?
My dance idols range from Janet Jackson and Britney Spears to Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov. I can appreciate all styles of dance and try to use my knowledge of other types to my advantage.
JBDubs and Uhu Betch are both very big personalities. How did you develop them? FYI the staff thinks your video “I Hate My Job” is one of the best things on the internet.
If I had free reign and a billion dollars, there’d be about 30 alter egos. I love to create, and JB and Ühu are often the face of my most current brain.
What has been your top 3 nightlife experiences?
When I first moved to NYC, I went to Susanne Bartsch’s ON TOP at Le Bain. My friends and I all went in matching drags and she immediately singled us out. She’s been hiring us for parties and events ever since. She’s been my mother-of-the-night since I moved here.
There was a club in Boston called Underbar. My friends and I used to get hammered and go there to dance and be belligerent. One night, my friend Brad and I went and got particularly mischievous. There were always free condoms and lube in the bathrooms, so we blew up a shit ton of condoms and played volleyball with them on the dance floor. It was a blast. We also squirted packets of lube all over the dance floor and took turns with people running and “Risky Business” sliding across the dance floor.
Another was an underage night in NYC. I had a fake ID and my friends and I went to what was then called “Club 10013″. I recall an overweight naked man walking around with an enormous cake, feeding people. I was scandalized as there were many lewd acts taking place all about the dancefloor. These things don’t faze me now. NYC is a special place.
You’ve described what a good day as a dancer entails for you: overcoming obstacles, finding a nuance that you’ve not experienced before, and even finding ways to make your acting more believable. What does a good day look like for JBDubs and Uhu?
A good day for my alter egos is similar to a good day for James. I’m happy any time I’m creating, even if it’s what I perceive to be “shit”. Most often, people have loads of creative ideas, but very few people act on them.
You’ve referred to yourself as “wonderfully schizophrenic.” And juggling 3 different performance lifestyles definitely wins you that title. What is life like for you offstage and out of the public eye?
I adore being on stage for so many reasons. It’s nerve wracking, glamorous, exhilarating, challenging, and fulfilling, among many other things. Creating different characters is important to me. I don’t want to be the same dancer in every role; I want to transform.
You are currently on a billboard for Marc Jacobs. What was it like shooting the campaign along so many other talented artists?
I was floored that Marc wanted me in the campaign. I have been so inspired by his work for years, so to be asked to be a part of that shoot had me gagging. I loved working alongside some of the best models in the game. What an honor!
You just began hosting a podcast called “The Stage Rightside w/ James Whiteside”. What has the response been so far?
Folks seem to like the conversational tone of the podcast. I’m not the most eloquent man in the world, but I’m fairly entertaining. The podcast will give you a sneak peek behind the curtain at American Ballet Theatre directly from my dressing room at the Metropolitan Opera House. Check it out!
You encourage your viewers to “Be everything. Do everything.” What is your advice to rising performers?
My advice is to have courage while enduring failure and disappointment, work your ass off, and have a bit of fun every once in a while.
What else can we expect from you in 2016?
2016 is going to be a good year. Make sure to follow my media outlets for updates.
Twitter & Instagram: JamesBWhiteside Facebook: JamesBruceWhiteside
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