By Isaiah Negron
Produced by Joe Alexander
American Ballet Theatre principaldancer and pop star James Whiteside is making his mark both on and off the ABT stage. Performing since age nine in his hometown of Fairfield, Connecticut, Whiteside began his training at the D’Valda & Sirico Dance and Music Centre and went on to continue at the Virginia School of the Arts under the direction of Petrus Bossman and David Keener. “I had tried everything, football, soccer, basketball, baseball, gymnastics, you name it. I hated everything and I was a hyperactive kid,” he remembers. “My mom threw me a phone book and said, ‘Find something interesting to do.’ I found a photo of these dancers, a man holding a woman up over his head, and I didn’t know what it was but I thought it looked cool. So I said I wanted to try that and it happened to be a dance studio.”
At 16, Whiteside entered the Youth America Grand Prix, an annual student ballet competition for dancers ages eight through nineteen that awards scholarships to some of the world’s leading dance schools. “It’s so funny to be surrounded by all these people who have won competitions at such a young age, but I was a bit of a late bloomer in ballet,” he confesses. “So it means a lot to be asked to do these galas for YAGP as a proud alumni of the competition when, in fact, I never won anything. Everything has really come full circle.”
In 2002, Whiteside entered the ranks of Boston Ballet II where he continued to improve his skills under the direction of Raymond Lukens, who is now the director of ABT’s National Training Curriculum. Whiteside continued to climb the ballet ladder and joined the Corps de Ballet of Boston Ballet in 2003. Five years later he was promoted to Principal Dancer in the company. “There was a time in Boston where I could literally do four ballets in a night and, while I bitched about it, it was magic,” recalls Whiteside. “You feel so worthwhile and loved in the art form when you’re being used that much. It’s phenomenal.” With the Boston Ballet, he danced an eclectic span of Principal roles including pieces such as George Balanchine’s Rubies, Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker, and Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty.
In September 2012, Whiteside came back to NYC where he was taken on as a Soloist at ABT; a year later he became a Principal Dancer. “I wanted new inspiration, motivation and new ballets,” he explains. “It was an exploration of new things and that’s why I’m here. And to grab on to the dream I always had of being in ABT.” This season, he makes his debut alongside ABT Soloist and friend Isabella Boylston in Giselle on June 18th. “It’s a fantastic ballet with a lot of acting meat in it,” he said. As for his most memorable moment at ABT thus far, Whiteside says, “It would have to be my first Met season, stepping onto the stage for the first time and realizing that I finally got here. It was unreal.” Among his ballet heroes are the legendary Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov as well as fellow ABT principal dancer Marcelo Gomes. “I’m a huge fan of Marcelo. I think he really understands what it means to be a ballerino in today’s dance world,” he said.
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.”
When not at the barre or gracing the ABT stage, Whitefield steps into another set of shoes, more specifically, stilettos. In 2005, he created his alternate pop/dance persona,