James Whiteside Makes His ABT Choreographic Debut This Month

by Michael Mahany | 10/14/2019 6:20 PM

When ‘New American Romance’ debuts in New York City later this month, it will mark American Ballet Theatre principal danseur James Whiteside’s choreographic debut with the company — and it’ll promise to be different than anything the internationally respected ballet institution has ever produced.

The new piece, which Whiteside was able to premiere at the Vail Dance Festival earlier this summer, takes a “progressive” look at the classic style, and “pays homage to romantic ballet by injecting it with the social relevance of modern love.”

Whiteside’s new piece explores different kinds of romance and relationships — everything from lesbian, gay, and the “big sweeping Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler love” to “the love that lives within a throuple” — through a seemingly unique and exquisitely refined yet colloquial voice, all wrapped into a classical ballet.

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“I wanted to explore romance because I’ve never felt romantic ever,” Whiteside told Dance Network at last week’s sneak preview rehearsal. “And, I’ve never felt romance was for me — specifically societally — so, I wanted to try and feel the love in a different way and explore what it could be; that’s where I found myself exploring different types of relationships and packaging it in this classical romantic way.

The ballet is also, according to Whiteside’s press team, “the first ballet in the repertory by a queer man that was made with progress in mind.”

“In creating steps that are gender-neutral,” the press team wrote, “[Whiteside] has high hopes that the roles he created in this new work will be available to trans and gender-nonconforming dancers — a population that hasn't quite broken through to the ballet stage without resistance.”

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The date of the open rehearsal, which was held on “National Coming Out Day" wasn’t lost on Whiteside, either.

“It’s National Coming Out Day today, and I’m gayer than ever,” Whiteside said with a smile, “and I’m so grateful for the support system that I have.”

The invited rehearsal, which Whiteside coined as ‘BTS at ABT’, is also something the danseur and choreographer hopes will continue going forward.

“This is the first time we’ve ever done this,” Whiteside said. “I’ve never had a squad like this show up to one of my rehearsals… I think this is something really interesting for the future — to get my squad together for some open rehearsals.”

James Whiteside's 'City Of Women' from ABT Incubator 2018.

Whiteside, who along with his significant career as a dancer with both Boston Ballet and ABT, has always had an eye for choreography. While ‘New American Romance’ might be Whiteside's ABT choreographic debut, he's already built major pieces like ‘City of Women’ for ABT Incubator, ’Sway’ for Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night’s Swing, and ‘On the Water’, ‘Zero Hour’, and ‘Bells & Whistles’ for Boston Ballet. Whiteside has also popularized the #OneMinuteWhiteside hashtag that links viewers to pieces he's created and posted to Instagram.

“I certainly can’t dance at this level forever,” Whiteside said, “so, I’m planting the seeds for my future, and creating is always something I’ve loved.” 

“I want to continue to create as long as I possibly can,” Whiteside continued, “so, I’m just trying to create opportunity and make some really cool stuff.”

James Whiteside. Photo credit: Nisian Hughes.

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‘New American Romance’ premieres at the David H. Koch Theatre in Lincoln Center on October 23rd, with additional performances on October 25th and 27th. For tickets and more information, visit ABT.org.

Michael Mahany serves as Dance Network’s New York City correspondent. Aside from journalism and hosting he is a professional actor, singer, dancer who appears nightly in the 10th Anniversary production of Rock Of Ages in New York City. Follow him on TwitterInstagram, or Facebook.