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Former NYCB principal dancer to coach Prodigal Son, the ballet with which he has been most closely associated in his long stellar career

New York City — Edward Villella, who danced with New York City Ballet 1957-1981, will coach excerpts from the principal roles in Prodigal Son for The George Balanchine Foundation's Interpreters Archive. The aim of this video series is to document the insights of the originators or important later interpreters of key roles in the Balanchine repertory and to preserve and pass on this knowledge to the dancers, scholars, and audiences of today. Taping will take place November 23rd, 2015, at the New York City Ballet studios in the Rose Building, Lincoln Center, New York.

Villella will work with Daniel Ulbricht and Sara Mearns, both principal dancers of NYCB, accompanied by Nancy McDill, solo pianist of the New York City Ballet Orchestra. Dance writer Robert Greskovic will interview Villella at the conclusion of the coaching session. The taping will be supervised by Nancy Reynolds, the Foundation's director of research, assisted by former film professor Virginia Brooks and filmmaker Gus Reed.

Prodigal Son (1929) and Apollo (1928) are the only two Balanchine ballets from the Diaghilev era that are still performed. The ballet tells the Biblical story of the restless young man who casts off family ties, then after a series of degrading adventures begs forgiveness and seeks to return home. Whereas in Apollo Balanchine forecast his artistic futurity, in Prodigal Son, choreographed a year later, he used an angular, convoluted vocabulary, going against the "rules" of classicism, which remains unique among his more than 400 works.

The original Prodigal Son was Serge Lifar, who was very individualistic in stage presence but not a refined classical dancer. In 1960, Balanchine cast the young Villella in the legendary role. At first he too was not a refined classicist, but his virile presence and almost reckless expenditure of energy were well suited to the intensity of the character. Over the years he continued to study the role, bringing to it ever greater depth and texture. In his autobiography, Prodigal Son: Dancing for Balanchine in a World of Pain and Magic, with Larry Kaplan (1992, reissued 1998), he discusses at length this iconic part and his interaction with Balanchine in developing it.


EDWARD VILLELLA has long been considered one of the finest male ballet dancers of the 20th century. In addition to his virtuoso technique and dynamic stage presence, he projected a new image of the male principal, dancing not only the hero, the prince, or the cavalier, which had defined a leading male dancer up to that time, but also the rambunctious youth, the athlete, the contemporary street-smart city kid. George Balanchine created many notable roles on him, including those in "Rubies" from Jewels, Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Tarantella, Bugaku, and Harlequinade. Jerome Robbins created a leading role for him in Dances at a Gathering (the youth who touches the earth) and the Zen-influenced Watermill. (Robbins also cites the very young student Villella as influential in the genesis of Afternoon of a Faun. ) However, despite the Balanchine and Robbins roles tailor-made to display his unique qualities and the wide range of other roles in NYCB repertory that he danced (Symphony in C, Western Symphony, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, "Thunder and Gladiator" from Stars and Stripes, Afternoon of a Faun), the role for which he is best known has always been that of the Prodigal Son.
Retiring from performing in 1981, in 1986 Villella joined the Miami City Ballet, where he remained as artistic director until 2012. The company was an immediate success, and in addition to performing regularly at several venues in Florida, appeared at Kennedy Center, New York's City Center, and for a three-week sold-out season at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in 2011.
Villella has received nearly every important honor given to artists in the United States, including the Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Arts bestowed by President Clinton, and the Distinguished Service of the Arts award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. During his performing career he danced at the White House for presidents Kennedy (inauguration), Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. He has been active in educational programs in which he has always stressed the masculine nature of the male role and the intricacies involved in partnering the ballerina.

SARA MEARNS joined New York City Ballet in 2004 and in 2008 was promoted to principal dancer. She has performed leads in much of the Balanchine repertory, including Symphony in C (second movement), Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet, Jewels (Emeralds and Diamonds), The Nutcracker (Sugar Plum Fairy and Dewdrop), Robert Schumann's Davidsbündlertänze, and Walpurgisnacht Ballet, among others. She has also danced leading roles in several ballets by Jerome Robbins, including Dances at a Gathering, The Goldberg Variations, In G Major, and In the Night. Other roles include Odette/Odile in Swan Lake and Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, both with choreography by Peter Martins.
Mearns performed at the Fall for Dance Festival at New York's City Center in 2013 and 2014 in works she commissioned and in A Dancers Dream, with choreography by Karole Armitage, produced by the New York Philharmonic and conducted by Alan Gilbert. She made her Broadway debut in On the Town in 2015.

DANIEL ULBRICHT joined New York City Ballet in 2001, became a soloist in 2005 and was promoted to principal dancer in 2007. He has danced featured roles in many of George Balanchine's ballets, including Harlequinade (Pierrot), Ivesiana (The Unanswered Question), Jewels (Rubies), A Midsummer Night's Dream (Oberon, Puck),. Prodigal Son, Stars and Stripes, Symphony in Three Movements, Tarantella, Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3, and Variations Pour une Porte et un Soupir; as well as August Bournonville's La Sylphide (Gurn in the NYCB Premiere) and Peter Martins's Sleeping Beauty. He has appeared as well in Alexei Ramtansky's Concerto DSCH; Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free, The Four Seasons (Fall), and Interplay; Richard Tanner's Soirée (Quadriglia); and Lynn Taylor-Corbett's Chiaroscuro. Ulbricht is the founder and director of Stars of the American Ballet. He is creative director of NYCB's Family Saturdays program and artistic advisor to Manhattan Youth Ballet. He is also artistic director of the New York State Summer School for the Arts in Saratoga Springs, NY.

ROBERT GRESKOVIC writes about dance for The Wall Street Journal and is the author of Ballet 101. He has been writing about dance since 1972.

NANCY REYNOLDS, a former dancer with New York City Ballet, has been director of research for The George Balanchine Foundation since 1994. She conceived and continues to direct the Video Archives program. Also an author, her most recent books are No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century (co-authored with Malcolm McCormick) and Remembering Lincoln.

VIRGINIA BROOKS, Professor Emerita of Film at Brooklyn College/CUNY and director of several dance documentaries, has been editor of the Balanchine Foundation's Video Archives since its inception in 1994.

GUS REED, a New York City-based filmmaker, specializes in capturing and editing dance. His recent projects include videos for NYCB's "Project Ballet" initiative, the Jerome Robbins Foundation, Emery LeCrone Dance and the Liz Gerring Dance Company. He has served as associate editor of the Balanchine Foundation's Video Archives since the fall of 2014.

The George Balanchine Foundation ( is a not for profit corporation established in 1983. Its mission is to create programs that educate the public and further Balanchine's work and aesthetic, with the goal of advancing high standards of excellence in dance and its allied arts. Among the Foundation's major initiatives are the Video Archives (, in which dancers who worked closely with Balanchine teach and coach their roles to the dancers of today (Interpreters Archive) or recreate Balanchine ballets that are rarely performed and in danger of disappearing (Archive of Lost Choreography). Legendary dancers who have taken part in this project include Alicia Markova, Maria Tallchief, Frederic Franklin, Alicia Alonso, Melissa Hayden, Allegra Kent, Todd Bolender, Merrill Ashley, Suzanne Farrell, Rosella Hightower, Marie-Jeanne, Violette Verdy, Edward Villella, Patricia Wilde, Yvonne Mounsey, and Helgi Tomasson, working with leading dancers from such companies as New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, among others.

In 2007 the Foundation announced the completion of another major initiative, the online publication of the Balanchine Catalogue, a fully searchable database giving first-performance details of all known dances created by Balanchine, supplemented by lists of companies staging the ballets, a bibliography, a videography, reference resources, a database of roles Balanchine performed, and additional related materials ( The project was made possible by a leadership grant from The Jerome Robbins Foundation.