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Iconic dance legend Edward Villella comes to UA to coach students in ‘Tarantella,’ the role he originated

Simon Asher

World-renowned dancer Edward Villella helps UA dance students practice their routine on Wednesday, Nov. 2 for an upcoming show. Villlella is helping students perform “Tarantella” in a role he originated.

Dance and ballet legend Edward Villella returned to the UA last weekend to coach four pairs of dancers performing George Balanchine’s “Tarantella” and receive a doctorate degree in fine arts from the university.

The UA gave Villella this honorary doctorate in order “to recognize a lifetime of achievement by a man who has ‘fallen in love’ with the UA and the young artists in its School of Dance,” said Jory Hancock, dean of fine arts and director of the School of Dance.

Villella, after leading a long and celebrated career, has become one of the most iconic figures in the world of ballet. His expertise is sought out by many, which is part of what makes his interest in the UA so remarkable.

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“I love working with these dancers because they have been guided so beautifully by the program and show a deep respect for the art of ballet,” Villella said.

This guidance has led to the UA dance department continually ranking as one of the best programs in the nation. It has created a sense of professionalism that, according to Villella, is not common at other universities.

Such keen attention to detail has helped the UA School of Dance stand out, and has enabled the dancers to undertake intricate artistic feats such as “Tarantella.”

Originally, “Tarantella” was designed by Balanchine in order to showcase Villella’s unique talents while he was dancing with the New York City Ballet.

“In the decades since its premiere, ‘Tarantella’ continues to be performed only by ballet virtuosi whose technical prowess illustrates the bravado required,” Hancock said. “The fact that our students can achieve this level of performance demonstrates the exceptional level our dance program.”

The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of the UA dancers to be coached by the man who originated the lead role in “Tarantella” is exactly what the School of Dance aimed to create.

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“When the person who helped originate the role in ‘Tarantella’ exists, why would we not want to go and find him,” said Melissa Lowe, a professor of dance. “Villella was in the studio with Balanchine hearing the music, and how the music should be treated through dance.”

For much of Villella’s career, he worked closely with the legendary choreographer Balanchine—something he attributes to his love and success in ballet. Under the guidance of Balanchine, Villella became the principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and performed in ballets pivotal to his career.

These monumental steps later helped Villella found his own ballet company, the Miami City Ballet, where he worked for over 25 years.

Villella’s love of coaching and molding of young talent has led him to work all across the country and has even garnered him a few offers of honorary doctorates from other universities.

However, he had never accepted an honorary doctorate until now, which proves the prestige of the UA’s dance program.

“I am very honored to work with these people, it has been such a delight,” Villella said. “This is my third or fourth time here and each time, it has been equally terrific.”

Follow Natasha Castanedo on Twitter.

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