The Kennedy Center

Edward Villella


Edward Villella — certainly America's most celebrated male dancer — did much to popularize the role of the male in dance through the supreme artistry and virility he exhibited during his performance career. Offstage he has been as influential, accepting the role of Founding Artistic Director of Miami City Ballet in 1986 and achieving worldwide acclaim for the Company in a mere decade of dance. In recognition of his achievements, President Clinton presented to Mr. Villella the 1997 National Medal of Arts. Also in 1997, Mr. Villella was named a Kennedy Center Honoree, and was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

Mr. Villella is recognized nationally and internationally for his contributions to the field of classical dance and arts in education. Recently named the Dorothy F. Schmidt Artist-in-Residence at Florida Atlantic University, he was also Heritage Chairman, Arts and Cultural Criticism, at George Mason University in Virginia, and serves on the Board of Trustees of the School of American Ballet.

He has served as chairman of New York City's Commission for Cultural Affairs, and has been a member of the National Endowment for the Arts' Dance Advisory Panel and the National Council on the Arts. He served for six years on the Board of Trustees of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. In 1981, he served as Ida Beam Visiting Professor at the University of Iowa and, from 1981-82, was Visiting Artist at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In 1985 he was Regents Lecturer at the Irvine campus of the University of California. From 1984 through 1986, Mr. Villella served as Artistic Director of Ballet Oklahoma and was the Artistic Director of the Madison Festival of the Lakes.

Among the distinguished honors awarded to him are the 38th annual Capezio Dance Award; the Frances Holleman Breathitt Award for Excellence, for his outstanding contribution to the arts and to the education of young people; the National Society of Arts & Letters Award for Lifetime Achievement (becoming only the fourth dance personality to receive the Gold Medal); the Dance Magazine Award (1964); the Cultural Service Award from the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts (1998), and the George C. Abbott Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts, presented by the South Florida Critics Association (1997). He has been awarded honorary degrees by the State University of New York, University of South Carolina, St. Thomas University, Siena College, Fordham University, Skidmore College, Nazareth College, Florida Atlantic University where he actually serves as Artist in Residence and Union College, which established the Edward Villella Fellowship in 1991, with the first Fellowship awarded in May, 1996.

Mr. Villella was a 1999-2000 Harvard Visiting Artist. He was also recently selected one of "America's Irreplaceable Dance Treasures" by The Dance Heritage Coalition. This year he will receive the Kiphuth Fellowship Award from Yale University.

Mr. Villella was born in Bayside, New York in 1936. He entered the School of American Ballet at age ten but interrupted his dance training to complete academic studies. A graduate of the New York Maritime Academy, he obtained a B.S. in marine transportation, lettered in baseball, and was a championship boxer.

He returned to SAB following graduation in 1955, and in 1957 was invited to join the New York City Ballet, where he was quickly promoted to Soloist (1958), and then to Principal Dancer (1960). Mr. Villella originated many roles in the New York City Ballet repertoire, among them Tarantella, the "Rubies" section of Jewels, and the role of Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Perhaps his most famous role was in the 1960 revival of Balanchine's 1929 masterpiece, Prodigal Son.

Mr. Villella was the first American male dancer to perform with the Royal Danish Ballet, and the only American ever to be asked to dance an encore at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. He danced for President Kennedy's inaugural and for Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Ford. He was producer/director for the PBS series "Dance in America" for one and a-half years, and in 1975 won an Emmy Award for his CBS television production of "Harlequinade".

Mr. Villella has a son, Roddy, and two daughters, Lauren and Crista Francesca. He and his wife, Linda, a former Olympic figure skater, reside in Miami Beach.

The University of Pittsburgh Press reissued Edward Villella's 1992 autobiography, Prodigal Son: Dancing for Balanchine in a World of Pain and Magic, written with Larry Kaplan, in March 1998.

March 2003
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