Joffrey's Mauro Villanueva comes full circle

April 10, 2013
Windy City Times
Vicki Crain

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"I just think it's time," he said. After 13 seasons dancing with the Joffrey Ballet, Mauro Villanueva, 31, has decided to leave the company. "I've always wanted, in a selfish way, to go out on top. I feel like I'm doing pretty well dancing-wise, so why not go out leaving people talking and wanting more."

At the end of a jam-packed season, in which the dancers haven't had a two-day weekend since going back into rehearsals in January, company life comes at a price. "It's hard," he said. "I'm kind of over the month-long tours. Now I get to choose what I want to do. There's an independence that I needed to gain instead of being told what to do."

Don't worry; he's not retiring from dancing or leaving his Lakeview neighborhood home. First thing post-Joffrey, he will be dancing as a guest artist at a gala in Philadelphia in early June with Joffrey ballerina Christine Rocas. He plans to audition for work around Chicago, looking for "a different approach to dance and movement."

Villanueva grew up in San Antonio, Texas, the son of a German/Spanish mother and Spanish father. After seeing the Houston Ballet perform The Nutcracker at age six, he decided he wanted to be a dancer. He studied locally with Shawn Knife (still a family friend) and attended the University of the Incarnate Word, a private Catholic university, where he met teachers Buddy and Susan Trevino. The Trevinos, a husband and wife team, helped Robert Joffrey set up the Joffrey Summer Program in San Antonio.

"That was my very first connection with the Joffrey," Villanueva said. That same summer program, where he has attended in the professional study program and served as a teacher for the last three years, is now in its 35th year. The Trevinos are looking to retire and are handing the program over to him. "Isn't that amazing," he said. "That's the next big thing. They are going to do this summer, then I'll work with Susan for a year really getting the ins and outs of the program." Full circle.

Another full-circle moment came recently when he performed Edwaard Liang's Age of Innocence and a reconstruction of Vaslav Nijinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) for his hometown crowd on the company's last tour. "It was really cool," he said. "A lot of people got to see me dance." Back in Chicago, he's now in rehearsals to reprise the role of Iago in Lar Lubovitch's Othello (April 24-May 5).

Some of the highlights of his career at Joffrey include dancing the roles of the Prince in Sir Frederick Ashton's Cinderella and Prince Albrecht in Giselle, as well as performing in Antony Tudor's Lilac Garden and Jiri Kylian's Forgotten Land. But one particular performance stands out. In May 2010, Villanueva had the honor of dancing with fellow Joffrey dancer and dear friend Suzanne Lopez in her final performance with the company. "In the beginning, I just appreciated the senior dancers in the company," he said. "Watching Maia [Wilkins], Calvin [Kitten] and Suzanne, those were big moments for me, because I felt like I learned how to be a professional from them, how to be an artist. Later on, to dance alongside them was a huge accomplishment. The fact that I was able to dance with Suzanne at her retirement performance was a moment in my personal history that will always stand out. It was such a pleasure."

He also met his partner, David Gombert, while dancing with the Joffrey. They will celebrate their 12th anniversary later this month. "We were such kids when we started," said Villanueva. "It just kind of happened, as young romance does. I don't know how or why, but we clicked and that was that. He makes me laugh. I think that's what I need most in my life. I tend to be a very serious and methodical person. He makes me chill out and go with the flow."

Joffrey Ballet presents Lar Lubovitch's Othello with live music from The Chicago Philharmonic at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., Wed., April 24 through Sunday, May 5. Performance times vary. Tickets are $31-$152; call 800-982-2787 or visit www.ticketmaster.com . Pre-show Meet the Artists discussions on Saturday, April 27; Thursday, May 2; and Saturday, May 4.