In the Suburbs: Channel 13 helped me discover a major celebrity in my own back yard
I always knew that Fairfield was home to some celebrities. Actor Meg Ryan was born here. We saw actor Justin Long, another native, and his parents several years ago in one of our favorite breakfast spots, now gone, Home on the Range in Black Rock. Singer Josh Groban went to high school with our younger daughter. And according to a 2011 piece in the Fairfield Patch the late actor, Jason Robards, lived in Southport. And actors Christopher Sarandon and Keir Dullea lived in Fairfield at the time. And I’m sure the list of Fairfield actors and musicians has probably grown even more over the last 9 years.
But I made a really amazing discovery just last Sunday, thanks to our corona quarantine and the opportunity to watch cultural programs on Channel 13. I tuned in about 11 a.m. to a broadcast about a very notable performer and Fairfield native, James Whiteside. Today, Whiteside, 36, is the principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater, but his talent has stretched beyond ballet. On the program he said that his efforts have expanded to producer, video artist and DJ, among other talents.
Whiteside, according to information from the American Ballet Theater web site,“ began his training at age nine at the D’Valda & Sirico Dance and Music Centre, where guest faculty included Charles Kelley, Franco De Vita and Raymond Lukens. He continued his training at the Virginia School of the Arts for one year under the direction of Petrus Bosman and David Keener.
In a blog piece by Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa, Whiteside said “I started dancing at age nine. I had tried various sports, all of which I was hideous at. One day, my mother threw me the phone book and said, ‘Find something to do! You’re driving me crazy!’ I found an ad for a local dance studio. The ad showed a woman being lifted overhead by a man supporting her with only one hand. It looked like the circus, which is where I belong. I told my mother about it, and we promptly drove to the dance studio. I took a few trial classes and was hooked!”
In 2002, according to the American Ballet Theater website, Whiteside joined Boston Ballet II, where he continued to train under the tutelage of its director Raymond Lukens, now director of ABT’s National Training Curriculum. Whiteside joined the corps de ballet of Boston Ballet in 2003 and became a second soloist in 2006. He was promoted to first soloist in 2008 and to principal dancer with Boston Ballet in 2009.
His repertoire as a dancer in Boston Ballet would fill two pages and included principal roles in such works as Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Who Cares?, Serenade, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Symphony in 3 and La Valse; The Nutcracker and Swan Lake; John Cranko’s Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet; Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty.
“Whiteside has choreographed for music videos, commercials, film and ballet including 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 hosts his own podcast, “The Stage Rightside with James Whiteside.”
Whiteside joined the American Ballet Theater in 2012. According to Dance Magazine, “Since joining ABT in 2012, Whiteside has gained a large flock of fans for both his princely roles and for his extracurricular pursuits in contemporary dance and fashion, as well as for his outrageous (and hilarious) personas as the pop star JbDubs and the drag queen Ühu Betch.”
Among his more than 50 roles at The American Ballet Theater, several stood out for me. They included The Nutcracker (Ratmansky) - Nutcracker, the Prince, Cinderella (Ashton) - The Prince, The Sleeping Beauty (Ratmansky) - Prince Désiré, and Swan Lake (McKenzie) - Prince.
Watching James Whiteside’s dance moves during the Channel 13 broadcast was like watching a gazelle and provided real insight into how this young man evolved into a dance legend. I could see and hear that this man is truly having fun. He explained in the broadcast that his most recent ballet, City of Women, showcases ballerinas, he has completed a song about sexual misconduct in the art of ballet and is committed to lead in his generation of male ballet dancers.
Speaking about how he became interested in dance in a blog called Dance Informa, Whiteside said, “I don’t believe in ballet school. It’s the wrong way to do it. Having been trained in so many styles - jazz, tap, acrobatics, African, tango, hip hop, ballet - I have an edge, an adaptability.”
I was impressed by Whiteside’s honesty during the Channel 13 broadcast. He said that it wasn’t until he danced the role of the prince in Swan Lake several times, that he perceived the prince as a lonely person. He said that he likened the prince to himself, growing up as a lonely teenager, “afraid to come out as a gay man.”
Thanks to Channel 13, I have become a new fan of James Whiteside. Maybe one day as I’m walking on the Post Road in Fairfield, Whiteside will be walking toward me and I can introduce myself as one of his newest fans. Who knows? Anything is possible in our town of many celebrities.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears on Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.