Dancer/choreographer David Van Ligon has come a long way in a short period of time. Born in Dallas, Texas, and raised in South Carolina, he was invited to study at the San Francisco Ballet School on full scholarship when he was only sixteen. The following season, he joined the professional division of the Pacific Northwest Ballet. From 2005–2009, he danced with Nevada Ballet Theatre as a soloist, performing leading roles in George Balanchine’s Rubies, Serenade, Who Cares?, and Allegro Brilliante, in addition to performing various works by Bruce Steivel and Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena. He has performed at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., as well as at the National Theatre of Korea. Before joining Company C Contemporary Ballet in 2010, David danced with Ballet Austin.
California Literary Review caught up with David just as he was preparing to leave for Laguna Beach where he has been invited to dance in the prestigious National Choreographers Initiative. This Saturday, July 28, 2012, Director Molly Lynch invites Southern California audiences to see four new ballets created as part of the intensive three-week preparation period.
California Literary Review: Your career has taken you all over. Where have you enjoyed living most?
David Van Ligon: Of all the places I have lived throughout my career, San Francisco has always felt like home. When I came here in 2002 at the age of 16, it immediately felt right. I loved living in Seattle, too, because of the great friendships I made, and there is a special place in my heart for Las Vegas because of my friends and the opportunities I was given to grow as an artist.
Company C has a varied repertoire. What type of work do you enjoy performing the most?
I really love the blend of classical ballet and contemporary movement. Performing Twyla Tharp’s Surfer on the River Styx was such a challenge, but so fulfilling as a dancer. I’ve also really enjoyed performing in ballets by Charles Anderson, Maurice Causey, and Gregory Dawson. Each brings such a different movement quality, and it’s always fun to push myself in different directions.
However, I’ll forever be a die-hard Balanchine boy; that’s the one thing I do miss at Company C. But if I’m feeling blue, I just start doing Phlegmatic from the Four Temperaments or the opening sequence for the tall girl in Rubies to get my fix.
While they might not be your favorite to watch, some choreographers’ styles feel (to dancers) more comfortable than others. Who are your favorites to dance?
Of all the ballets I’ve performed, my favorite choreographers are definitely George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Val Caniparoli, Maurice Causey, Gregory Dawson, and Twyla Tharp. Some day, I also want to perform Christopher Wheeldon and Alexie Ratmansky’s ballets. Another dream of mine is to dance Ullysses Dove’s Red Angels. He was such a phenomenal choreographer — one we lost way too soon.
You have presented some of your own choreography this year. Did you enjoy the process? Any plans for more?
It was very exciting to get to showcase one of my works for Company C, and I really enjoyed watching the piece come together. It was just thrilling to watch — from the videotape of me doing the initial steps, then to have the dancers understand my vision and afterward execute it.
Charlie [Artistic Director of Company C Charles Anderson] surprised me during our conference for next season to tell me that my piece Natoma is going to be a part of Company C’s Spring 2013 repertory. It was one of the happiest moments in my life.
I have so many more ballets I want to do. There are about five in my portfolio ready to be set, two more I just started working on, and a full-length ballet that I want to see come to life.
Community work seems to be a passion with you. What projects are you planning to coordinate with?
I think being an activist or raising awareness in the community is something genetic. My grandmother was a big activist in her church for equal rights and other liberal points of view, my father is the LGBT safe space for the University of South Carolina where he is a professor of music, and my mother was on the front lines in the 60s and 70s protesting against the wars and other things.
As for my involvement, I feel it’s my duty as a gay man to be educated and to educate others about HIV/AIDS. It’s something that is still very present, and if it weren’t for support from the SF AIDS Foundation and the Positive Resource Center, and all of the other contributing organizations, a lot of great men and women would not be with us. I do as much as I can, whether that be organizing, donating money, or walking in the AIDS Walk.
Last year, I organized a fundraiser for Post:Ballet and our AIDS Walk team; we raised over $1,300. We just had our second annual event and raised close to $600. We wish we had matched or exceeded last year’s donations, but we had bad weather on the day of the event.
Many dancers take a break during the off-season. Is this something you do, or do you line up guest performances and teaching?
Some dancers immediately take off at season’s end. A couple of the Company C dancers went on vacation to Europe; I have to say I was slightly jealous. As for me, I usually try and plan something that will bring in some income.
This summer I choreographed a pas de deux (SanVean) for a Yogathon conference. In addition, I’ll be dancing at the National Choreographers Initiative in Laguna Beach. I’m so excited to be a part of that.
Truthfully, I can’t take too much time off from ballet, or I get too restless and irritable. I need to be working creatively in some form or another.
How do you coordinate your guest appearances with your Company C schedule?
I usually line them up to happen during our breaks. We have the months of November and December off because we don’t do a holiday ballet; it works out great for most of the dancers. For the past two years, I’ve worked with Bruce Steivel, my director at Nevada Ballet Theatre, and have performed in Nutcracker with his new company, Peninsula Ballet Theatre. Also, I have been fortunate to go home to South Carolina for Thanksgiving, something I was never able to do working for other companies. And while there, I have had the opportunity to guest with my old ballet school and do their Nutcracker.
Where do you see yourself five years from now? Ten?
Hopefully I still will be dancing and growing — as a dancer and a person. It would be great to have a company of my own someday — one where I can pick my favorite ballets to be performed each season, including some of my own. It would also be rewarding to have the opportunity to choreograph around the world, to share my passion for ballet with others, especially children.
National Choreographers Initiative directed by Molly Lynch
Saturday, July 28, 2012 at 8:00 p.m.
Irvine Barclay Theatre
4242 Campus Drive
Box Office: (949) 854-4646
Comments and discussion will take place shortly after the performance.
SanVean in rehearsal. Choreography by David Van Ligon
Interview for National Choreographers Initiative:
Former dancer, Geri Jeter, has been editing and writing for over fifteen years, writing on dance, food, music, NASCAR, technical theater, and Italian-American culture. For the past five years, she was the dance critic for the Las Vegas Weekly; in 2007 Nevada Ballet Theatre presented her with the Above and Beyond award. Now living in San Francisco, Geri is excited about covering the entire scope of West Coast dance. You can read more of her dance writing at her blog Dance Blitz (www.dance-blitz.com) and follow her Las Vegas and San Francisco restaurant reviews at DishKebab (www.dishkebab.com).