Aaron Orza was born in Walnut Creek, California, and grew up in San Francisco, where he trained at San Francisco Ballet School, and was a corps de ballet member of the company for about 10 years. He joined Diablo Ballet this season.
Toba Singer: You are at what we can assume is the midpoint in your performing career. Referencing your time at San Francisco Ballet, can you say what you believe will change now that you are dancing with Diablo Ballet?
Aaron Orza: Now that I’m here, at this point not having danced for a year and now dancing where it is comfortable, I find that Lauren [Jonas, Diablo Ballet Artistic Director] is an easygoing person who has faith in me, knows what I can do, and who is not looking for faults but for the good things. You walk into work and it’s a positive environment. You dance without fear that your job is on the line, or that any mistake you make, even in rehearsal when you are learning it, is not forgiven. There is a calm, positive atmosphere, and so you learn quicker and make fewer mistakes and you’re less inclined to be injured.
TS: What are you dancing in Diablo’s upcoming program, A Swingin’ Holiday?
AO: I’m in the title piece by Sean Kelly. It has Christmas swing music, the Sugar Plum variation from Nutcracker, and other pieces specially arranged by Greg Sudmeier to make traditional Christmas music more entertaining. Greg conducts a live swing band, and just to hear the music, wearing Dick Tracy or 1930s mobster zoot suit outfits is great. I get to drive Mayo Sugano onto the stage in a Model T, and the set is a jazz club with a bar that reminds me of the one in Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free. Sean is a totally cool guy and I love working with him on this.
TS: You come from large family of ballet dancers. I know that the countervailing pressures of five ballet careers, sometimes in direct competition with each other, hasn’t been easy. If you had a child who wanted to train for a dance career, what interests besides those directly related to dance would you encourage him or her to bring along or develop over the course of their ballet training?
AO: I would encourage them to play sports, develop a positive team spirit, and no matter what, I’d want them to be exposed to break dancing, and tap, for rhythm’s sake, so that they could be grounded in the many realities of dance. Ballet is one dance form, but there’s so much more out there to learn from and enjoy.
TS: If you ask the man or woman on the street, “Is ballet more competitive for men or women?” most would probably answer “women.” What would you say to them about the competition between men in ballet?
AO: I would say that compared to the what the women face, competition is not so ruthless for men. We are all in it more for each other, a positive, friendly competition thing. That is how I was trained to view it by my teacher at San Francisco Ballet, Jorge Esquivel. He fostered a positive competitive atmosphere in class, showing us that we got the best result when we all worked together as a team. He set the example, he set the bar high, and whenever new people came in who maybe had that super competitive attitude, he would train them to work as part of the team. We were all great friends, and still are to this day: Lorin Mathis, James Moore, James Gotesky, Moisés Martín, Nick Scott, Oliver Halkowich, and Sergio Torrado. There are probably more who came and went who I am not remembering.
TS: I remember seeing you dance the Hungarian divertissement from Swan Lake with Pauli Magierek. It was the best in memory for me. Were there moments in preparing for it or dancing it that you want to speak about?
AO: It was really great. It was the first time since Arabian that Pauli, who is my companion, and I worked together since Rodeo. She’s a giver, and sometimes you get somebody who’s not a giver as a partner. They saw that and that we both look Slavic. [laughter]. I was bummed that I couldn’t do it again because of a back injury. Working with Pauli is to work with a professional—no drama queen stuff. Plus, she is amazing!
TS: Do you see your post-performing career centering on dance or something entirely different, and if so, what?
AO: This is cool for now and if this is where I should be I will know it, but down the line I do want to dance with a big company. I would love to teach, though not fall into the pattern of being stuck in the dance world my whole life. I’d like to do something that makes money, maybe have a restaurant. I do great barbecue and can mix a really good drink!
Toba Singer, author of “First Position: a Century of Ballet Artists” (Praeger 2007), was Senior Program Director of the Art and Music Center of the San Francisco Public Library and its dance selector until her retirement in 2010. Raised in The Bronx, she graduated from New York City’s School of Performing Arts with a major in Drama, the University of Massachusetts with a BA in History; and the University of Maryland with an MLS. Since high school, Singer has been actively engaged in a broad range of pro-labor, social, and political campaigns. She has lived, worked, organized and written in Baltimore, Boston, The Bronx, Cambridge, Charleston, West Virginia, Jersey City, Richmond, Virginia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., working in steel mills, chemical refineries, garment shops and as an airlines worker; also editing, teaching and as an office worker. Singer has contributed articles to the “Charleston Gazette,” “San Francisco Chronicle,” “Dance Magazine,” “Dance Europe,” “City Paper,” “Provincetown Advocate,” “Voice of Dance,” CriticalDance.com, “InDance,” and “Dance Source Houston.”
Singer returned to the studio to study ballet after a 25-year absence, and in 2001, was invited to become a founding member of the board of Robert Moses’ KIN dance company. Singer studied ballet with Svetlana Afanasieva, Nina Anderson, Perry Brunson, Richard Gibson, Zory Karah, Celine Keller, Charles McGraw, Francoise Martinet, Augusta Moore, E. Virginia Williams, and Kahz Zmuda; and Modern Dance with Cora Cahan, Jane Dudley, Nancy Lang, Donald McKayle, Gertrude Shurr, and Zenaide Trigg. Her son James Gotesky dances with Houston Ballet. Singer lives in Oakland, California, with her husband Jim Gotesky.