Dance career has kept San Rafael native Sean Kelly on his toes
Nov 15, 2012 (Menafn - The Marin Independent Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --IT MIGHT BE the bane of every younger sibling, being dragged along to every activity your older brothers and sisters are doing. But for San Rafael native Sean Kelly, it worked out pretty well.
It's led him to work with celebrated choreographer Twayla Tharp, on the hit Broadway musicals "Billy Elliot," "Movin' Out" and "Swing!," and have a long career with the Houston Ballet.
Now he's back in the Bay Area for "A Swingin' Holiday,' Diablo Ballet's world premiere Nov. 16 and 17 that he created and choreographed.
"I didn't, interesting enough, really love ballet when I first got involved. I think I truly did it because people said, 'Oh, you're very talented and you've got
the right body type for it,'" Kelly says. "I've really grown to have such a love and passion for ballet. It's been a pretty amazing journey."
The journey began at age 13 when an older sister brought Kelly with her to her ballet class. Back then, there was a bit of a stigma around boys dancing ballet, so the teacher -- eager to get more boys in his classes -- gave him a scholarship and was savvy enough to ease him in slowly, first introducing him to hip-hop, salsa, ballroom and modern dance. Once he learned how athletic and challenging ballet is, however, Kelly was hooked.
"You're ultimately an elite athlete if you become accomplished in the ballet world," he says.
He studied with Marin Ballet, celebrating its 50th
anniversary this year, before leaving San Rafael High School and moving to New York City at 16 to train with American Ballet Theatre's program for young dancers. He happened to be on tour in Houston when, on a lark, he auditioned for the Houston Ballet and was accepted.
Suddenly, he was faced with his first major career decision -- stay with ABT or try something new.
"ABT is a really large company, so I thought I'd go to Houston for a while ... and then go back to New York. And, I ended up staying there for 15 years," he says with a laugh.
After a career as Houston Ballet's principal dancer and then ballet master, Kelly was eager to try musical theater and headed to Broadway to perform in "Swing!," then Tharp's "Movin' Out" and finally "Billy Elliot." He's been touring for the past decade.
"I think my sensibility is living somewhere between the ballet world and the Broadway world. But when I do Broadway shows, my classical training is probably stronger than a lot of the training other performers have probably had," he says.
Although he's worked with Diablo Ballet before -- he and co-founder and artistic director Lauren Jonas trained together at Marin Ballet -- it had been many years ago.
When Jonas asked him if he'd be interested in creating a show that incorporated big band music, Kelly jumped at the chance to incorporate his classical ballet training with the loose-limb dance styles he learned in "Swing!"
"A Swingin' Holiday" revolves around four couples in a sultry nightclub setting and features a score drawn largely from the Duke Ellington songbook performed by a 16-piece big band.
When the show ends, Kelly heads to the East Coast to continue his role as resident choreographer and associate director in Rasta Thomas' Bad Boys of Dance. Although the company rarely has appeared in the Bay Area, the U.S. tour of its new show, "Rock the Ballet II" opens with performances in Modesto, Folsom and Santa Rosa in January.
Kelly is excited by what's happening in the dance world now, especially for men, not only with troupes like the Bad Boys, but also with the rise in TV shows like "So You Think You Can Dance." The odd looks dance-obsessed boys used to get are almost a thing of the past.
"The idea of the company is to show how athletic and masculine dance can be," he says. "Undoubtedly, the female ballerina en pointe, there's nothing more beautiful than that. But I think it's important that people realize that dance can be as valid and interesting for men as it can be for women."
Kelly doesn't dance as much as he used to. "The wear and tear of lifting beautiful ladies takes its toll. My back doesn't like lifting ladies anymore," the 47-year-old says, laughing.
"At this point I think I enjoy being in the front of the room, whether it's creating or maintaining other people's work. I have definitely enjoyed performing, but so far I haven't been missing that a lot," he says. "For some people, it can be challenging transitioning from being in the spotlight, so to speak. It felt pretty organic to me."
While his career has taken some twists and turns, he believes he's just where he should be.
"I wanted to be in the business and I wanted to feel an important part of it, and I think I've achieved that," he says. "I feel really fulfilled."
Vicki Larson can be reached at email@example.com; follow her on Twitter at @OMGchronicles, fan her on Facebook at Vicki-Larson-OMG-Chronicles
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