[Photo: Matthew Murphy]
Having just seen the extraordinary Elo Experience, I rushed over to the Boston Ballet headquarters to sit down with James Whiteside, a principal dancer, for a candid interview on chili-cheese fries, JBDUBS, and his favorite body part(s).
KIM: How long have you been with the Boston Ballet? Do you yet consider Boston ‘home’? What are some of your favorite Boston hot spots?
WHITESIDE: I’ve been with the Boston Ballet since I was 17, and I am 26 now. I’m over the hill (laughs). I started [with the company] in 2002, joining Boston Ballet II, which is a pre-professional program here [at the Ballet], and got promoted to principal dancer in 2009! Boston is definitely my home. I’ve gone through leaps of growth here – both personally and professionally. I love my neighborhood with the Ballet nearby, and a ton of go-to cool hangout places just around the block. 28 Degrees is my favorite bar/lounge in Boston. It’s a South End favorite with frozen bellinis that taste like alcoholic slurpees, which is always a good idea! I’m also obsessed with the chili-cheese fries from Flamer’s Grill in the Prudential Center.
KIM: Alcoholic slurpees and chili-cheese fries? Having seen you in a crop-top, I have to ask: where does it all go?!
WHITESIDE: (laughs) They are my life-force! Luckily, I’ve got a crazy-high metabolism. Combine that with what I do for living, and the calories melt away.
KIM: You were recently featured as one of “The Bodies” in Stuff magazine in January – in nothing but a piece of loincloth (read: tiny black briefs!). How does it feel seeing your pictures in glossy magazines and on billboards in the middle of downtown Boston? Does all of this boost your confidence, or do you just feel hyper self-aware? To that end, do you have a favorite body part?
WHITESIDE: Being featured in Stuff was a lot of fun – I love doing all kinds of photoshoots! I’m a diva, and I like working hard and being able to show it. It was a blast doing the shoots, and having myself up on the billboards for the whole city to check out! (Laughs) As a dancer, we are very aware of our bodies, and getting naked or in revealing outfits is no big deal. I’m proud of all the work I’ve got to do, and for it to be seen. My favorite body part is my heart. Hah, just kidding. I have a pretty nice butt.
KIM: With discipline and (physical) perfection as your day-to-day routine, how do you decompress?
WHITESIDE: I make music and direct music videos with friends to complement that music. I go out to eat a lot with friends. I play games on the Wii and watch Dark Shadows (a 60s sci-fi soap opera) on Netflix. I like to immerse myself in things that define me as a whole person with many dimensions, and not limit myself to be solely characterized as a dancer.
KIM: What are some of the pre-conceived notions you face as a male dancer, and how do you break down those barriers?
WHITESIDE: (pauses)… I’d have to say that I do fit into many of the stereotypical images of being a ballerino on the surface level: being openly gay, loving fashion, arts, being a bit self-indulgent, at times (laughs). Having a deep sense of appreciation for fashion, beauty and arts– I think is a must in what I do as a dancer. Having said that, the great thing about dancers at the Boston Ballet is that we are all very much individuals. We all have our weird and different characteristics that make us interesting, and I’ve also got a few tricks up my sleeve. You never know what you’re gonna get!
KIM: Do you have a dream role?
WHITESIDE: I have been very fortunate to have already taken on many roles I had aspired to perform in ballet. More broadly speaking though, I’d love to pursue other opportunities that speak to my many other interests, like music, and maybe even doing commercial work – like shooting commercials!
KIM: How much creative freedom do you have in interpreting a choreographer’s work through your performance?
WHITESIDE: Well, for the Elo Experience, Jorma [Elo] has been very intentional, specific and mindful in casting the dancers and tailoring the choreography to each one of us, highlighting our strengths. It’s within that boundary we push our physicality and techniques to shine through our particular roles. The most creativity we have in ballet, including the Elo Experience, is that there is a significant element of theatricality involved in the whole process, whereby our acting, voice, facial expressions and other gestures come together to express our own creativity and interpretation of the roles.
KIM: I saw your cropped-top-and-harem-pants-outfit at the EDF Launch Party at the Liberty Hotel, along with Lia’s crazy-cool-feathery-plume-y concoction of shoes! They certainly made a statement! And today I’m loving your leopard-print pants with the sexy-bedazzled-kitty wifebeaters finished off with the wild-print scarf!
WHITESIDE: (big grin, twirling around the checkered scarf at his neck) I love fashion and dressing up (or down!). Fashion is another visually creative outlet for me to allow people to see who I am, aside from ballet and dancing. I love throwing things together and mixing them all in!
The EDF Launch Party was a lot of fun, and it was great to see so many fashionable, creative and talented people to all come together and mingle! Dan Donigan [a sales associate for Marc Jacobs] and I made the shoes. We chose the theme “Leather & Lace”. I designed the ‘Leather” shoe and Dan designed the ‘Lace’. We chose obvious elements such as feathers and handcuffs for ‘Leather’, and flowers and lace-y bows for ‘Lace’. I was so surprised that everyone loved Lia [Cirio, his fellow principal dancer of the Boston Ballet]’s shoes as much as they did!
KIM: So who is this alter ego of yours, “JB Dubs”?
WHITESIDE: (crackin’ his pearly white smile) “JB Dubs” comes from my full name: J from ‘James’. B from ‘Bruce’. And Dubs from “Dubbuya” from Whiteside. He’s the alter ego through whom I write, create, make, and mix music. I have a tiny studio in my apartment where I get to work on my music. The music I write tends to be on the electro-pop-y side, and I’ve just released my album titled Free to Love on iTunes. “Buncha Bunnies” is surprisingly [doing] well, haha! Check it out at: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/free-to-love/id428971649.
Music is such an important element to not only what I do, but who I am as a part of my identity. It’s unique in that, unlike dancing or fashion, which are non-verbal, visual media, music is a venue where I can spit out all the words I want to say and explicitly let it out and communicate – speak! I have an amazing group of friends/fellow dancers who graciously play the part of my back-up dancers in the music videos I choreograph and direct.
KIM: You have a very active presence in social media outlets (YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, Facebook, etc). Have these been successful venues to reach out to your existing fans and newer audiences to get them interested and coming to the shows? What other juicy details do you divulge on your Twitter and Vimeo clips?
WHITESIDE: Social media has been absolutely effective way for me to reach out to, and communicate with, my fans. It’s much more hands-on, direct, intimate/personal, and instant, and it’s a great way for us to get to spread the word of our work and attract a newer audience base as well. I usually post photos and one-liners that give my fans, and fans of dance, a sneak peek into the life of an artist. Photos of what I eat, what I listen to on my iPod, what I like to do when I go out after a performance, and what I’m rehearsing on any given day. It’s a way for me to let people know that I’m a real, live individual. Not James Whiteside, Principal Dancer and automaton.
KIM: We will definitely stay tuned to your many updates via Twitter, Facebook and your website at: http://www.thejameswhitesideupdate.blogspot.com/! Thank you for taking the time to sit with me today, and congratulations on your recent performances! Cannot wait to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream!
WHITESIDE: Glad you were able to come to the show! Thank you!
You may have missed the (spectacular) Elo Experience, but the Boston Ballet’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens on April 7th at the Boston Opera House. Check out James and his fellow dancers – tickets are sold at: email@example.com or via phone at 617-695-6955.