SARATOGA SPRINGS — At San Francisco Ballet, Gonzalo Garcia had it all — a dream repertory of both classical and contemporary works, an artistic director who took a personal interest in him and an adoring public.
Garcia left all that behind for New York City Ballet. And as the newest principal, it’s clear that Garcia will once again rise to distinguish himself in a company where the dance, not the dancers, is technically the star.
You can see for yourself this week at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. He will flash across the stage in Jerome Robbins/Twyla Tharp’s “Brahms/Handel” on Tuesday night. And then on Wednesday, the 28-year-old will once again show off his skill in Alexei Ratmansky’s “Concerto DCSH.”
Garcia has been a standout all of his dancing life. At 14, he was invited to a summer intensive at the San Francisco Ballet School. At 15, he was the youngest dancer in history to win the prestigious gold medal at the Prix de Lausanne. That led to a scholarship, year-round, at the San Francisco Ballet School. He joined the company at age 18. At 20, he became a soloist. At 22, a principal.
Rachel Howard, a San Francisco Chronicle critic, explained why.
“His jumps are soaring, his musicality engrossing, his puppyish enthusiasm irresistible. But most all, his pure love of dancing is magnetic.”
Throughout, he was cast in all the princely roles — Albrecht in “Giselle,” Basilio in “Don Quixote,” Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet” and one of his favorites Prince Siegfried in “Swan Lake.”
But the parts that seeped into his soul were those created by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. He danced the title roles of “Apollo” and “Prodigal Son.” He danced “The Four Temperaments,” “Rubies” from “Jewels,” “Ballo della Regina,” “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,” “Symphony in C” and “Square Dance.” His Robbins ballets include “Dybbuk,” “Fanfare” and “Glass Pieces.” But it was brown boy in “Dances at a Gathering” that changed his life.
“That ballet forces you to be a person,” said Garcia. “Sometimes, dancers forget how to walk like a person. But you walk on stage and you don’t move. You have to be relaxed. It forced me to move to another level. The brown boy sets the tone, too, so it’s a responsibility. But everything about the ballet, the musicality, the choreography, it was an amazing experience. I felt like I went from a boy to being grown up.”
He also appeared in works by Christopher Wheeldon, then the resident choreographer of City Ballet. Obviously, he was a ready-made fit. And when the invitation came from Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins, Garcia did not hesitate.
“I don’t want to say I danced a Balanchine ballet. I want to say I was there,” said Garcia. “For me, to know this is the place of Balanchine and Robbins. It is history. I was intrigued with the history. It’s such an important part of dance. And New York, geographically it is the perfect place to be for dance.”
The move was a personal one, too. It also draws Garcia closer to his homeland of Spain. A native of Zaragoza, he began his ballet training at age 8 with Maria de Avila. And while the training in Spain is impeccable, forming such dancers as Joaquin de Luz and Angel Corella, Garcia said there are no dancing opportunities. He knew he would have to leave Spain to pursue his career. He essentially grew up in San Francisco. But the draw to New York was irresistible. Sitting backstage at SPAC, there is still a sense of wide-eyed awe for City Ballet and its roster of world class dancers.
“Just to meet Wendy [Whelan],” he says as his voice trails off. “And to dance with Wendy. At first, I was intimidated. I wanted to be good for her. She is so relaxed. She says, ‘OK, we’ll try it this way.’ She is an amazing artist and an amazing person. There is a stability and a maturity artistically that I’m working to get to.”
He has also enjoyed working with Martins on another striking display of technique, “Grazioso,” that puts him side by side with Daniel Ulbricht and Andrew Veyette.
“That was my first day at work,” said Garcia. “It was a great way to break the ice right away. I got to know how Peter works. He works very fast and has a very clear idea of what he wants to do. The best way to get to know someone is to work with them.”
The one thing about Garcia that everyone, from coast to coast, says about him is he loves to work and work hard. Ashley Bouder mentioned it to Valerie Gladstone for an article in the New York Sun, and Tina LeBlanc, his partner in San Francisco, called him a “workaholic.”
“I sweat a lot so people think I’m working hard,” said Garcia with a smile. “But no, I’m hyper. I have the energy. When I’m my busiest, I’m at my best. I just dance. I don’t analyze. I’m in the constant rhythm of dancing. So when I get to the stage, I’m performing, dancing, not trying to get through.”
Besides, he adds: “We have such a little time physically. I feel I want to try as much as I can now. So when my body says ‘no more,’ I can feel like I gave it my all. I can hang up my dancing shoes, move on and have no regrets.”
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