Pablo Javier Perez has called Raleigh, NC home since 1998, the year in which he joined Robert Weiss’ Carolina Ballet as a founding member. It was a month before his twentieth birthday that Mr. Perez moved from Montevideo, Uruguay to the “other America” to pursue his dream leaving his family, childhood friends, and comfort zone behind.
Pablo (affectionately called “Pablito” by some of his many friends) has made a name for himself in the Triangle – admired for his dancing, respected for his teaching. As former student Charlotte Evans once said to me, “He’s a professional and informative teacher with a special attention to detail that helped me grow in ways I hadn’t thought about before.”
And whenever he goes back to Uruguay to visit, it is as if a homegrown star has returned.
Read on to learn more about the events in Pablo’s life that have helped shape him into the successful young man he is today.
Note bene: I interviewed Pablo in Spanish as he felt that he could best express himself in his native language. I then translated his answers endeavoring to preserve the genuineness and honesty of his voice. (Para leer la versión española, haz clic aquí.)
Interview with Pablo Javier Perez
What was the principal reason for moving to the United States (rather than any other place in the world) and how did your loved ones in Uruguay feel about it?
From the time I was 15 years-old it was a dream of mine to be able to come to the United States in order to finish my training as a ballet dancer. It was at that time that there was a ballet dancer who I admired who had recently left the Escuela Nacional de Danza where I was studying – he was a reference for me. He received a scholarship for the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) and later got work in a professional company. When he returned to Montevideo for a visit, I remember being amazed by his transformation as a dancer and artist.
It was from this moment that I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps, to work hard so that I could obtain the same opportunity as he had. My dream came true when I was 18 when UNCSA – the same school that my role model had attended – gave me a full scholarship. I remember the excitement I felt when it sunk in that I would be traveling to the United States.
Although no one in my family is in any way related to dance, I always felt unconditional support from my parents. They had such an important part in me realizing my dreams. Now I understand that leaving home at 19 to come to a country so far away surely caused them some suffering…especially my mother. But they never let me see it; in fact, quite the opposite. They wanted me to be here knowing just how much I worked to get here. They felt proud to see me develop as a professional and as a person. I will always feel grateful that they knew how to take care of me and at the same time let me fly.
To date, you have spent half of your life in Uruguay and half in North Carolina. What are the aspects that you most love and least like about the first 20 years and the most recent 20?
It seems crazy to me to say that I have already lived here for twenty years, half of my life in Uruguay and half of my life in the United States.
If I have to evaluate my first years in Uruguay, without a doubt the most beautiful was having my family close by, having an incredibly happy childhood, and being at the Escuela Nacional de Danza where I was taught my first ballet steps as well as a discipline that helped me so much in not only my career, but in life in general. Perhaps the less positive aspect was that in that moment there was no place to study ballet at a professional level. The Company was pretty deteriorated and unfortunately in order to grow more in ballet, I needed to leave.
In reference to the last twenty years, the most difficult was having my family so far away. I missed so many important moments such as watching my nieces and nephews grow up, birthdays, weddings, etc. At first (in 1998), it was even worse because communication technology was so much slower; now the distance seems a bit shorter because there are so many ways to quickly communicate.
What I like the most about these years in the Unites States is the ability to look back and realize all of the things I have achieved in my life here despite them perhaps being quite ambitious. To become a principal dancer in a professional company where I had the opportunity to dance so much and enjoy it. And without realizing it, to begin to develop a career as a teacher at a young age and loving it. To feel that I have friends who are like brothers and sisters, who are by my side in the happy moments and in the difficult ones – this is priceless. And of course, to have found the love of my life here.
Pablo Javier Perez in Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free © Chris Walt
What were some of your favorite roles to dance?
Without a doubt, my three favorite roles are Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet, Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, and Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; they all involve the union of my two passions – dancing and acting. I had the chance to interpret each of these roles more than once during my career and it was amazing to work on them. The process of interpreting a character allowed me to feel much more free and enabled me to connect with the audience in a deeper way.
At Carolina Ballet, what was the biggest challenge transitioning from dancer to ballet master?
Now that I am a Ballet Master at Carolina Ballet, I can say that the transition happened gradually. While I was still dancing, I started helping set some ballets. It wasn’t always easy being at the front of the room for a rehearsal and at the same time dancing, but I very much enjoyed doing it. A few years ago I had the opportunity to set one of Robert Weiss’s (Carolina Ballet’s Artistic Director) ballets in Uruguay, as well as his Messiah in Philadelphia.
I think that something else that helped make the transition smooth was that when I made the decision to stop dancing, I was completely sure that it was the exact right moment to do so. Today I can say that my instinct didn’t fail me. I love running rehearsals and working with a dancer or group of dancers as much as I loved dancing. When I sit down to see a show, I feel a little bit nervous just as I did when I was dancing…but of course, in a different way. It’s that I want that all the work the dancers and I put into a piece looks good and that the dancers shine.
I very much enjoy watching the company performances and if all goes well, I go home just as happy as I did when I used to dance and had a good performance. I love to see the company growing and the dancers growing, and to see that there is so much talent in the next generation.
When you are not in the dance studio or at the theatre, what do you enjoy doing?
As those close to me know, I am a person that likes to be busy – rehearsals, classes, private classes, etc. I also work a lot from home watching tons of DVD’s [to learn ballets]. But as the years have gone by, I have learned to find more balance in everything. I very much enjoy my free days and love to enjoy the simple things in life such as chatting with a friend over coffee, walking the dog with my husband, and enjoying nature. There are times when we go to the beach for just a day…I love being by the ocean.
If you could choose a ballet scene that most reflects your life right now, what would it be?
This is a fun question but I’m not sure I can come up with a particular scene as perhaps it is more a conjunction of many scenes from different ballets. Because in life, there’s a little bit of everything – good things, bad things, highs, lows, happiness, and sadness. Right now I feel very fortunate and happy in many aspects of my life both professionally and personally, but at the same time, the profound pain I feel having lost my mother really affects me. It’s the most difficult thing that has ever happened to me.
But I have to say that in a situation as challenging as that one, I have found a huge refuge in my work that has helped me to move forward. I believe that doing what one really loves is an enormous privilege that you must know how to appreciate. So…maybe there doesn’t exist a ballet or scene of a ballet that reflects my current phase in life, but I can say that ballet is my life.
Featured Photo of Pablo Javier Perez in Robert Weiss’s Vivaldi Four Seasons © Jarrod Ellis
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