Interview With Roberto Warren Highlights

Q: What inspired or motivated you to be a dancer?

A: I can’t really say––I can’t really pin down one thing that inspired or motivated me to be a dancer. Like I said I saw the clip and saw Jim, and Ron, and Antoine flying through the air. And there was something in my head that clicked. I didn’t want to be a dancer because somebody else was doing it or to be cool or whatever. I was just something that spoke to me, something in my head that said: you must do this.

Q: What companies have you been with and how long have you been in each?

A: First off, to answer this question, I have to say that in my fifty years, fifty years that I have been involved in dance (as many of us are veterans), we have taken classes and studied with tons of people. I’ve studied with Nansi Clement at ABT, Richard Gibson at the Joffrey (this was when the Joffrey was in New York), E. Virginia Williams at the Boston Ballet, Toronto Dance Theatre which was Graham technique and many others. A lot of us took classes from Martha Graham herself which was kind of like seeing god.

But anyways, as far as company I have been in, out of Detroit, I was in a company called the Wisconsin Ballet in the mid seventies for an year and a half, and I was in the Atlantic Ballet for also in the mid seventies for about an year because the way it would run, their contract would run from fall through April and then you would be off for the summer, and then picked up again in the fall. During the summer months, you had to get a job, teach, do whatever you had to. It’s kind of still like that. Those were my outstate credits. Back then in Detroit, there were probably at least five professional dance companies, because the art was flourishing in the seventies. I mean really flourishing, unlike now. You have Harbinger, you had the Detroit City Dance Company, you had Michigan Ballet Theater, you had the Clifford Fears Company, and some others. Those were all professionals, Nobody was making any big money, but that’s another story. During those times, I danced with Harbinger, I danced for the Michigan Ballet Theater, I danced with the Metropolitan Ballet of Michigan, and the Detroit City Dance Company.

You know, you could kind of move around, especially being a guy. If you were a guy, and if you were a strong dancer and a good partner, you would always have a place in some of these companies. So, I was in Harbinger for a year, and then I left to go to the Christopher Ballet for a year and a half. Then, I left and went to the Atlanta Ballet, and I was in Atlanta for a year. Then, I came back and I rejoined Harbinger for the 77th to 78th season. And then I went to the Metropolitan Ballet of Michigan for their 78th to 70th season. And then I joined Detroit City Dance Company, which can be looked at Detroit’s version of the Alvin Ailey Company. It was a really good company. Awesome company. We actually had the privilege of going to Lincoln center to dance. You know, normally it’s the other way around; companies from New York come here and dance at the Musical Hall. But, we actually went to Lincoln Center and danced at the theater. And I was with that company for a year and a half. So every company I was with, I was with for about a year to year and a half. And during the summer breaks, like with Harbinger, during the summer breaks, I would teach ballet at the school. That’s kind of a lot of what you have to do.

Q: As a musician, how does music affect your dance performances?

A: This is a good question. Dance can be looked at as a marriage––a physical and mental marriage–– between you and the music. Basically saying you and the music become one. It’s almost like you’re on automatic; if the music is telling you what to do and it’s just a reciprocal thing. You don’t even think about it. Once you know the choreography of course, or even in class you get to a point when you don’t even think about it: it’s like the music is telling you what to do. You become one. With myself being a musician as well, it’s kind of like the same thing. It’s like, you play the music, and you’re not even thinking about it–– you’re just playing it. You know the music well enough, where you can just play it, and you get into this flow and you just become one with the music, and you become one with your instrument of whatever you are playing. You become one with the music.

I would say on a large scale–– if you look at symphony orchestras. Symphony orchestras, they are reading. They are all readers, They are all master readers. But imagine a feeling where you are playing with a symphony orchestra and sixty people become one with the composer’s music. Imagine that. It’s the same thing with dance. I remember I was doing Nutcracker Snow, when I was in the Metropolitan Ballet of Michigan. And everyone knows that music. I was doing Nutcracker Snow, the pas de deux with this woman, Beth. And we became one with the music; it was just a moment where it was just music and us dancing together. We were both in tears when we went backstage.

So, basically what I am saying is, as a musician that is a dancer, or a dancer with the music of whatever, when you become one with the music, and you are not thinking about it, those are golden moments right there. And you can’t make it happen. That’s not something you can make happen. That’s just something that happens every now and then and you never forget it.

Q: have you witnessed or seen any racism during your professional career or even before that?

A: I would say before my professional career yes. Several times. Many times. And it’s just something you see, you witness, and if it’s something you can react to or have an effect on or something like that. Say something, get into a fight (which has happened). You see it, you hear it, it’s there.

As far as while I was in the dance world–– one of the advantages I had was being a guy. Because as I said before, guys who are strong dancers and good partners are always in demand. So, that sort of gave me an advantage unlike the girls.

I had one experience when I first started dancing, one of my teachers said to me, “You will never be able to become a professional ballet dancer.” You know, as a kid, I was like “What? What? Okay, whatever.” Oddly enough, I was in my first professional company by the time I was nineteen. Now that I am older, and I look back at what he was saying, I realize what he was saying. Being African American and ballet being a European art form, I could see what he was saying at that point. Plus, that whole thing about African bodies was different from European bodies and the whole thing about the feet. Let’s not even get into that. How are bodies look, and how are faces look, and African features versus European features… That’s all there. Or even with the look. Say you got the quarter ballet in Swan Lake. Or better yet in that one section of La Bayadère, Kingdom of the Shades. You got this quarter ballet; there is a certain visual uniformity that has to be shown. But back to the original point, I never really experienced anything overt.

I mean, when Carlos Acusta joined The Royal Ballet. The Royal Ballet of England, as a professional dancer. And it was because he was an incredible dancer. I still believe that talent and ability can surpass everything. I still believe that.

Q: Generally, what gives you hope during these times?

A: What gives me hope is the fact that people, the majority of people will stay focused on the things that are really important. Humanity. Respect each other as a group. Not get wrapped up in all the other stuff. Because it will just create hate, fear, division, stress, and multitude of other things. So, what gives me hope is that people will realize what they really have to do, and realize that they just have to stay focused and get through this. I came through the sixties, I came through the Civil Rights Era, sixty seven, sixty eight, sixty nine, the riots, segregation, Vietnam. All of that. And we got through that. And I believe we will get through this. You just have to stay focused and not get wrapped up in–– you know what.

Q: What do you do in your free time?

A: Practice music. Be creative. That’s the other thing about dancers: you are creative artists. You are creative people. That is your job. That is kind of your responsibility to the world. To add art and creativity to the world.

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