15 minutes with Carolina Ballet Theater artistic director Hernan Justo
Hernan Justo has been artistic director of the Carolina Ballet Theater since 2000. He is involved in all aspects of the company; teaching, coaching, after-school dance instruction and awareness classes on the creation of original works.
He started dancing in 1974 at the Instituto Superior de Arte Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He joined the Estable del Teatro Colón ballet in 1982 and was then invited to perform with the Ballet del Teatro Argentino de la Plata two years later. In 1988, his career took him to the Ballet de Santiago, Chile, where he performed ballets by John Cranko, Ben Stevenson, Ronald Hynd and Andree Prokovski among others.
After three years, Hernan joined the Ballet Clásico de Cámara in Caracas, Venezuela, under the direction of Nina Novak, formerly ballerina of the Ballets Russes de Montecarlo. In 1992, Justo participated in the XV International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria, one of the most prestigious and rigorous competitions in professional ballet, in which he and his partner won the “Best Couple” award. . Justo was then featured in two gala shows, dancing Black Swan Pas de Deux. He also won the distinction of “Best Classical Interpretation” at the Prix Volinine in Paris, France, in 1993.
Justo became principal dancer of the North Carolina Dance Theater (now called Charlotte Ballet) in 1994 under the artistic direction of the late Salvatore Aiello, with whom Hernan performed several of his ballets such as Clowns and Other, The Nutcracker, Coppelia, Turn of the Vis and the Rite of Spring. Later, under the artistic direction of the famous Jean Pierre Bonnefoux, Patricia McBride and Jerri Kumery, all artists affiliated with the New York ballet, Hernan added to his repertoire several masterpieces by Balanchine for which he was acclaimed by review by Dance Magazine and the New York Times.
Careful goals, no promise of glory:How ballet changed four lives in the upstate
In 2000, he was invited to become artistic director of the Carolina Ballet Theater by its founder Barbara Selvy. For CBT, Hernan has created over 70 choreographic pieces, many of which are complete ballets. Like Arabian Nights, Jungle Book, Bossu de Notre Dame, The Nutcracker, Jolly Roger among others and contemporary works like Arriving in Indigo City, Tangofusion, A Tango for Angelina, Ghosts, Pulling the Strings and Preludes for a Farewell. Hernan is married to Anita Pacylowski and they have raised three children; Martin (30 years old), Sofia (20 years old), Nicolas (17 years old).
Talk Greenville: How did you come to dance in the beginning?
Hernan Justo: In 4th grade, I started having trouble at school. My mom got me involved in extracurricular activities. I tried sports, theater, visual arts, but nothing worked. Until one day we went to the movies to watch “Singing in the Rain” with Gene Kelly, and I loved the dance numbers. I danced home and all my school problems were gone
TG: What is one thing you wish everyone knew about being a professional dancer?
HJ: Any job requires certain qualities to do it. To be a dancer, you cannot be selfish. It takes a lot of generosity. We must and will perform in all circumstances. We give everything for our audience, we give everything for this career, and we ask very little in return. We just want to dance. Our mission is to entertain our community.
TG: What’s the hardest part about dancing?
HJ: Train your body for very sophisticated movements. It’s not running with a ball in your hands. It’s spinning, jumping and kicking your legs in a fraction of a second, traveling through space and then starting over but backwards. Everything has to keep pace with the music while simultaneously playing a character who may be the opposite of who you really are. You have to hide the effort and the occasional pain that you physically experience on stage at this precise moment.
TG: What is the most important thing to you when teaching ballet?
HJ: To be another link in this beautiful tradition. Ballet has been passed down from generation to generation, and it is an honor to have time in this ever-changing tradition to do my part to keep ballet alive. From classical repertoire to my own choreography. Also, to be part of the evolution of the dance method. Everything I have learned from others and what I have experienced on my own is passed on to new generations and they will add their own experience as well. It is a fantastic honor to be a part of it.
TG: What’s the biggest difference between teaching others and dancing yourself?
HJ: Teaching is a second chance for you. In my case, I especially like it when one of my dancers performs a role that I played in my years as a dancer and theirs is better. It’s the feeling that I have another opportunity to dance this role in a new way. After 30 years of dancing, I was able to do what I always wanted to do, which is directing, teaching and producing shows.
TG: Your wife, Anita Pacylowski, is also a professional dancer. How did you meet each-other ?
HJ: We both got hired at the Charlotte Ballet (formerly North Carolina Dance Theater) as lead dancers in 1994. After a year of working together, we started dating. In 1998, I proposed on stage in front of 2000 people and we got married in 2000 and now have 3 children.
TG: How would your children describe you?
HJ: Martin, who is 30, would probably describe me as a workaholic. My daughter, Sofia, 20, would describe me as the guy who has all the answers. My youngest, Nicolas, 17, would describe me as a football fan who knows very little about football.
TG: This year is CBT’s 50th anniversary. How have things changed from the start?
HJ: We do things more efficiently. We get things done faster, better, and with less effort. After being an art director for 20 years, I look back and remember how hard we worked. In addition, technology has changed many aspects of this business.
TG: What has remained the same?
HJ: In the ballet world, it is always said that ballet is the ugly sister of the arts. It is we who are put aside. Ballet is very difficult to produce. It requires costumes, special floors, lights, sets and a considerable number of people on stage. Ballet is also expensive and hard to sell, but ballet is just as beautiful and needs to be funded just as much. We do not discover its usefulness until the day we no longer have it and it is too late.
TG: What do you think is CBT’s greatest achievement?
HJ: The number of artists who come out of this company today dance internationally or teach or choreograph. And those who are no longer in this profession always tell me how ballet has helped them achieve their goals in their new professions. CBT has also brought many international and recognizable artists to Greenville.
TG: What do you do when you’re not dancing or teaching dance?
HJ: Watching football on TV or watching my son play football for his high school or CESA. I also like to read great artist biographies and watch movies.
TG: Are you an avid reader? What is your favorite type of book?
HJ: Yes, normally I read two books at the same time. One for study, ballet methods or the history of ballet, and the other for fun. My favorite writers are Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Oscar Wilde. I admit that I read less now because I used to read while taking public transport. Since living in America I drive everywhere so I have to take the time to read.
TG: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
HJ: It was a dedication in a book by a dance teacher. He gave it to me on the opening night of his show. He said that the artist had chosen the path of stones and not that of flowers and that our mission was to transform these stones into flowers.
TG: What is your favorite dessert and where can you get it?
HJ: I love crème brûlée. There are places here in Greenville that make it good.
TG: Where would we find you on a Friday night?
HJ: Most likely working with the dancers.