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NUNN ON ONE DANCE James B. Whiteside on drag, ballet and being with Milk
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2020-03-01

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American Ballet Theatre is returning to the Auditorium Theatre to celebrate an 80th anniversary. One of the pieces brought to life is Twyla Tharp's Deuce Coupe that was first performed by ABT in 2019 and now has a premiere in Chicago.

One of the principal dancers in the piece is James B. Whiteside, who brings a lifetime of experience to the table. Beginning his training at 9 years old at the D'Valda & Sirico Dance and Music Centre, he eventually became a principal dancer in the Boston Ballet by 2009. This led to him performing classics like Mikko Nissinen's The Nutcracker and Swan Lake.

Whiteside—who has been with drag queen Milk for more than a decade—joined American Ballet Theatre as a soloist in 2012, then became a principal dancer in 2013. That company had him performing in Shakespearian works such as Othello, The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet.

This openly gay performer records his own music, models and does drag.

Windy City Times: You studied dance at a young age?

James B. Whiteside: I began dancing when I was 9 years old. I went to a small school in Fairfield, Connecticut. I started with jazz, tap, acrobatics and ballet. Over the years, ballet moved to the forefront. I decided I wanted to be a professional ballet dancer, specifically with ABT.

WCT: Do you prefer classic pieces or modern?

JBW: I like to do a mix. As an American dancer, something that we do really well is versatility. I like to go from Swan Lake to contemporary works.

WCT: Are you noticing more gay partnering as a trend in the dance world?

JBW: I just think inclusivity and representation is on the up. I'm hoping it's not a trend and I'm hoping it takes root. I want to see different types of stories being represented on the stage.

WCT: What are you performing in Chicago?

JBW: I will be dancing in a very frenetic Twyla Tharp piece called Deuce Coupe, set to the music of The Beach Boys. My character in the ballet is really wild and exuberant. It shows a lot of my personality.

WCT: Had you studied Twyla in the past?

JBW: I have done a number of Twyla's ballets in the past. The first one I ever did was when I was 20 years old called In the Upper Room.

WCT: How long have you worked with American Ballet Theatre?

JBW: This is my eight season with them.

WCT: How would you describe this upcoming show in Chicago?

JBW: It's a pu pu platter of ABT's celebrated works from the past and now. If you have never seen a ballet before, this is an excellent introduction. You don't have to be an expert on ballet to enjoy the show.

WCT: Have you been to Chicago much?

JBW: Yes, we come here almost every year. We have performed at the Auditorium Theatre, like this year, and the Harris Theater in the past.

WCT: Are there other gay members in the ABT dance company?

JBW: Of course.

WCT: Talk about performing in drag.

JBW: Honestly, it's a way to get outside of my world while expressing myself in a fearless, fun way. I've been doing drag since I was 19 or 20. My drag name is Uhu Betch and I make music under the name JbDubs.

WCT: Have you auditioned for RuPaul's Drag Race?

JBW: No, I haven't.

WCT: You are a bearded queen?

JBW: Yes. I will do whatever. I'm not terribly concerned about being the most beautiful queen in the stable.

WCT: Well, you have legs for days—and nothing beats a great legs.

JBW: Amen!

WCT: Where did your drag name come from?

JBW: I'm from a drag group called The Dairy Queens. That is led by my boyfriend Milk from Drag Race. All of our names are dairy based. We have a Skim Burley and Juggz. My name is from the Yoo-hoo drink. It's nasty.

WCT: I think Yoo-hoo is good.

JBW: It's really poison.

WCT: That's why the kids love it! How long have you been together with Milk?

JBW: For 12 years.

WCT: Congrats on that. What continues to challenge you as a dancer?

JBW: I really like repeating roles. I can really build on the knowledge that I have gained by doing the piece. I have been performing as Romeo for years and I learn more each time that I do it. That really excites me.

I also like to choreograph. I had my first premiere with ABT this past fall. I have some other things coming down the pipeline that I can't talk about yet.

WCT: Do you teach dance?

JBW: No, I don't.

WCT: With choreography you could go on after not being a dancer, though. Age factors in with the longevity of dancer in many cases.

JBW: Correct. Your body gives out after a while.

WCT: Have you ever had a dance-related injury?

JBW: No, but I have chronic patellar tendinitis. I have learned how to manage it over the years. I can still keep dancing and keep serving!

The American Ballet Theatre will take place March 19-22 at Auditorium Theatre, 50 East Ida B. Wells Dr. For more information or tickets, visit AuditoriumTheatre.org .


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