Choreographer to visit campus

The ballet world would be a lot different were it not for Ben Stevenson’s impact.Stevenson, who won numerous dance awards and gold medals for his choreography work in England, the United States and China, has also made an impression on the dance faculty and students at TCU.

Stevenson is visiting campus today to speak as part of Conversations on Dance, a question-and-answer session held between professionals and dance students.

Everyone in the ballet world knows Ben Stevenson’s name, said Elizabeth Gillaspy, an assistant professor of ballet.

“He’s a respected teacher, choreographer and artistic director,” Gillaspy said. “We’re very lucky to have him in Fort Worth.”

Last November, the 70-year-old native of Portsmouth, England, guest-taught master classes for the dance department and plans to return to the campus in April to give a lecture, Stevenson said.

“He taught regular ballet technique,” said Madeline Day, a junior ballet and modern dance major. “What made it different was that he was very jovial and kept it positive.”

Stevenson encouraged students to have personalities when they dance, Day said.

Stevenson said technique isn’t the only part of great dancing.

“I think you’re attracted by personalities,” Stevenson said. “Someone can have a wonderful technique, but, if they don’t have something that the audience is interested in, it’s just like looking like knives or forks or something.”

The personal aspect Stevenson brings to ballet has kept him in touch with many of his former dancers, one of which is actress Jane Seymour.

“Jane is someone I’ve known since she was 13 years old and was a student at the school I was teaching at in London,” Stevenson said. “She was often in my pieces and ballets, and she also has designed a ballet that I did here.”

Stevenson and Seymour have remained good friends and “sometimes I go to her New Year’s party in England,” he said, with a hint of a British accent.

Stevenson’s colorful life has also allowed him to know Shirley MacLaine, Patrick Swayze and former presidential couple George and Barbara Bush.

In 1978, Stevenson traveled to China as part of a cultural exchange program, where he met former President George H.W. Bush who was the American ambassador in Beijing.

Stevenson continues to enjoy traveling, especially to Italy.

Italy is one of Stevenson’s passions, particularly Tuscany, where he rents “gorgeous old farm houses,” he said.

“I’m quite passionate about the ocean, too,” Stevenson said. “I love sailing. I did some in England years ago.”

Unknown to some, Stevenson’s beginnings in ballet in England were due to a childhood ailment.

Stevenson began taking ballet classes at the age of seven after a doctor suggested it might help his bad knee. At age 12, his parents questioned his continuation of dance, but, by then, he had unknowingly “grown to like it.”

Stevenson said ballet was much more accepted at the time in Europe, although to be a male dancer was not easy among one’s schoolmates.

“But the ballet was very accessible,” Stevenson said. “I was taken as a boy to see these things, so that also got me interested.”

Stevenson received his dance training at the Arts Educational School in London, where he graduated in 1952 and was awarded the Adeline Genee Gold Medal, the highest award given by the Royal Academy of Dance.

Five years later, Stevenson became a principal dancer at what is now the English National Ballet and performed leading roles in classical ballets such as “Giselle,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Swan Lake.”

After he broke his ankle in a horse riding accident, and classical dance became harder to perform, Stevenson was compelled to do more contemporary and Broadway work. In 1969, he visited a choreographer friend in New York and was offered a job directing for a ballet company. Stevenson decided to leave England and move to the United States.

Stevenson said he missed ballet at first, and, though he can’t dance any more, he always feels he is dancing because he is so involved in the art.

“Some people, when they stop dancing and take up directing or choreography, they sort of find it very, very difficult to make the change,” Stevenson said. “But I never did.”

Stevenson moved from New York to Washington, D.C., where he directed the National Ballet. In 1976, he was appointed artistic director of the Houston Ballet, which he turned into one of America’s leading ballet companies.

When you’re an artistic director, you cannot just worry about yourself like dancers can, Stevenson said. An artistic director has to deal with hiring and firing as well, Stevenson said.

“An artistic director has to worry about all the dancers in the company,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson retired from the Houston Ballet after 27 years, but members on the board for Texas Ballet Theater asked if he would come work as an artistic adviser for the company in 2003, Stevenson said. He took the job and is now the artistic director for the company.

Stevenson said the thing he likes most about being at TBT are the dancers and the staff.

“I think they work so hard,” Stevenson said. “I find them a pleasure to work with. They’re sort of like my family, really.”

Stevenson enjoys being around dancers and said it is nice to feel like something he has said will “open a door” for them.

“It’s never an end to what you learn,” Stevenson said.

Even though he continues to learn from the dancers who inspire him, Stevenson makes time to have friends over for dinner parties and take care of his two cats, Margarita and Stolie.

After talking about his life’s many accomplishments, Stevenson stood up from his office chair and said, “I hope that’s all not going to be too boring.