Anthony Randazzo: making it easy.
Anthony Randazzo is presently preparing for what he believes is one of the meatiest roles in the contemporary ballet repertoire. On March 8, the San Francisco Ballet principal will debut as Romeo in Helgi Tomasson's new staging of Romeo an Juliet, a bloody and hyperromantic work that still commands a remarkable hold on the imaginations of dancers and the dance public alike.
Randazzo is one of San Francisco Ballet's most-seasoned dancers, an artist who is often described as the company's leading male stylist. Of Italian-American ancestry (he was raised in Ypsilanti, Michigan where his mother, a former U.S.O. and Ziegfeld dancer, still runs a local dancing school), Randazzo fits both the visual and temperamental profile of an ideal Romeo. Physically, he resembles one of the dark-haired, pale-skinned young men often pictured in portraits by the Renaissance painter Andrea del Sarto. In his dancing, Randazzo is poetic and technically exact, although he believes the particular challenge of Romeo is to infuse his seemingly effortless classical line with an extra sense of stage dynamic.
"When someone sees me on the stage," Randazzo explains, "my goal is for that person to think he's seeing a natural activity. Whether it's the story, or a feeling of texture, color, or poetry. I'm hoping the observer will receive the experience in a comfortable way. The opposite of this is when a speaker stutters or when a dancer looks uncomfortable and shows strain or trips. My goal is to show movement that is seamless and seems to make sense. That's the way it should be."
The dancer's search for a natural style of movement has found its expression in a great diversity of work at SFB. Randazzo's active repertoire features a host of Balanchine ballets, including the Sanguinic variation in The Four Temperaments, the first movement of Symphony in C, Ballo della Regina, "Rubies," and Duo Concertant, among others. Randazzo also dances traditional ballet prince roles (Siegfried in Tomasson's Swan Lake and Desire in The Sleeping Beauty, and a compendium of contemporary work, including parts in Paul Taylor's Company B, Jiri Kylian's Forgotton Land, James Kudelka's End, and William Forsythe's in the middle, somewhat elevated.
Despite the pleasure he takes in such a varied list of assignments, Randazzo says that ultimately his heart belongs to Balanchine, "because the steps are so musical. They make such perfect sense--they fit." He also scoffs at the suggestion that Balanchine's ballets lack sufficient emotional content. "I find that there's an enormous amount of emotion in [Balanchine's] ballets," Randazzo explains. "Serenade, for example. Just because it is not telling some specific story doesn't mean it doesn't have tremendous emotional content. In fact, it reduces me to tears every time I see it. The ballet is so moving, and there are so many aspects to the way it unfolds and how the choreography relates to the music."
Besides the impact of a diverse repertoire, Randazzo cites a blue-chip list of professional influences on his dancing, mentioning Erik Bruhn (one of his teachers at the National Ballet School of Canada), Peter Schaufuss (recently named director of the royal Danish Ballet), and Anthony Dowell ("especially his refinement; he was so clean and precise and musical--just like fine crystal") and paying particular tribute to Rudolf Nureyev. "Probably every male dancer would mention Rudolf," Randazzo says. "He was so daring. He was an animal and had that magnetic beast quality. It was that beastliness, his fleshy instinctiveness and charisma, that appealed to me."
Today, however, the dancer and choreographer who affects Randazzo's life most directly is SFB's artistic director Helgi Tomasson, who possesses a temperament in distinct contrast to the late Nureyev's fiery bravado. Tomasson is generally quiet and reserved, yet committed to obtaining the highest level of excellence for his dancers and their art. And in many ways, both physically and stylistically, Randazzo embodies many of the best aspects of Tomasson's approach to ballet.
Watching the choreographer and his leading male dancer work together during the initial staging for Tomasson's Romeo, one notes the unusual degree of professional rapport that exists between these two men. Or, as Randazzo puts it, "we're excellent business partners.
"I feel blessed," he explains, "because Helgi gives me a lot of freedom and trusts thay my decisions will work out. He never attempts to strong-arm me into a certain interpretation of a role. Of course, he will offer me guidance when something is not working. Also , I think I've proven myself in a number of ways. He can give me a little seed and he knows it will grow. He doesn't have to keep watering it and fertilizing it; he knows I will do that. So it works well. I do my job and he does his.c
Overall, Randazzo is very happy with his work at SFB and the rather amazing record of critical praise the company has garnered since Tomasson was appointed artistic director in 1985. But there is one area that leaves this dancer and, presumably, many other company artists less favorably disposed: the lack of performance opportunities in addition to the regular February-through-May home season in San Francisco. In part, this has been due to bad luck: Tours to both Hawaii and Washington, D.C., were recently canceled owing to circumstances beyond the company's control [See Presstime News, page 38]. But there als has been a lack of other viable outlets. Randazzo notes, "During the spring season, when we're rehearsing and performing, I feel very challenged--it's a joy. But last summer was difficult. There needed to be more opportunities to be on the stage."
Apparently, SFB management is aware of this critical gap in the company's artistic evolution. Informed sources report that SFB will soon announce a more extensive touring schedule and the formation of an ensemble-size troupe from within the company's ranks. This group may present a new, local fall season at a venue other than the venerable (and already booked) War Memorial Opera House.
Does Randazzo feel he is missing out by not working with one of America's two national, New York-based companies, American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet? Can he ever become a "megastar" in San Francisco?
First, he laughs. And then, taking a distinctly serious approach to these questions, he says, "Well, I would say it is just the opposite. How can one second-guess what might have happened if I had chosen to go a different route? The fact remains I've come here, I've been challenged, I've received personal satisfaction from by work, I've gained self-esteem and self-worth. I feel a sense of fulfillment in my life. How could I trade those things for dancing with ABT or City Ballet? I don't need to fit that picture that New York is the only place where you can make it."
Randazzo's poise and confidence, expressed without the slightest tinge of arrogance, are impressive. His sense of self denies any notions of artistic neurosis or insecurity. Randazzo appears to be both secure and happy in his work as a dancer. But, make no mistake, this is not just an everyday guy doing an everyday job.
The thing that makes his work special, that makes him comfortable with the idea of being an artist, is Randazzo's belief that he has frequently succeeded with "communicating something worth remembering, something that will make a change in an observer. Because it's those things that you don't exactly see with your eyes," he continues, "that you don't measure, that are important to me. My artistry comes from the more spiritual, more ethereal side of what I do. It's not measured by how high I leaped or that sort thing."
Having emerged as a leading professional, currently in the prime of his career, Randazzo notes that nearly everything he does during each day in an aspect of preparing for time on the stage. "My classwork, my rehearsing, my social life, the way I look at the world around me, the pace that I set for each day--in one way or another, consciously or unconsciously, it's a preparation, a mediation for that time on the stage. It's an extremely precious time for me, now more than ever."
Radazzo's road to success began at age ten when he started taking ballet at his mother's dance studio, but it wasn't until he saw the Harkness Ballet perform in Ann Arbor a year or two later that he knew he had really "fallen in love" with ballet. Randazzo also recalls being " very impressed" with a Giselle he saw from the upper reaches of a New York theater during a summertime visit. When he was fourteen Randazzo's parents, believing it was time for him to get serious, agreed to enroll the budding danseur at the National Ballet School in Toronto.
He graduated from NBS in 1980 but then spent an extra year taking professional classes. From 1981 to 1987 Randazzo danced with the National Ballet as a member of the corps. In 1987 he was invited to join SFB as a soloist and in 1988 was promoted to principal dancer with the San Francisco troupe.
Since he left his home in Michigan for the National Ballet's boarding school at such a young age, how did Randazzo feel about effectively abandoning the pleasures--and freedom--of being an American teenager?
"I knew that I was completely missing out on all that," he says, "but I also knew that was the price I had to pay for what would truly make me happy. So it was not a painful sacrifice. But I was very conscious of what I was missing. I accepted that and took joy in it."
Presently, Randazzo's enthusiasm for a role that he has always wanted to dance, a ballet in which he first performed as a super when training as a student, is palpable. "Romeo is the kind of work you can really sink your teeth into," explains the dancer. "You can really let go." Randazzo believes the ballet's greatest challenge will be making his character plausible, convincing an audience that Romeo's passion is potent and authentic.
In essence, creating a sense of interpretative naturalism is what sparks Randazzo's ardor for Romeo and for his work as a dancer in general. "Of course," he adds, "there's also the dancing, and the balcony pas de deux is definitely going to be hard and tiring. That, I suppose, will be the crunch."