Artistic Director Gen Horiuchi Discusses Saint Louis Ballet's 'In It For Love'

By Klara Kobylinski
In Culture

We sat down this past weekend with Saint Louis Ballet artistic director Gen Horiuchi, one of the most talented, experienced and ambitious men in the field. A former dancer and prolific choreographer, Horiuchi has dedicated his life to the art of ballet, studying under George Balanchine and even choreographing for the Olympics. His upcoming Valentine’s weekend production features three pieces by Horiuchi and two guest choreographers: “Amore Mio” (Gen Horiuchi), “Bloom” (Brian Enos) and “Bedtime Stories” (Christopher d’Amboise).  Read on for Horiuchi’s discussion of the choreographic process, how he selects his dancers and this coming weekend’s performance of “In It For Love.” Saint_Louis_Ballet0578
What drew you to the St. Louis Ballet and what changes have you made here?
I retired from NYC Ballet company in 1996 and then was just doing freelance choreography for four to five years. There was a Saint Louis Ballet before I came, but when their former artistic directors passed away, they asked me to take over.

Having my own ballet company really interested me, so that’s why I decided to move to St. Louis. I’m very proud of what I’ve done with this organization so far. I started with only seven professional dancers and 40 students, and we only had one performance a year. Now not only am I artistic director, [but] I also work as our executive director, doing lots of fundraising, cultivating audiences and supporters. Now we have 24 professionals and 350 students. I’m very proud and yet I know we’re not there yet … my goals are higher … but I’m hoping that we’ll continue to grow.

The Saint Louis Ballet has dancers from all over the world—how does the audition process work?
Out of 24 dancers, only two are from STL. The rest are from all over the country. We audition dancers every year in March and we get more than 100 applications and invite around 20 to audition in STL. We hire only one or two each year, but once you’re here, you’re here for a long time. The average stay is about seven years.

Do you prefer dancing or choreographing? Are you dancing in “In It For Love”?
I like both. For next weekend’s performance, I’m creating a new piece called “Amore Mio” … I’m also in it. So definitely I like to do both. Being a dancer, I’m kind of getting exhausted, tired, but I do still enjoy both elements.

How do contemporary ballets differ from classical productions?
We call it contemporary ballet but we use classical technique, so within a piece we still use the same vocabulary as we use for “The Nutcracker” or “Swan Lake” … just the music is different and the costumes are more updated.

What were the most challenging and the most rewarding parts of choreographing this upcoming weekend’s ballet?
Working with a new composer is always challenging. I tend to use the same composer over and over, but I wanted to get out of that shell and try something new. For this piece, I’m using Ludovico Unadi’s music, he’s a very up-and-coming Italian composer. This is the first time I’m using his music; it gives me a different inspiration. I always get inspiration from music. That’s where I start. If the music is boring there’s no way you can create a good dance piece. Christopher D’Amboise, a guest choreographer for “In It For Love,” set his piece to Beatles hits.

What are you most excited for in the coming season?
We’re doing “Swan Lake” in April for the first time in five years, so I’m very excited to revive that piece. We repeat pieces every four to five years so that way the next generation can see it. I always [tweak the choreography] because there are always places where I think, “I should have done this!”

Is there anything else we should know about “In It For Love”?
It’s a great three-piece, romantic production perfect for the weekend. This is our third year [performing on Valentine’s weekend]. Even male audience members say “hey, this was great!” It appeals to female and male audiences.

“In It For Love” runs from Feb. 14-15. To purchase tickets, visit touhill.org.

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