Willy Shives had no way of knowing it at the time, but his decision to stop dancing in “The Nutcracker” a few years ago put him squarely on course to his new position with Ballet San Antonio. Shives, who left the famed Joffrey Ballet to become Ballet San Antonio’s artistic director in December, is a native of Edinburg who moved away from Texas at the age of 9 to study at the School of American Ballet in New York. In his long career as a dancer— which included performances with a slew of companies across the U.S., as well as tours with Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández — he danced in 13 productions of the “The Nutcracker.” “Most people have done maybe three,” he said. “I just wanted to take a break. It was time to just go home for Christmas, and it was great. That started making a pull back home to Texas.” That idea was in his head last August when he learned that Ballet San Antonio’s artistic and executive directors had resigned. He reached out to the board, offering to help in any way they wished. He ended up giving some master classes and interviewing for the artistic director job, and he swiftly felt at home.
When Shives spoke to the San Antonio dancers for the first time as their artistic director, he laid out his expectations, which were shaped by his life in dance.
“I want them to love what they do and enjoy what they do because, in this field, you’re beaten down a lot,” he said. “I told them, ‘I’m not going to beat you down. I’m going to give you constructive criticism. But I’m going to love you with it and I’m going to respect you with everything.