Aaron Anker on Ian Hussey and ‘Shut Up and Dance’

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

Aaron Anker is listed as “Apprentice” with the Pennsylvania Ballet. For the Sunday, March 6, matinee, he stepped into the starring role of Basilio (replacing the injured Ian Hussey) in the brand new production of Angel Corella’s Don Quixote. Basilio and Kitri are the featured couple in the ballet. In Act Three, they perform dance pyrotechnics in what is known as the “Don Quixote pas de deux.” He was full of high spirits during our conversation, laughing often and easily. We spoke about him stepping into a role he never expected to do, the benefit, “Shut Up and Dance,” and his friendship with Principal Dancer Ian Hussey.

Ralph Malachowski: Aaron, were there plans to have you step into the Basilio part in Don Quixote? It is a major role, especially for an apprentice.

Aaron Anker: From the beginning, I was to be the cover, appearing only if there was an emergency. There were no plans for me to perform it. I had never danced the role before. I was there when Ian Hussey tore his calf muscle. I was told that I would be performing.

RM: Did you ever rehearse the ballet onstage at the Academy of Music? Did you practice with the orchestra? Although an exciting opportunity, it must have been frightening as well.

AA: The Academy of Music stage is really something else. I did some rehearsal of Act Three, with some orchestra rehearsal, but I pretty much just went out there and did it. My partner, Lillian DiPiazza, is a sweetheart. She is solid as a rock, a calming presence, and helped me tremendously.

I was there when Ian was injured in rehearsals. I felt really bad because Ian is such a great guy. He is getting better, and even now he is working on the Manna benefit. He has been the driving force behind the benefit for Manna, “Shut Up and Dance,” for years. I know I will be performing in it, but as of now, I have yet to find out what I’m doing that night.

RM: Indeed, Mr. Hussey is a great guy. He has been Producing Director for his fifth year presenting “Shut Up and Dance” by the dancers of the Pennsylvania Ballet for MANNA, a Philadelphia-based health and nutrition community organization which helps clients with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and kidney diseases. Choreography made especially for this one night will be performed at the Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, on April 9 at 8 pm. For the first time in many years, this event will have a new host, Martha Graham Cracker. This will be the 24th anniversary for this benefit program. For more information.

Mr. Hussey has a video, "Tough Choices: Pennsylvania Ballet's Ian Hussey" on YouTube where he poignantly discusses his coming out at age 19 and how it hurt his girlfriend at the time. We can get an idea about what kind of guy Ian is by watching it.

AA: “Shut Up and Dance” is for a great cause and I’m proud to be a part of it.

RM: In the film, All About Eve, Eve Harrington will stop at nothing to be a star. So there was never anyone thinking about All About Eve and that you were Eve Harrington grasping the starring role? You didn’t pour oil on the practice room floor for Ian Hussey to slip on?

AA: (Laughing) No! No! Nothing like that ever happened, thank goodness.

RM: After your big break in Don Quixote, what’s next?

AA: The Company is going on tour at the end of March to New York City. They will be at The Joyce Theatre. The program will include “Keep,” “The Accidental,” and “Grace Action.” The Joyce is a smaller stage, so these pieces have been chosen with that in mind. As an apprentice, I will not be going, but I will be back in Philadelphia when the ballet next appears here.

RM: So you wouldn’t mind if admirers flock about the stage door with Franklins wrapped around single flower stems, or car keys attached to business cards for you when the Company returns in May?

AA: (Laughing) Now that would be something really amazing!

For more information about “Shut Up and Dance,” on April 9, visit http://www.mannapa.org/shut-up-and-dance-2016/ .

For more about the Pennsylvania Ballet’s New York City visit March 29 through April 3 at the Joyce Theatre, 175 Eighth Avenue, visit https://www.joyce.org/performance/pennsylvania-ballet/#.VvMLX-IwiUk

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