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Michael Posner
Globe and Mail
Photographs by Gary Hershorn/Reuters
Saturday, Jun. 13, 2009

 David Alvarez, Kiril Kulish, Trent Kowalik, Tony Awards 2009 

Young David Alvarez had never acted before. He had never sung professionally. He had never even put on tap shoes, let alone learned how to tap dance. And although he was fluent in English, it was his third language – after French and Spanish.

“It just seemed like it would be too hard to learn all these new things,” the 15-year-old said yesterday, explaining why, when he was approached to audition for the Broadway show Billy Elliot, The Musical , the classically trained ballet dancer born in Montreal was reluctant.

But despite those hurdles, David on Sunday night delightfully shared the coveted Tony award for best performance by a leading actor in a musical with two other teenagers (Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish). The three boys alternate in the role eight times a week.

He had planned to celebrate with a cheese pizza, but ended up at the post-awards show party, if only briefly. “I’d been up since 6 am,” he said, “and was exhausted.”

Based on the 2000 award-winning film of the same title, and with a score by Elton John, the hit musical tells the story of a motherless boy growing up in a hardscrabble coal-mining community in northern England who wants to become a professional dancer over the sneering objections of family and friends. The New York production got 15 Tony nominations and won 10.

“It’s a dream come true,” he said after winning the Tony. “Trust me, I did not expect it at all.”


David Alvarez of Billy Elliot, The Musical performs during the opening number at the 2009 Tony Awards


David was a student at the American Ballet Theatre’s Jackie Kennedy Onassis School in New York City when a Broadway casting director saw a magazine photo of him and persuaded him to audition. He beat 1,500 contenders in a nation-wide contest.

Although he had to add significantly to his theatrical skills, David’s dramatic pedigree is bona fide. Before his parents defected to Canada in 1993, his mother, Yanek Gonzalez, was an actress and director with a Cuban theatre company. Young David was born the next year and raised in Montreal’s east end. He started dancing in 2001, when he was eight, taking classes with the city’s Ballet Divertimento.

He continued classical studies with the California Ballet School after the family moved to San Diego in 2003, where his father, David, a Ph.D in biochemistry, had taken a job. Judy Sharp, a faculty member and the company’s ballet mistress, remembers the young David as the complete package. “He has natural ability,” Ms. Sharp said. “He’s strong and athletic, but very limber. He has beautiful jumps and turns, plus he has passion and discipline. And his parents know that to be a professional artist, you have to immerse yourself.”

In San Diego, David competed in the local and then the national Youth America Grand Prix, an international dance competition launched in 1999 by former Bolshoi Ballet stars Larissa and Gennadi Saveliev. He won a full merit scholarship to study at ABT, and his family relocated to the New York area. His older sister, Patricia, still lives in Montreal, and is studying business at McGill University. The family visits regularly. “I love the snow,” David says. “I love the quiet.”

He made his professional debut as the Garland Boy in the ABT’s The Sleeping Beauty in 2007 at the Metropolitan Opera, then appeared at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington as Fritz in The Nutcracker.

But he’d never acted, sung or tap danced until he started training for the Elliot role, a process that required him to spend six weeks in London learning, among other things, how to speak with the distinct north England accent.

His mother helped him with the acting, giving him her own directors’ notes after performances. Nailing the accent, he said, was probably the hardest part. “It was very intense. They later told me they knew from my first audition I would be one of the Billys,” he said, “but they kept it secret until I had finished all my training.” He’s been with the show since it opened at the Imperial Theatre in November.

David knows that eventually he will be too old to play Billy. “When my voice changes, I’ll have to go,” he said. When it does, he plans to continue his training at ABT, where, when he’s not on Broadway, he still takes classes. “But I also want to keep acting.”

His advice for young performers might be taken right from the Billy Elliot script: “Be yourself. Work hard and never give up.”


© Copyright 2009 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc.




2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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