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By Sid Smith, Special to the Tribune
Chicago Tribune
May 9, 2010



It isn’t easy being Billy Elliot. You’re barely a teen, far from home, your days crammed with tutoring, rehearsals and the burden of starring onstage in front of thousands of strangers. Four youngsters, in fact, take turns throughout each week of performances at the Oriental Theatre. Billy is a provincial north England lad, whose father is a struggling miner unsettled by ballet. The four who play Billy boast supportive parents, some professional dancers themselves, as well as a remarkable diversity in international backgrounds.




Tommy Batchelor

Floridian Tommy Batchelor, 14, slips easily and believably into the role of Billy, thanks to his sharp, realistic acting and perky, self-made humor.

In one bit, the boys are told to make a funny face, and Batchelor’s rubbery mug is the most outlandish. His passion for dance predates Billy’s preteen infatuation, however.

“I saw a biography of Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson when I was 3 on TV and thought, ‘That is way cool,'” Batchelor says. He continued lessons after moving from Minnesota (the family now lives in Palm Beach Gardens) and, in 2006, played the Prince in the Miami City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” He was one of four boys who played Billy on Broadway, though he says injury kept him from opening week and qualification for the Tony Awards.

“I asked to come to Chicago,” Batchelor says. “I felt I was getting stale and wanted to go through the rehearsal process again.”

His favorite number is “Electricity,” Billy’s star solo at his big audition. “There’s one set of 13 tours,” he says, referring to the tour en l’air, that bravura whipping leg turn that’s gold to male dancers.

He’s both youngster and wise old pro. “We go to the pool on our days off and have Nerf ball battles,” he says of the kids in the cast. “And the audience is better because the theater’s bigger. There are more people.”


Giuseppe Bausilio

Unlike Billy, who fights with his dad about ballet’s suitability, Giuseppe Bausilio is a child of the art. “My parents are both dancers, and so is my older brother,” Bausilio, 12, says. “My parents met, in fact, while dancing at the State Theatre of Bern” in Switzerland, where Bausilio grew up.

“I didn’t really have a choice,” he adds. “But now I thank my parents a lot. They brought me to where I am.”

Invited to audition in New York after coming in third in a competition there, he got a crash course in show-business travail. “I was in a room by myself with all the judges for 2 1/2 hours,” he says. “We missed our flight back and left thinking I didn’t get the part, until they called us by cell phone on the street.”

His mother’s Brazilian, his father’s Italian and he himself speaks five languages. He has been onstage much of his life and endured multiple competitions.

“I never, ever dreamed of starring in a Broadway show, and I still don’t think of myself as a star,” he says. “I was so nervous right before my first performance, I was crying in the dressing room, asking, ‘Why am I doing this?’

“But dancers always have to be nervous. If you go onstage too relaxed, you’ll forget everything.”


Cesar Corrales

When 13-year-old Cesar Corrales dances the solo to “Electricity,” you quickly realize you’re watching a virtuoso.

His moves are more intricate, his feats more daring and he doesn’t just command the stage, he conquers it. “All my strengths are in that solo, the ballet, the acro,” the latter his term for gymnastic oomph. “They gave me bigger steps because of my acro background, and I’m out of breath by the end, but I’ve been practicing much of my life. I’d watch my dad and imitate him at home.”

His Cuban parents, both dancers, got some of the best training possible in their homeland, then moved to Mexico, where Corrales was born. He began formal lessons in Canada, where his father recently retired from Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal.

“When I first moved to attend ballet school in Toronto, by myself, it was hard, I hadn’t realized how rarely I would see my parents,” he says. But he’s a lifer. “When I’m done with ‘Billy,’ I want to go back to training. If you don’t keep it up, you won’t become the good ballet dancer you always wanted to be.”

He loves when Billy’s hooked to a harness and soars to the top of the stage in flight. “But it’s scary,” he admits. “I still have nightmares about it.”


J.P. Viernes

J.P. Viernes shares much with Billy Elliot, though not his Anglo-Saxon ethnicity.

Viernes — the initials stand for John Peter, his schoolmates’ solution to two “Johns” in their class — is the American-born son of Filipino immigrants. “No one mentioned my ethnicity at all in the audition process,” Viernes says. The instruction papers said all ethnicities were welcome, and his casting, judging from the whoops at a recent audience, is warmly received. A bright-eyed and speedy Billy, Viernes is a tiny-mite charmer and a natural for when Billy’s lifted and swooped by an adult like a human airplane.

Viernes, 13, followed in his sister’s dancing footsteps, first taking a class at age 7 in Half Moon Bay, Calif. The son of a postal worker and a nurse, he found, in a line that could come from “A Chorus Line,” that “I really liked it, I kept at it and, now, I’m here.”

“Dancing isn’t a stigma for men in the Philippines,” Resina, his mother, notes, in explaining her family’s support. “But this isn’t easy, either. I’ve gone part time in my career, and my husband and daughter are back home.”

Viernes’ favorite number: “The grand finale, after the final curtain, when we all dance for fun. It’s a big celebration for the cast — we got through another show.”


Copyright © 2010, Chicago Tribune

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