Gen Horiuchi became artistic director of the Saint Louis Ballet in 2000 and has since created a dozen original works for the company. Originally from Tokyo, Horiuchi came to the United States at age 15 after winning the prestigious international prize, the Prix de Lausanne. He joined the New York City Ballet two years later and soon became known for his flawless execution and light, airy style.
LN: YOU’RE CURRENTLY WORKING ON THE NUTCRACKER WITH THE ST. LOUIS BALLET. HOW DO YOU MAKE THAT FRESH YEAR AFTER YEAR?
GH: We have a lot of new performers each year. This year, five of our 20 company members are new, and out of our 80 students, usually 20 to 30 percent are new. So yes, we do similar choreography, but just having new dancers makes it fresh. Also, I make little adjustments from the previous year.
LN: WHICH ROLES HAVE YOU DANCED IN THE NUTCRACKER?
GH: I’ve danced everything from Cavalier to one of the party children in Act One when I was 10 years old. I’ve probably danced every single available role. My favorite one is Cavalier, and I also enjoy dancing Candy Cane.
LN: HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU STARTED DANCING?
GH: Six years old. My parents in Tokyo ran a ballet studio.
LN: HOW DID YOU FEEL AS A 6-YEAR-OLD STARTING BALLET?
GH: Well, there were a lot of girls! My brother and I were the only boys in class, or anywhere. But I was fortunate to have him with me.
LN: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE ROLE?
GH: I don’t know how to single one out. I guess I would say any role in a ballet choreographed by George Balanchine. He was the founder of New York City Ballet, and I always enjoy dancing his ballets because they are so musical.
LN: HOW IS DIRECTING DIFFERENT FROM DANCING?
GH: Being a dancer, just like being an actor, you focus on your part. But when you direct something, you have to think about costuming or lighting or even about the tempo of the music. You have the whole picture in mind.
LN: WHAT IS THE PROCESS OF CHOREOGRAPHY LIKE?
GH: It helps to have a score, because then you know what’s coming up next, but you just have to listen to the music 10 to 20 times over. You keep listening. I plan 30 or 40 percent ahead of time, but then it helps to have a dancer in front of me, it’s kind of a collaboration process.
LN: WHAT DO YOU AIM FOR WHEN CHOREOGRAPHING A BALLET?
GH: Keep the story simple. I always want to make it clear to the audience what’s happening on stage. I imagine there’s this person who’s never seen a ballet before, and I want them to understand what’s going on.
LN: WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO IN ST. LOUIS?
GH: I’m a big baseball fan, a Yankees fan. I’d like to see people enjoy ballet the way they enjoy baseball.
LN: ARE THERE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN BALLET AND BASEBALL?
GH: Teamwork. You can’t have just one great player, like a Pujols. You have to have eight other great players. It’s the same thing with ballet. Yes, we do have a great ballerina here and there, but there has to be teamwork.