Dancing through a pandemic: Spartanburg ballet dancer sets own path that often leads home

·5 min read
Michael Agudelo is one of three soloists with the prestigious Ballet San Antonio.
Michael Agudelo is one of three soloists with the prestigious Ballet San Antonio.

Spartanburg native Michael Agudelo is all grown up -- 30 years old -- and is dancing with Ballet San Antonio.

The only son of Carlos Agudelo, the longtime artistic director for Ballet Spartanburg, and Pamela Agudelo, an accounting professor at Converse University, Michael grew up on the stage of Converse’s Twichell Auditorium.

At last count, he had been in the Spartanburg production of "The Nutcracker" 18 times as a student and later as a professional.

Since leaving Spartanburg to pursue his dancing career, Michael has gone from a promising newbie out of the South to be one of three soloists with the prestigious Ballet San Antonio. His career trajectory started when he was a child.

“Michael started taking classes with his mother when he was two years old,” his dad Carlos Agudelo recalled.

"When he was three years old, he watched the battle scene of the filmed version of 'The Nutcracker' with Baryshnikov. He watched it over and over, and he began to imitate Baryshnikov’s moves. Eventually, he started training with me and Lona Gomez, our school principal. By the time he was six he was choreographing his own battle scene fight and displaying an innate sense of musicality. By this time, he was also playing soccer, as well as taking some dance lessons. By the age of 12, he made the decision to focus on his ballet training.”

Michael's first step beyond Spartanburg was as a high school senior attending the SC Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville. From there, he was a trainee at the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago before joining Milwaukee Ballet II. From there, he spent four years with Minnesota Ballet before joining Ballet San Antonio in 2016.

His Ballet San Antonio performances have included "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice," "The Nutcracker," "Giselle," "Sleeping Beauty," and "Don Quixote." He’s also been a principal dancer in several original pieces by Willy Shives, a previous artistic director with Ballet San Antonio.

“I am concentrating on the here and now,” he said during the pandemic’s fourth wave. “With the COVID situation the way it is, optimistically we'll get to a new normal and get back to what I love to do, which is perform live in front of an audience.”

Like so many artists, Michael is coping with an interruption in his art because of COVID-19. Although shows have been canceled, his company has held together during the pandemic and has announced a return to the stage for the 2021-2022 season.

Life as a dancer

Typically, Michael starts his day with avocado toast and an egg, a pre-warm-up at home, and a full day of classes starting at 9 a.m.

As a soloist, he is sure to land some plum roles, but as of mid-September, assignments had not been announced for "The Nutcracker."

“As with every professional dancer, COVID has basically put our careers on hold for the time being,” Michael said. “We are all staying optimistic for a return to the stage for live performances in the 2021-22 season. During a normal season, I typically perform in Ballet San Antonio's 'The Nutcracker,' as well as a few other guest artist performances with other companies. I am optimistic for a normal season.”

These days, Michael has let his dark hair grow shaggy and is sporting a beard -- a big difference from the five-year-old cherub in his dad’s production of "The Nutcracker," running across the stage with a trumpet during the party scene. “My primary job in the battle scene was to set off the cannon on the musical cue,” he recalled.

When not focusing on his dancing, Michael finds time to play the guitar and compose songs.

“Last year I collaborated on a music composition that was used for a Ballet San Antonio dance video called resilient 20/21, which my girlfriend Sofie (Bertolini) directed and choreographed,” he said. Sofie is the company's First Soloist.

“I also do fight choreography. You can see it on YouTube at mikestarwalker where I post original and classic 'Star Wars' fight choreographies. I have over 20,000 followers on YouTube. You can also find me on Instagram and TikTok (as) mikestarwalker."

Home is still Spartanburg

Even in these uncertain times and his expanding interests, Michael manages to come home a couple of times a year to visit family.

“Depending on what Ballet Spartanburg is performing, I sometimes come back to Spartanburg to guest. I always enjoyed 'The Nutcracker' rehearsals. The energy of my friends and other people gathering to work on something important was such an excitement for me. It was my passion, and the whole week I would look forward to the weekend rehearsals,” he recalled. “I love dancing in Spartanburg. When I came back to dance 'Mid Summer Night's Dream' in 2015, it felt like coming home where the audience really knew me.

“It is always nice to come home to Spartanburg, the place I grew up. I have such fond memories as a child. Sometimes I do miss it,” he concluded.

To celebrate Carlos Agudelo's 30th production of "The Nutcracker" this year, Ballet Spartanburg will include the Spartanburg Philharmonic for its Dec. 10-12 performances at Twichell Auditorium. For tickets, go to BalletSpartanburg.org.

But as Michael Agudelo has said before, and he’s saying again, “One day I'll replace my father as artistic director for Ballet Spartanburg.”

Carlos is proud of his son's accomplishments and future goals.

“Michael’s success is a result of natural talent, indefatigable work ethic, perseverance, and, most importantly, his passion for dance,” his dad Carlos said. “I know he still has a lot of performing years ahead of him. I am very proud of Michael, and I am humbled he would want to follow in my footsteps.”

This article originally appeared on Herald-Journal: Spartanburg dancer a soloist with San Antonio Ballet

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