O-Town Artist of the Month: Robert Hill, keeping us on our toes

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In the 10 years since Robert Hill came to Orlando as the artistic director of the Orlando Ballet, he has kept us all wondering what he will bring to the stage next.

Whether they’re timeless classics like Swan Lake or the Nutcracker, Hill has also offered such works as the Battle of the Sexes, Vampire Ball, Ballimos! and Carmenia Burana.

Hill was born in a New York winter and called “Blizzard Bob” during his early years by his family. His father’s career with Grumman brought his family to Merritt Island, Florida.

Roberth Hill laughs with dancers during rehearsal. (Photo by S.T. Cardinal)

During Hill’s school years, he participated in gymnastics and diving. On the advice of his coaches, he agreed to take ballet for the coordination and stretching it offered.

“Both sports had an important element of presentation, and my coaches knew ballet would help me with that,” Hill said.

Hill began attending dance classes at the Dussich Dance Studio in Merrit Island under the direction of Liz Bevilacqua and Al Packard.

“I will forever be grateful for their support and encouragement,” Hill said.

Hill had fallen hopelessly in love with the art of ballet and, with the endorsement of his teachers and support of his family, entered the American Ballet Theater immediately after his high school graduation. The ABT Junior Company challenged him with his first efforts of choreography and the use of various forms of dance, such as jazz.

If you have seen his choreography at Orlando Ballet’s performances, it is not uncommon to see tap, jazz, tango and even hip-hop mixed in with pirouettes and grand jetes.

At American Ballet Theater, Hill began taking on some leading roles.

“I loved playing Romeo opposite Julie Kent as Juilet,” he said. “I was very fortunate to dance with some of the most amazing ballerinas, including Susan Jaffe, Sylie Guillem, Martine Van Hamel, Darcy Bussell, Altynai Assylmuratova, Alexandra Durante, Julie Kent and many others.”

Roberth Hill watches as ballerinas dance during rehearsal at Orlando BAllet’s temporary rehearsal location on September 10. (PHoto by S.T. Cardinal)

His favorite roles were Romeo, the title role in Eugene Onegin and Des Grieux in Manon. Hill’s ability to become a character and fully immerse himself in a role became a gratifying part of his art. He confessed, however, that performing in a piece without a role to play often made him more nervous.

“When it is just you and the art, well, that is where you are most exposed and most challenged,” Hill said.

He is currently challenging the dancers at the Orlando Ballet to explore all diverse forms of expression through dance. Art is a personal risk and poses challenges at every turn.

After retiring from ABT in 2002, he spent time at the Royal Ballet in London, England, a time directing in Monterey, Mexico, and a gap year in New York City. The decision to come home to Florida 10 years ago has presented Hill with many exciting and new challenges.

He said he is forever grateful to Harriett Lake for her generous support and for the guidance of his first teachers and especially for all of the dancers who have put in such hard work every season to watch the company grow.

This year’s season is offering a return of the ever-popular Vampire Ball in the larger Walt Disney Theater at the Dr. Phillips Center, just in time for Halloween. This summer, Hill explored New York City’s offerings with a friend who had just moved here from Brazil. He said the experience had opened his eyes to the wonder and bounty of our great country.

We can also look forward to the Orlando Ballet’s presentation Made in America later in the season, with Hill once again taking the stage. Hill’s love and appreciation of his company, state and country will surely inspire us all.

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