Melissa Villarreal - Executive Artistic Director
Began dancing under the direction of Rodolfo Mendez at the age of 14, with Ballet East Dance Company. Throughout her years as a performer with Ballet East, Ms. Villarreal had the opportunity to work with various talented and notable local, national, and international choreographers such as Fred Benjamin, Max Luna III, Regina Larkin, Carmen De Lavallade, Bruce Wood, Hope Boykin, Sabrina Madison-Cannon, Eugene Slavin, Stephen Mills, Jason Ansara Brooks, Andrea Ariel, Toni Bravo, Andrea Beckham, Lyn Wiltshire, Gina Patterson, Eric Midgley, and Danny Herman to name a few. In June 1997, July 1998, and July 2000, Ms. Villarreal attended master classes in New York through scholarships awarded by Regina Larkin, Artistic Director of the Joyce Trisler Danscompany.
In 1996, Villarreal became the Assistant Artistic Director, resident choreographer, and teacher of Ballet East Dance Company, and in 2010 - the Associate Artistic Director. She has set over 35 original works on the company. Her first work; "And God Created Woman", was premiered in December 1997. She has been invited as a guest choreographer for Tapestry's Vision In Rhythm, Paramount Theater's Summer Youth Project, East Side Memorial High School's Drill Team, Nudo Piedi Contemporary Dance Company, UpRise! Productions, and Proyecto Teatro. Ms. Villarreal's collaborative and independent works have been featured at the Annual National Spitfest, The Hot September Flurries, Frontera Fest, Zilker Park's Trail of Lights, Austin Dance Fest, and the Paramount Theater in Austin. Her 1999's choreography, "Liquid Diamonds", was commissioned by the Muse Project and performed in Hollywood, California. Her choreography for the collaborative production of “Ella”, with Proyecto Teatro, was nominated for best choreography by the B. Iden Payne awards in 2017. In March 2018, an excerpt of her recent work, “Going at the Stop” was selected for the ModArts Dance Collective Thread Festival and performed at Dixon Place Theater in NYC.
As a guest teacher she has been invited to teach workshops and master classes for St. Edward's University Ballet Folklorico and Ballet Afrique in Austin; and Nudo Piedi Contemporary Dance Company in Laredo, Texas. She has trained, taught, and mentored dancers for over 20 years. Her dance protégé, Juan Pablo Flores received a nomination nod from the 2012 Austin's Critic Table Awards for her 2012 work of "Engulfing Addiction", which she choreographed and directed.
Ms. Villarreal is also the Special Projects Coordinator for Southwest Key's Community Engagment Program, where she weaves arts programming for youth and adults in Ballet Folklorico, Mariachi, Bilingual Theater, Spoken Word, and Orchestra. An active arts advocate in the East Austin Community, Ms. Villarreal serves as a catalyst for artists of color which specifically serve the East Austin community. Her focus is to build strong relationships within this specific artist community collectively, as a means of providing a foundation of leveraging a stronger support network which provides arts to the underserved population of Austin. Additional key roles she holds is Vice President of LULAC Council #4933, East Austin Lion's Club, Arts Advisory for Ashe Arts Academy, and Dove Springs Youth Advisory Council. In Spring 2010 and 2012, she was nominated by Southwest Key for the Ballet Austin Guild's "Women On Their Toes Award", due to her extensive commitment and dedication of services to the East Austin Community through the arts. In December 2015, Ms. Villarreal received the Southwest Key Programs “Angel Award” for her dedication to the arts in East Austin.
In May 2015, Ms. Villarreal branched out and created her 501c3, Lotus Contemporary Performing Arts, while still providing support to Ballet East. In May 2019, Mr. Mendez personally asked Villarreal to continue the work of Ballet East Dance Company, which she humbly accepted. She rejoins BE as Executive Artistic Director and will continue to honor the committment and mission of Mr. Mendez's work of bringing arts to the community and the community to the arts.
Rodolfo Mendez - Founder of Ballet East Dance Company
1945 - 2019
Rodolfo Mendez founded Ballet East Dance Company in 1978 as a company dedicated to excellence in modern dance and choreography.
Rodolfo Méndez toured the world as a professional dancer, studied in Spain on a Fulbright Scholarship, developed national theater arts curricula in the Peace Corps and performed off-Broadway. But he never forgot his hometown or neighborhood, and returned to found Ballet East Dance Company.
"Dance opened all doors for me," he says, "and I wanted other young people to have the same opportunities."
One of the principal missions of Ballet East is to develop individual dancers, and Mendez takes particular pride in dancers who have made satisfying careers for themselves.
"Alvin Ailey told me once," Mendez recalls, "that the only way to become a choreographer is to do it over and over. We believe in providing the opportunity. Although the company is more than 30 years old, it feels young, and especially this season, with new young dancers joining us, and dancers who have been with us evolving as choreographers."
Ballet East also offers dance training to young people in Austin's East Side neighborhoods through programs recognized at the local, state, and national level for keeping students in school and helping them discover the transformative power of the arts.