Life After Dance

By Brian McCormick

Originally published on Advocate.com April 07 2008 12:00 AM ET

Masculine,
Navajo, Puerto Rican, and gay, Jock Soto was one of the most
influential male ballet dancers of our time. He inspired the
creation of 100 ballets during his amazing 24-year
career and was partner to some of the greatest
ballerinas -- Heather Watts, Darci Kistler, and Wendy
Whelan. In 2005 he retired from dancing. His final
performance with the New York City Ballet sold out two
months in advance. While much is known of his
professional accomplishments and his incredible life on the
stage, less is known of his journey. In Water
Flowing Together,
which is the name of the
dancer’s Navajo clan, Gwendolen Cates
chronicles Soto’s final years with the New York City
Ballet as he faces the prospect of retiring. But what
we also see is a gay man reconnecting with his
roots and preparing for the future. The 60-minute film
will have its broadcast premiere on the PBS series
Independent Lens, hosted by Terrence
Howard, Tuesday, April 8, 2008 at 10 p.m. (check local
listings.)

More than a
simple biopic, the film offers an enlightening portrait of
an artist through the eyes of his parents, colleagues,
and partners. Soto and Cates hope the film will help
open doors for young people and enlighten others --
about sexuality and ballet.

Jock Soto 2 | Advocate.com

Born to a Navajo
mother and Puerto Rican father, Soto became interested
in ballet at age 5, after seeing Edward Villella in the
“Rubies” section of George
Balanchine’s Jewels on TV. At 14 he came
to New York to study at the School of American Ballet, and
in 1981, at age 16, was selected by Balanchine to be a
member of the corps de ballet. In 1984 he was promoted
to soloist, and he made principal the following year.

A friend of Andy
Warhol's and a celebrity in the elite world of ballet
who also appeared on Sesame Street, Soto was hailed
by dance critic Anna Kisselgoff as, “one of
ballet’s most creative personalities.”

“I never
considered myself a star,” said Soto in a
recent phone interview, “I just consider
myself a dancer. If you’re going to be behind
Wendy Whelan, you have to remember, ballet is the ballerina,
‘ballet is woman.’ I was just there to
make her appear as if she were the queen.”

He attributes
this attitude to how his father always treated his mother.
“I owe everything to what I learned from
them,” he explained.

Jock Soto 1 | Advocate.com

“In a
way,” Soto explained, “this film is a huge
thank-you. I grew up in a trailer. My mother
sacrificed everything for me to get to New York. I
want to speak to the younger generation. I had the freedom
and the support to be myself. I want younger people to
have the same freedom to be themselves.”

“When Gwen
and I approached each other about making the film,”
said Soto, “we both discussed how it could be
an inspiration to teenagers who are afraid to be gay,
afraid to come out, especially in the Native American
and Puerto Rican communities. No one should be scared of
being gay -- or being a ballet dancer,” he
added.

In addition to
shedding light on the artist’s maturing relationship
with his cultural identities, the documentary lets
Soto’s sensitivity and humanity come across on
camera with the same magnanimity and potency as his
dancing. When he calls the Institute of Culinary Education
and learns he needs a high school diploma to apply, he
feels humiliated, as if he hasn’t accomplished
anything. Later the exhaustion and emotion of
preparing for his last three days overwhelm him. While the
film doesn’t concentrate on his sexuality or
make mention of his off-stage relationship with
choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, Soto is candid
about who he is, and charmingly so. “How gay do I
look right now?” he asks, as he and his mother
sit fanning themselves. Later he declares,
“Just think, June 19, 2005, is the last time I have
to get dressed up in drag,” as he’s
preparing for his farewell concert.

Jock Soto 3 | Advocate.com

As the credits
roll, Soto is seen with his boyfriend, Luis Fuentes,
cooking together, walking the dog, holding hands.
“He’s a chef and sommelier,”
beams Soto. “We met five years ago, right when we
started making the film. He wasn’t a big part
of my life, but he played a part in how the film would
end.” They now live together in New York and are
building a house in New Mexico.

“I needed
to express that I didn’t retire and die,” Soto
explained of the imperative to make the documentary.
But Soto has found a life after dance. He still
teaches at the School of American Ballet, and after
graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education, he and
his partner started a catering business
together.