Declared by the New York Times as "an astounding dancer" and recognized as one of the most charismatic dancers of his time, Willy Shives began studying dance in his home state of Texas, eventually navigating his way into a brilliant 16 year tenure with the Joffrey Ballet.
Willy Shives studied dance with Nikita Talin—a Dallas dance maverick with ties to the famous Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Early in his training, Shives was awarded a Ford Foundation Scholarship and studied with the School of American Ballet in New York City. Shives had an enduring and award-winning professional ballet career that included international engagements and stints with companies in New York, Chicago, Austin, Tulsa, Milwaukee, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh.
Shives joined the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in the early 1990's at the invitation of Artistic Director Patricia Wilde. Wilde brought an eclectic repertoire of works that suited Shives' athleticism and speed, such works included Balanchine's Rubies and Tarantella.
Shives was elevated to the status of Premiere Danseur when he joined the Joffrey Ballet in the late 1990's. His vast repertoire includes many 19th century classics, as well as works by such contemporary masters as Gerald Arpino, George Balanchine, Lew Christensen, John Cranko, Agnes de Mille, Martha Graham, Jiri Kylian, Robert Joffrey, Kenneth MacMillan, Ohad Naharin, Ruth Page, Ben Stevenson, Lynne Taylor-Corbett, Twyla Tharp, and Antony Tudor.
Shives is best remembered for his artistic versatility and many memorable stage performances, including his portrayal of the Prince in Kenneth MacMillan's Cinderella; his stage performance in Petrouchka; his interpretation of the "Faune" in L'Après-Midi d'un Fauné; and his dramatic appearance in the role of "Billy" in Eugene Loring's Billy the Kid. Shives also received distinction for his portrayal of the "Lover" in Tudor's Lilac Garden, "Romeo" in Cranko's Romeo and Juliet, and "Petrucio" in The Taming of the Shrew, also by John Cranko.
In 2000, at the Balanchine Celebration held at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., New York Times critic Anna Kisselgoff commented on Shives' performance in Balanchine's Square Dance, "Willy Shives, is a highly interesting dancer and gave the ballet's interpolated solo a human warmth."
Remaining dearest to Shives' heart is Ruth, Ricordi Per Due, a final work created in 2004 by Joffrey Ballet Co-founder and Director, Gerald Arpino.
Between 2003-2006, Shives was credited with numerous dance awards. He was the recipient of the Natalie Skelton Legacy Award, was named "Chicagoan of the Year" by the Chicago Tribune, and was also recognized by the Chicago Music and Dance Alliance. He went on to be named one of "Chicago Theatre's 50 Leading Characters." Shives has been featured in several dance films including the documentary about the Joffrey Ballet: Mavericks of American Dance directed by Bob Hercules.
Upon retiring from the stage in 2007, Shives went to serve the Joffrey Ballet organization in numerous capacities. As company ballet master, he coached and trained the professional artists, while actively setting and maintaining the extensive ballet repertoire and various choreographies, including the works of several respected contemporary choreographers—James Kudelka, Jessica Lang, Edward Liang, Lar Lubovitch, Yuri Possokhov, and Twyla Tharp. Shives also taught in the academy and served as Outreach and Education Coordinator. In 2015, he joined the dance department at Western Michigan University as a guest teacher, where he had previous been an artist in residence and répétiteur for both the Joffrey Ballet and the Antony Tudor Trust.
From 2015-2018 Shives was appointed to direct Ballet San Antonio and is credited for elevating the company during his tenure, earning the distinction “Best Arts Organization” by San Antonio Magazine 2017.
In 2018, Shives launched his Ballet International, offering high quality training and coaching while also providing cultural opportunities for those in underserved communities. As of date, Shives has created more than a dozen original works and reconstructed and restaged several full-length classical ballets including: Don Quixote, Giselle, The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty. Some of his choreographies have been featured at galas, competitions, and festivals. He has also been awarded several choreographic grants allowing original commissions for public audiences, including original works for the Luminaria Contemporary Arts Festival in Texas.
In 2019, Shives began his affiliation with the Universal Ballet in Seoul, South Korea serving as a répétiteur coach. Shives is an active member of the World Ballet Competition (WBC), serving on the esteemed international jury panel and teaching master classes (since 2016). In 2022, Shives choreographed the grand défilé for the WBC. The processional dance fittingly honored the country of Ukraine, while featuring over 100 accomplished dancers on the stage. The piece was thoughtfully accentuated with music by Ukrainian composer Mykhailo Kalachevsky.
Today, Shives maintains his work as a répétiteur and continues to bring dance to students of all skill levels and backgrounds, and also choosing to involve himself in community projects that sponsor and support equity, diversity and inclusion in the arts. He remains a highly sought out teacher and currently leads the upper division students at the Dance Institute in Austin, Texas.
In his personal life, Shives is married to Evie Peña-Shives, a former ballerina with an extensive background in education and in public relations. The Shives' have two beautiful daughters, Cecily and Ally Shives.
In Studio Rehearsal, Shives as Albrecht from ballet Giselle
Teaching Joffrey Summer Intensive- Chicago, IL
Universal Ballet, Seoul, South Korea
Milwaukee Ballet Guest Performance 1999
Willy and Evie Shives
Robert Joffrey teaching men's ballet class at the Southwest Regional Ballet Festival (circa 1979). A 16 year old Willy Shives shown in the photograph.