Arts & Culture

Found in translation: Gifted Centralia dancer discovered his passion for ballet by chance

Ballet Northwest dancer Giovanny ‘Gio’ Garibay performs solo from ‘The Nutcracker’

Giovanny “Gio” Garibay, 15, of Centralia, competed in this year's prestigious Youth America Grand Prix, taking a first-place prize in the Seattle semifinals and competing against dancers from around the world in the finals in April in New York City.
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Giovanny “Gio” Garibay, 15, of Centralia, competed in this year's prestigious Youth America Grand Prix, taking a first-place prize in the Seattle semifinals and competing against dancers from around the world in the finals in April in New York City.

Giovanny “Gio” Garibay, 15, began dancing just three years ago, yet he already has leapt his way to recognition in the ballet world.

Gio of Centralia, a sophomore at Pope John Paul II High School in Lacey, will dance a lead role in Ballet Northwest’s “Don Quixote,” on stage this weekend at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

He danced a solo from “Don” in the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix, winning first place in the male classical division in the Seattle semi-finals and competing against dancers from around the world in the finals last month in New York City.

While he didn’t win in New York, Gio astonished the audience — including professional dancers and dance teachers — at a group performance.

“He performed one of his signature jumps during this solo pass, and the audience at Lincoln Center gasped,” said Ken Johnson, co-artistic director of Ballet Northwest, who attended the finals. “It was really exciting.

“He’s a really special dancer,” Johnson said. “He has a lot of natural talent and ability, but he also is a very hard worker and is very devoted to ballet. Because of that work ethic, he’s been able to progress by leaps and bounds. It’s pretty unheard of to reach that high a level in such a short time.”

Gio — who now dances at least three hours a day — attended his first ballet lesson at the Centralia Ballet Academy, not as a student but as a translator for his younger brother Sebastian, now 7 and in first grade at St. Joseph Catholic School in Chehalis.

His parents, Elba and Salvador Garibay, both emigrated from Michoacán, Mexico, when they were young adults. The family speaks Spanish at home, and three years ago, Sebastian didn’t know much English.

“I went to one of his ballet classes to help him out,” Gio said. “After his class, they had more boys’ classes and they asked if I wanted to stay.”

He did.

“I fell in love with dance,” he said. “I knew right away that it was something I wanted to do.”

Last year, he began to train at Olympia Dance Center and dance with Ballet Northwest, landing major roles in “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker.”

In “Don Quixote,” a ballet known for its humor and Spanish flair, Gio will dance the role of the sassy Basilio, a barber who falls in love with the fiery Kitri, danced by Natalie Allenton, 15, of Olympia, who attends school at home. (The don himself is a character role, played by Ballet Northwest regular Jim Eychaner.)

Gio’s role is a particularly challenging one. “Basilio’s solo is one of the most famous, if not the most famous, male ballet solo in the whole repertoire,” Johnson said.

Gio will study this summer at San Francisco Ballet School and is already thinking about his professional goals.

“My dream companies are American Ballet Theater in New York City and the Royal Ballet Theater in London,” he said. “It would be really cool to be part of one of those. It’d be an amazing experience.”

‘Don Quixote’

  • What: Ballet Northwest stages the comic ballet based on an episode from the classic novel about a knight who tilts at windmills.
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
  • Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia
  • Tickets: $14-$35
  • More information: 360-753-8586, washingtoncenter.org
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