Curry compared to ballet dancer

NY Times News Service

Thu, Nov 26, 2015 - Page 19

Taras Domitro was not a basketball fan when he joined the San Francisco Ballet as a principal dancer in 2008.

“But I became one,” he said.

Domitro, who was born in Havana, happened to arrive in the Bay Area one year before the Golden State Warriors drafted Stephen Curry. That goes a long way toward explaining how Domitro grew to enjoy watching the game.

“What I see the most when I watch Steph is the incredible coordination he has with his arms, his legs and the way he handles the ball,” Domitro, 29, said before drawing a comparison between their respective disciplines and referring to the way male dancers support women as they execute a lift or a jump.

“We don’t use a ball, you know. We use a woman, but the way he dribbles the ball is the way we handle a woman on stage,” Domitro said.

Curry, the NBA’s leading scorer and last season’s most valuable player, has been at the center of the Warriors run of form this season, having added a new title to his resume: the NBA’s unofficial artist-in-residence.

“It’s beautiful to watch,” said Graham Lustig, 61, the artistic director of the Oakland Ballet Company.

With each three-pointer and every spinning layup, Curry somehow seems to transcend the sport, turning the game into theater.

Domitro and Lustig said that much of Curry’s aesthetic appeal was rooted in what ballet dancers seek most: to make their art look effortless.

“We don’t want to see any pain when dancers are finishing their final variation of something,” Lustig said. “You don’t want to see them screwing up their faces and giving the impression they can hardly make it through to the end of a solo.”

In a league full of behemoths who sweat and strain on every possession, the 190.5cm Curry has been operating on a different plane — one that has struck Lustig as deeply familiar.

“Steph doesn’t really look like he’s putting in a lot effort, does he?” Lustig said. “I’m not suggesting at all that he doesn’t use effort. It’s just that he doesn’t display it, and I think that’s probably at the core of what this is about.”

Lustig said he was particularly impressed by Curry’s body control, citing a move that Curry made against the Detroit Pistons this month. After dribbling past his primary defender, Curry launched himself at the rim before he managed to rotate his torso away from a second defender. He proceeded to flip the ball off the glass and through the hoop.

“He’s like a magician, juggling the basketball while he’s four feet off the ground,” Lustig said.

Any extraordinary moment in a performance — athletic or artistic — is the product of years of training and preparation, Lustig said. The act itself might look spontaneous, but little happens by accident.

Domitro often trains from six to seven hours a day. Lustig danced professionally for 19 years before he succumbed to the effects of age and effort.

Like dancers, basketball players use their bodies as their instruments. The behind-the-scenes work is painstaking.

“That knee, that foot, that shoulder, that wrist joint — that’s what they have,” Lustig said. “So they have to take care of their bodies because they’re going to push it to the limits.”

The Oakland Ballet Company has been at work on a seasonal production of The Nutcracker, to debut next month at the Paramount Theatre.

Lustig said he had no doubt that with the proper training from an early age, Curry would have been a fine dancer.

Lustig was asked how he would have cast him.

“Oh, he’d have to be the cavalier, right?” Lustig said. “He has to be the leading man.”