(b Bayside, NY, 1 Oct. 1936)
US dancer and ballet director. He studied at the School of American Ballet from 1946 as a scholarship student and at the High School of Performing Arts. His training was interrupted when, at his parents' urging, he attended New York State Maritime College in Fort Schuyler (1951–5), but he returned to the School of American Ballet in 1956. He joined New York City Ballet in 1957, becoming soloist in 1958 and principal in 1960. Throughout his twenty years with the company he was one of its leading male dancers, also one of America's first male ballet stars. An athletic, virile dancer of compact build, he possessed unusual power, speed, and elevation. He partnered several ballerinas, most notably Patricia McBride, and created roles in many Balanchine ballets, Electronics (1961), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1962), Bugaku (1963), Tarantella (1964), Harlequinade (1965), Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet (1966), Jewels (1967), Suite No. 3 (1970), Symphony in Three Movements (1972), and Scheherazade (1975); also in Robbins's Dances at a Gathering (1969), Watermill (1972); and in Balanchine and Robbins's Pulcinella (1972). Balanchine also revived Prodigal Son for Villella, which became one of his most celebrated roles. He additionally danced in musicals, including Brigadoon (1962) at the City Center of Music and Drama in New York. In 1966 he choreographed his first major ballet, Narkissos (mus. R. Prince) and two years later was the subject of the NBC-TV documentary Man Who Dances; in the 1970s he worked as a producer and director on the PBS series, Dance in America. After leaving New York City Ballet in 1979 he was artistic co-ordinator of the Eglevsky Ballet (1979–4) then director of Ballet Oklahoma (1984–6). In 1986 he became founding director of Miami City Ballet, which he built into one of America's most successful regional companies known particularly for its Balanchine repertory. He has choreographed occasional works for MCB, including the four-part Neighbourhood Ballroom (mus. several, 2003). He published (with Larry Kaplan) his autobiography, Prodigal Son, in New York in 1992.