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HomeLife StyleHolding Out for a Hero? Ballet Theater Has It Lined.

Holding Out for a Hero? Ballet Theater Has It Lined.


As soon as Daniel Camargo mentioned his early love of the ballet video “Born to Be Wild: The Leading Men of American Ballet Theater,” his dancing immediately made sense — the brash attack, the dramatic flair, the boundless energy.

Camargo, who hails from Brazil and who joined American Ballet Theater this past season as a guest artist, is not dissimilar to the generation of male dancers — Angel Corella, José Manuel Carreño, Vladimir Malakhov and Ethan Stiefel — showcased in that installment of “Great Performances: Dance in America.” Their sensibilities were different, but they were stage animals, too.

Now, there is Camargo, who was named principal last week — the same week he performed three shows of Kenneth MacMillan’s version of “Romeo and Juliet,” which was a new production for him. His first Romeo, like so much of his dancing this season — the 30-year-old’s repertory featured Act 3 of “Don Quixote,” “Swan Lake” and “Of Love and Rage” — improved as it went along. By the time he got to the balcony scene? He was so dashing, so warm. Yes, Camargo is a blast from the past.

Hee Seo, his Juliet on two of those nights, said that while they didn’t have much rehearsal time — “we literally shook hands,” as she put it, “and then we did ‘Romeo and Juliet’” — the experience was gratifying. “I think when you don’t have enough rehearsal time to really feel each other, then you let each other dance and give room for each other,” she said. “He was excellent at that. He gives room for you to be part of the ballet. It’s not my way or his way — it’s our way.”

For Camargo, their performance was “very normal, very human,” he said. “There was nothing put on.”

Before the pandemic, Camargo, a former principal at Stuttgart Ballet and Dutch National Ballet, had been working as a freelance dancer; he resumed that route after restrictions loosened, but started to crave more consistency. At the same time, Ballet Theater was dealing with some injuries. Alexei Ratmansky, Ballet Theater’s artist in residence, got in touch with Camargo, whom he had worked with at Dutch National Ballet.

“They knew I was interested and the opportunity opened up,” Camargo said. “So they’re like, ‘Hey, Daniel, why don’t you come over?’ That’s how it started.”

Camargo was supposed to attend Ballet Theater’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School around the age of 12, though, after he competed at the Youth America Grand Prix competition. “I actually got a scholarship to A.B.T.,” he said. “It was a situation where I basically had my suitcase ready to come to New York.”

The night before his flight, his teachers found out that the people who were going to take care of him during the school’s summer course had decided that they couldn’t. “I went to a summer school in Florida, and then I came back to Youth America Grand Prix in 2005 and ended up going to Stuttgart,” Camargo said. “So that whole New York thing stayed on hold. I went through a whole other journey before I got here.”

Now, he’s ready to settle down. But first he must find an apartment. During the season, he was too busy to look and the day after the season ended, he flew to Italy to work with the Brazilian choreographer Juliano Nuñes. Where will he end up in New York? “No idea,” he said with a sigh. “That’s a big question mark still.”

Recently, Camargo spoke about his early years, his rise at Ballet Theater and where he spent the shutdown. It was the morning after his final “Romeo” — it makes for a long night — but he was cheerful: “After performances, I always wake up early.”

What follows are edited excerpts from that conversation.

You danced so much more than you were originally scheduled to this season. Did you feel pressure?

It was a very interesting couple of months. Everything was just happening very quickly, and somehow I felt comfortable. Somehow I felt ready to do it. It felt right. All my partners, everyone in the company was very supportive, so I could feel a very good energy before going on the stage. And that helped a lot.

Alexei Ratmansky is one of the reasons you’re here. How much have you worked with him?

I worked with him a few times with the Dutch National, where he set “Shostakovich [Trilogy]” and also his “Don Quixote.” He knows how to get things out of a dancer that sometimes you don’t even see or think that you have in you.

Why did you start ballet in the first place?

Basically, it was because of my sisters. I have two sisters, and they’re also dancers. So when they found out there was a little brother — because in Brazil it’s not very common for guys to dance — they were like, “Come and try it once and see if you like it.” I was hooked.

Why? And how old were you?

I was between 9 and 10. I think it was the physicality of it — just trying things and then I would somehow do it kind of the way they wanted me to do it. And after seeing a few videos and competitions, that starts to basically put fire in it and so I was like, OK, this could really become something.

At the John Cranko School in Stuttgart, one of your teachers was Peter Pestov, who trained many male dancers at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. How important was he to you?

He was really a changing point in my studies. I started working with him for the last two years that I was in the school, and that was very tough training. We would do a three-hour class. You’re not allowed to drink water. Sometimes it would be two hours of jumps. Like extreme training. But when we were outside of the studio, then he would be very kind. But once we were working, there were no jokes.

What did he emphasize in class? It was highly technical, but what else?

Musicality was one of his most important points. Musicality, soft landings. Every time you finish anything that you’re doing, you really finish positions; how you use the floor; how you go from one step to the other. I remember finishing class and my legs were just burning.

You were freelancing when the pandemic hit. Where did you go?

I went to Portugal. You could be a little bit more outside in nature, and I ended up being in the south, in the Algarve. Portugal was a very important time for me to really find more about myself. What do I like to do when I’m not in the studio? What kinds of conversations do other people have? I wanted to get to know new people, to find out more about myself. How am I when I’m not surrounded by dancers? It was very refreshing.

What did you learn about yourself?

That I really enjoy being in nature and connecting with people. Seeing everything with different eyes. I think we bring to the stage the experience that we have also outside. And I found out that I love surfing.

Did it feel different to be dancing and living in New York City rather than overseas?

Yes — especially being at the Met. Everybody comes together and you can really feel everybody is looking in the same direction and wants to bring a good show. The energy that the company has is something I can’t really describe. But this is the kind of energy that I want to be around.

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