Cesar Corrales, First Soloist at the Royal Ballet in London, was interviewed by Olivia Lecomte.
My first dance memories, training, and career thus far
Both my parents are ballet dancers so I spent most of my childhood watching and copying them. Since I was so young, I don’t remember the first memory of dance but there is a video of me at 12 months old trying to do a pirouette!
I had my professional debut at the age of four as the son of Anna Karenina, danced by Evelyn Hart. She was an intense actress and once grabbed my hand very hard. Like a professional, I approached my parents — who danced at the same company — and asked them to bring me to her dressing room. I remember walking in and saying something along the lines of, “… you know that part when you’re about to take me away and you grab my hand? Well… you’re grabbing a bit too strong and I think it would be better to do it this way…” She, a principal dancer at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, stared back at me with a look of disbelief followed by a smile.
I spent my last pre-teen years in Montreal, Canada, playing football and training in gymnastics alongside dance. My parents never pressured me to dance and encouraged me to find my own passion but at the age of 11, when my parents noticed I was becoming more serious about dance, they began guiding me on the path to success by enrolling me into Canada’s National Ballet School. I trained in Toronto for about one and a half years before being casted as Billy in the Broadway musical, Billy Elliot, which I performed for the following year and a half in both Chicago and Toronto. I was about 14 when I returned to classical ballet training but this time, I decided to train with my mom. Together, in Montreal, we would go from studio to studio training whenever we could.
I entered my first ballet competition, The Prix de Lausanne, when I was 16 years old. There I won a scholarship but ultimately decided to continue training privately. The following year, I entered into another ballet competition, the Youth American Grand Prix, where I took home the first place Grand Prix Award, as well as the Artistry Award. Following the competition, I worked in the American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company for a period of six months before joining the English National Ballet in September 2014. For the next couple of years I had a great time and was steadily going up the ranks there. In 2017, at the age of 20, I was promoted to principal dancer but injuries and personal issues meant that I had to take most of the season off. After four seasons with ENB, I decided it was time to move on and that’s how I ended up here — at the Royal Ballet.
Do you have any striking stage memories?
Yes! My most striking stage memory was when I injured myself on stage.
I was 12 and performing the lead role in of Misha, Marie’s brother, in The National Ballet of Canada’s production of The Nutcracker. I waited anxiously in the wings as the music for my last show in the role began — nervous thoughts spiralling around my head. My parents were supposed to arrive from Montreal in time to watch from backstage but no one had seen them or managed to get in contact with them. Given that it was the dead of Canadian winter and there was a blinding blizzard outside, I was really worried. I kept jumping to conclusions in my mind and picturing the worst possible scenarios, pulling me further and further from focusing on the task at hand — the last show of my first main role as a child. Suddenly, I hear my music, and from the corner of my eye, I see my mom walking into the backstage area. My focus was directed at the wave of relief that surged over me when chassée, chassée, jeté, jet-CRACK! I rolled over my ankle and fractured my fifth metatarsal.
I immediately went into a state of shock and was unable to react to my surroundings. I couldn’t speak or remember any of the choreography. I turned white and froze like a deer in headlights. Slowly the pain started taking over my body and I was rushed to the hospital as soon as I managed to hobble off stage. But the show had to go on, and they ended up shoving another boy — who vaguely knew the role and was at least a head taller than me — into my costume and having him finish the show!
Do you have a favourite performance?
I would have to say my debut performance with The Royal Ballet. It was a show of many firsts for me so the anticipation leading to this performance was insane. Not only was it the first time I performed with The Royal Ballet, it was the first time I performed in the Royal Opera House, it was my debut as the principal role of my favourite ballet,and I was performing alongside two of the greatest ballerinas of all time, Marianela Nuñez and Natalia Osipova. There was a lot of talk and media coverage surrounding the performance and with it, some intense pressure to satisfy expectations — I couldn’t mess it up.
Once the show was done, I felt relieved because it had gone well. I remembered the process leading up to it — working with Natalia Makarova, another famed ballerina, and the return of a past injury. I was overcome with so many positive emotions knowing that I would cherish this memory forever.
What is your favourite ballet?
That’s a tough one because I think, with age, it’ll change.
Until now, it’s always been La Bayadère. I think from all the roles I’ve performed it was my favourite. I like performing La Bayadère because of the demanding physicality, but there are many ballets that are more emotional and more challenging in terms of acting, which are just as beautiful and important. I would really like to explore these sentimental roles when the time is right in my career.
What do you wish for your audience to experience when you’re performing?
That’s a good question, because normally we just go out there and dance.
I think that everyone who comes into the theatre comes with their own experiences, their own history, their own thoughts, and as a performer, you want to allow them to forget their reality and transport them to a fantasy world. I want them to feel a sense of connection to the story of the ballet and to what’s happening on stage — to relate and somehow see themselves in it. Obviously, that’s more difficult with a ballet like The Nutcracker but it’s possible in something more intense like Manon or Mayerling.
Do you have a specific feeling when you dance?
I feel free.
There’s so much that goes into the preparation of every performance — so much hard work and dedication, so when it comes down to it I try and enjoy every moment of it or else it doesn’t feel worth it.
What is your greatest ambition as an artist?
To be a complete and versatile artist. I don’t want to be categorized as ‘just a ballet dancer’. I’d like to be able to switch comfortably between styles of dance, act in movies, and perform in musicals.
I try to be as complete as I can.
Can dance change lives?
Definitely! I think dance can change people’s lives in many ways. For dancers, we learn and practice discipline every day — among many skills — which helps us reach our goals outside of work. Depending on the show, dance can alter the audience’s perception of their lives, the way they view the world, and I think it promotes open-mindedness.
Do you feel like you have a responsibility to society?
I think that there are many things that are more important to society than ballet, but I think that no matter how small our job is, we have a responsibility to set a good example and give back to the younger generations. Ballet is a very demanding job, and I believe that if we show how dedicated and focused we are, we can help society — even if at the end of the day ballet is just another form of entertainment.
What would you do if you weren’t a dancer?
I love football, always have, so I think I would pursue a career as a football player.
Are you interested in breaking the constraints of the theatre so that work can be shared with a wider public?
Absolutely, but I think it depends on the work. Sure, performing Swan Lake in a library is more accessible but it kills the magic… That being said, I think it would be really great to get out into the community more, not only to help others but to help change the way we are portrayed in the media, and to help the art form flourish and evolve.
How do you feel about the media’s portrayal of dancers?
It can be very disappointing and difficult to watch. Recently, it has become a trend to use dancers in advertisements or movies, which are seen by millions of people. But unfortunately, most companies don’t hire trained dancers, and instead opt for models or actors with recreational training. As a result, dancers are misrepresented in the media despite there being thousands of dancers who could accurately portray the art form.
Some may argue that any “publicity is good publicity”, but I would rather not see dance in the media at all than to have it falsely represented. I know people find it funny to watch videos of footballers in tutus and pink tights doing bourrées but I feel it degrades our work and fails to acknowledge the athleticism and difficulty of dance. Until the public is more widely educated about dance and able to recognize the irony of parodying such an athletic and artistic art form, the media needs to stop reenforcing the negative stereotypes surrounding dancers.
Why support The What Dance Can Do Project?
The What Dance Can Do Project is using their platform to share dance in a way that supports working and upcoming artists alike. The recent trip they made to Nairobi, Kenya is an excellent example of how their work helps cultivate young talents whilst giving seasoned dancers an opportunity to inspire and give back. The impact it must have made on the kids, who wouldn’t ordinarily have access to teachers dancing in the world’s leading ballet companies, is amazing!