Dancers & Companies

"I Have Never Known A Life Without Dance"

Photo by Alexander Iziliaev

I have never known a life without dance. Born into a world of dancers, studios and theaters were my playground. I'm pretty sure I even listened to the scores of the ballet classics when I was still inside of my mother's belly. My mother and father often danced together, being in the same professional company.

Photo by Alexander Iziliaev

Today, they continue to work in the ballet world as teachers. My mother has her own school, which is where I started dancing. Even though at first I hated ballet, everyone predicted that I would eventually follow in their footsteps. They were right.


Ballet is my pursuit of expression, music and joy. But ballet also means something to me: sacrifice. I left my family in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at 15 to join Miami City Ballet School, which had offered me a scholarship. I went to live on my own in a foreign country, not knowing the language, the culture, how to cook or even how to open a bank account.

Photo by Daniel Azoulay

I thought I understood a lot about ballet life, but moving to America proved there was so much out there that I was not aware of; it was like starting over. There were many tears and frustrations throughout the first few years in Miami because I couldn't communicate with people or even forge relationships due to language barriers.

It was my goal of becoming a ballerina with MCB that made the sacrifice worth it. But none of this would've been possible if it wasn't for my mother, who mentally prepared me and taught me to have discipline, strength and goals, all of which I bring into every single class and rehearsal. She told me "nothing comes easily if you don't give it your best every day, because that is what ballet is about—a pursuit of excellence."

Photo by Daniel Azoulay

Thinking back to when I started—knowing nothing about Balanchine, Robbins or Ratmansky—the Nathalia heading to America for the first time with her four giant suitcases would never have imagined dancing some of their major works, as well as learning directly from Balanchine-era ballerinas such as Lourdes Lopez, Roma Sosenko and Merrill Ashley.

She would never have imagined Ratmansky creating a role on her while she was still in the corps, the war girl from Symphonic Dances, and rehearsing it for Mikhail Baryshnikov (who even complimented her dancing) in the studio. These moments in my career have been surreal, from being on the cover of Pointe magazine (a magazine my mother has spent decades reading) to preparing to do Russian Girl in Serenade at the Koch Theater in New York City.

Photo by Alexander Iziliaev

For me to say I love ballet is not enough. Ballet has made me who I am. The most rewarding aspect of my career is hearing that my dancing can bring happiness to people who perhaps need it, because that reinforces my faith in ballet as a powerful art form. Life has proven to me that dreams can come true, and I will go on keeping what my mother has instilled in me every step of the way.

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ABT's James Whiteside and Isabella Boylston. Photo via Instagram

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Videos
Photo by Morgan Lugo

This week American Ballet Theatre launches its fall season at Lincoln Center with an exciting lineup of performances. One last-minute addition to the program is a new work from Benjamin Millepied, which will be performed by ABT Studio Company and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School dancers in the theater's promenade during select intermissions. Although the specifics of the performance are hush hush, we stepped into the studio with Millepied for an inside look.

What has it been like to choreograph on younger dancers and how, if at all, did you change your approach?

To be honest, they're really good. Rhythmically, it's not easy at all and they've done incredibly well. The piece could be longer. It's really one movement but, for the first time, to use that space it felt right. Nothing says I couldn't add two more movements next season to make it longer.

What are your thoughts on bringing classical ballet outside the proscenium setting?

For me, it's great to think of spaces theatrically. We build sets with lighting and props, but there are also all these environments that are beautiful and theatrical, and with a little bit of work you can create something within them and that becomes site-specific. That's really fun because you create something really specific for the environment.

What would you like to see more of from young ballet dancers?

What I would want to see more of in ballet is just more interesting collaborations. These ballet dancers are great and they're ready and what they need is more interesting work. I feel people are playing it safe a lot. If anything, I think it's the choreographers and the directors who need to make an effort for these dancers who have made this art form their passion, and to really be as daring or at least as relevant as some of our peers were when they were commissioning pieces a long time ago.

Dancers & Companies
Jared Matthews and Yuriko Kajiya. Photo by Tetsu Maeda, Courtesy Matthews.

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