Meet BalletMet’s Iris R. Dávila

July 27, 2023

Iris R. Dávila didn’t plan on becoming a ballet dancer. “It was sort of a mistake!” says the second-year BalletMet artist. Growing up in Puerto Rico, she excelled in gymnastics and swimming, and took her first ballet class at age 11 because a friend was in it. Dávila may have discovered her passion by accident, but she navigated a challenging path to the stage with fierce determination. Her rep at BalletMet ranges from a vampire in Dracula to Little Swans in Swan Lake to a contemporary role she originated in Amy Seiwert’s The Catch, and she brings them all to life with dynamic technique, a radiant stage presence, and an unmistakable love for performing.

Company: BalletMet

Age: 21

Hometown: Vega Alta, Puerto Rico

Training: La Escuela Especializada en Ballet Julián E. Blanco, Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico, San Francisco Ballet School

Against the odds: After attending San Francisco Ballet School’s summer program in 2017, Dávila hoped to enroll full-time—and then Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. “We had three months without power and a month without water,” she recalls, and her training was put on hold. A friend encouraged her to write a letter to the school about her situation, and they responded with a full scholarship. Dávila started in January 2018, and her teacher back home helped raise money to pay for a shared room in a hostel because the dorms were full midyear. “I told myself, ‘I’m gonna make this happen, no matter what.’ So many people sacrificed so much for me to get here.”

a female dancer performing an arabesque while being supported by two male dancers on stage
Dávila with Austin Powers and Beñat Andueza Molina in Amy Seiwert’s The Catch. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy BalletMet.

Finding home: Throughout her training and her first job at Tulsa Ballet II, Dávila struggled with her body image and hyperextension. “And being a Latina in the dance community is hard,” she says. “You’re around people who don’t look like you.” Joining BalletMet (she danced with the second company for a year before joining the main company) felt like coming home, she says, because artistic director Edwaard Liang “appreciates his dancers the way we are, and everybody is unique. Now I’m thankful for my body, instead of trying to change it.”

Memorable debut: Dávila was excited about her first lead role, as grown-up Clara in BalletMet’s 2022 Nutcracker, but then her partner got sick and missed tech week—they finished rehearsing backstage before their first performance. “During the coda we were like, ‘We made it!’ Then on the last lift, I slipped and fell. Every single show after that we were like, ‘It’s not over till we bow!’ ”

Dream roles: Manon, Kitri, and Juliet top her wish list, but when BalletMet does Romeo & Juliet next spring, she says, “I don’t care what role I’m doing, I’m going to enjoy it.”

What her artistic director is saying: “Iris creates incredible shapes and movement with her body, and she is able to trust her partners and fall into the choreography,” says Liang. “I believe her career will be bright.”

Savoring her time off: Dávila loves eating out, cooking, and baking, but nothing beats her grandmother’s fried chicken. “Whenever I go back to Puerto Rico, she calls me and asks, ‘When are you coming, so I can have the fried chicken ready?’ ”