Free and Open

March 30, 2016

María Riccetto’s second chapter

Riccetto in Don Quijote at Ballet Nacional Sodre. Photo by Santiago Barreiro, Courtesy BNS.

In a way, María Riccetto has had not one but two ballet careers. The first was as a hard-working soloist at American Ballet Theatre, the kind of dancer described, admiringly, by colleagues and critics as dependable, strong, consistent. And then, since 2012, as a prima ballerina at the Ballet Nacional Sodre in her native Uruguay, under the direction of her former ABT colleague, Julio Bocca. By stepping away from the center of the ballet world and returning home, Riccetto has given herself a second chance, opening the way to a series of dream roles that had once eluded her: Kitri, Nikiya, Odette/Odile and Juliet, in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s venerable 1965 production.

At 36, when many dancers are beginning to wind down, Riccetto has acquired a new confidence onstage and in the studio. Her dancing has grown freer and bolder. Rehearsing in one of the studios in the company’s spacious new headquarters in Montevideo last July, she looked happy and engaged as she worked on a new ballet being created by the young Argentine-born Demis Volpi, resident choreographer at Stuttgart Ballet. She cheerfully threw herself into the tricky, off-kilter movements, allowing herself to be dragged, lifted and twisted around by five male partners while betraying not the least trepidation. Most of the time she seemed to end up perfectly where she wanted to be, on her leg, in control. But when, on occasion, something didn’t go as planned, she laughed it off and tried again or made a smart suggestion, putting everyone at ease. “I’m excited to try new ways of moving,” she said later, “I’m feeling open, like a sponge. I’m willing to try things without shame, accepting my own strengths and weaknesses.”

Riccetto grew up in Montevideo and attended the national ballet academy (the Escuela Nacional de Danza), leaving at 17 to complete her training at North Carolina School of the Arts. Unsure of what to do next, she decided to audition for a few big American companies, and was surprised, she says, to learn that she had been taken by American Ballet Theatre. Three years later, in 2002, she became a soloist there and began to be offered parts like the first-act pas de trois in Swan Lake, Amour in Don Quixote, the prelude in Les Sylphides and, eventually, in 2009, her first Giselle, alongside David Hallberg. But then the fast track seemed to stall. Riccetto learned the role of Juliet but never got the chance to dance it there. “I felt I had reached a ceiling; I was dancing these amazing parts, but I wanted to keep growing.”

Around the same time, in 2010, Julio Bocca had decided to try his hand at directing the Uruguayan national company, which had lost its home to a fire in 1971 but continued performing elsewhere. Armed with strong political backing, a brand-new building and his own hard-won international connections, Bocca launched into an ambitious overhaul of the company. What he needed, though, was a prima, a dancer who could lead by example. Though Riccetto had been guesting with the company, two years into his tenure he invited her to permanently fill that void: “For me, her coming here was incredible,” he said in his light-filled office last year. “The public loves her and her presence helps me to advance our aims.” Riccetto, naturally affable, gives frequent interviews and is active on social media; people recognize her in the streets.

The gamble paid off for Riccetto as well. “I knew Julio would look after me,” she says, “and I knew the quality of the productions he was bringing was very high.” (That repertoire includes Ronald Hynd’s
The Merry Widow
, Natalia Makarova’s La Bayadère, Anna-Marie Holmes’ Le Corsaire and Antony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading.) The payoff has been not only the status of being crowned a principal dancer but also more time to prepare for
these challenging new roles. “At ABT, I was spending eight hours rehearsing a ton of ballets, but here I can spend that time preparing for three or four roles. Every time I go onstage, I feel completely ready.”

Beyond her artistic aspirations, Riccetto has discovered that the slower pace of Montevideo and the proximity to her family suits her. Her private life has flourished. “In New York, after a performance,” she reminisced recently, “I used to take forever to get ready, because I knew no one was waiting for me. Now I have to rush, because there’s always someone to see, somewhere to go. It makes such a difference to know that my family is there, waiting.”