Introducing American Ballet Theatre’s Michael de la Nuez

December 22, 2023

There is an explosive energy to Michael de la Nuez’s dancing that will not be denied. In Christopher Wheeldon’s Like Water for Chocolate during American Ballet Theatre’s summer season, he sliced through the air like an arrow and spun like a top, equal parts bravura showstopper and clean classical dancer. The role of the revolutionary leader Juan Alejandrez revealed de la Nuez’s fiery side as well as his serious dancing chops. In the fall, a new facet of this up-and-coming corps dancer emerged as he dug into the role of the jilted lover in Alexei Ratmansky’s emotionally fraught one-act story ballet On the Dnipro. There seems to be no limit to what de la Nuez can do or be onstage.

Company: American Ballet Theatre

Age: 25

Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio

Training: With his parents, former professional ballet dancers Meridith Benson and Mario de la Nuez, at their Cincinnati studio, de la Dance Center

Accolades: 2018 Grand Prix winner, Youth America Grand Prix Pittsburgh semifinals

Late starter: De la Nuez was initially into activities like skateboarding, gymnastics, diving, and soccer and didn’t start dancing until he was almost 15. But once he did, he took to it with great intensity. “My parents didn’t force me, they let me find it for myself. And because of that, I found the drive,” he says. “I was really eager to improve and take corrections, and I still am. That’s the superpower of starting late.”

All in the family: “The studio was in our house,” says de la Nuez. “Right after school, and all weekend, sometimes until 10 o’clock at night, I was there dancing and watching YouTube videos and trying to imitate what I saw.My parents really molded the training around me, and made it such a comfortable environment for me to work.”

Ballet idol: De la Nuez’s father fostered his son’s admiration of the Cuban-born dancer Carlos Acosta. “His dancing is masculine but sensitive, and so sincere, and his partnering is beautiful,” de la Nuez says. Acosta’s memoir, No Way Home, is his favorite book, and Cuba, the birthplace of his father, is the place he most dreams of visiting.

Discipline and abandon: “Onstage he’s willing to go far and beyond,” says Carlos Lopez, the director of repertoire at ABT that de la Nuez has worked with the most. “He has that fearlessness and freedom, and he’s also technically very strong.” But Lopez also sees his discipline and drive. “He is very internal in terms of the work. You can see he really fights for perfection.”

Challenges: De la Nuez was born with a cleft palate, which means that the roof of his mouth was not fully formed before birth. This affected his ability to breathe and eat normally, and he’s had several surgeries, the last of which took place in November. “This will help a lot with my breathing when I’m onstage, because now I have to breathe mainly through my mouth,” he said before the surgery. As a kid, he was bullied for his condition, but he says it also helped to form his personality. “It made me figure out how to be social. It’s easy for me to be super-friendly and funny with people.” Lopez agrees: “Everyone loves Mikey, because he’s such a nice guy.”

A dedicated follower of fashion: Outside of the studio, de la Nuez has a passion for fashion. “I like to wear clothes that are a little bit more original, and I spend a lot of time researching­ on YouTube and Instagram,”­ he says. His favorite designer­ at the moment is Rick Owens.

The full package: “I really believe in his potential,” says Lopez. “He’s a bravura dancer. He can do all the technical roles, like Basilio in Don Q, but at the same time, he can be a prince. Honestly, I think he can do anything.”