A week or so before heading to Vail, I caught up with Vail Dance Festival artists/one of American Ballet Theatre’s newest soloists, Calvin Royal III. Here we discuss his late introduction to ballet, a typical day at ABT, and how his experience with ballet competitions informs his performances in Vail.
Kirsten: How did you become involved with dance?
Calvin: I was studying music in middle school and was first introduced to dance through a community project of The Nutcracker. We did all styles of dance in this production- jazz, tap, West African- so I was surrounded by dance. When it came time for me to transition into high school, I auditioned for every department at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School and was accepted to the dance program.
K: What was your first impression of ballet?
C: The audition was my first ballet class. At 14 years old, I didn’t know any of the vocabulary or steps, I was just sort of following along. It was super challenging physically, mentally, and emotionally.
K: Tell us about your experience with the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP).
C: The director of the program at my high school had a studio nearby and she would take a group of students every year to YAGP. Her intentions were not necessarily for us to get medals, but to expose us to other dancers around our age, and learn from how they were studying and preparing themselves for the competition.
During my Junior year, after two and a half years of training, I was invited to join this small group to compete at the regionals in Orlando. There, I placed and was invited to continue on to the finals in New York City, where I was spotted by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (JKO) School Artistic Director Franco De Vita and American Ballet Theatre’s (ABT) National Training Curriculum Artistic Director Raymond Lukens. They offered me a full scholarship to move to New York and train at JKO.
K: What was the hardest thing about leaving home to train at JKO in New York City?
C: Uprooting and moving to a new city was very difficult. It was a big move, but that one decision changed the course of my life. It was worth it!
K: What was your time in ABT II like?
C: After a year and a half in the school, I was promoted into the studio company (at the time ABT II). We traveled so much, performing all over the world. It was like an introduction to what it would be like if we were accepted into the company; ABT II would perform excerpts from ABT’s rep like the Swan Lake pas de deux.
It was such a crucial time in my development as a dancer. I pushed myself to the extreme. It meant so much to me to work hard and see my own progress. That was coupled with the ability to tour the world, experiencing so many different cities with my fellow dancers, many of whom are now in the company with me.
K: In 2011 you were given a contract as a corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. What is a typical day like for you at ABT?
C: Here’s an example of a typical day from our most recent season at The MET:
We have company class every morning from 10:30 until 11:45, followed by 15 minutes break. Then we have rehearsal from noon until 5:15 for all of the ballets we are doing that current week and the ballets we will perform that next week. Rehearsal time is pretty demanding, because in the back of your mind you know there is a performance that evening, but Alexei Ratmansky might be sitting at the front of the room looking to see the essence of his choreography full out. It’s a practice in managing your energy.
We’ll have a short break from 5:15 until about 6:30. I like to start getting ready about an hour before curtain. The shows usually finish around 10, at which point I take of the makeup, race home, and wind down with some dinner and Netflix. I act like a sleepy Grandpa on my days off!
K: What has been your best experience with the company so far?
C: It’s most rewarding for me to work towards the goals I’ve set for myself. Whether its for a particular role or ballet, I like to always make it feel special, and though it doesn’t always happen, my best experiences come when everything clicks onstage.
K: Tell us a bit about what you’ll be performing at the Vail Dance Festival.
C: I’ll be performing George Balanchine’s Agon pas de deux with New York City Ballet Soloist Unity Phelan and Christopher Wheeldon’s Bitter Earth pas de deux with ABT Principal Isabella Boylston. Unity and I have been working with Heather Watts and Damien Woetzel whenever we can. At ABT, we don’t often do Balanchine, so whenever I get a chance to dance it I just love it so much. Unity is such a gorgeous creature and we both learn so much together. We always bounce ideas off of each other about what we’d like to bring to the pieces we perform.
K: What excites you about the Vail Dance Festival?
C: I was talking with (current Vail Dance Festival Artistic Director) Damien Woetzel about the importance of the word festival. It’s not about just performing. Going to Vail is exciting because it feels like you are about to participate in something real. All of the preparation leading up to the festival along with the actual time spent there is truly an opportunity to learn and connect. I can’t wait to be a part of that.
Thank you, Calvin! Check out The Wonderful World of Dance for more fun reads and exclusive interviews.