Cupcakes & Conversation with Calvin Royal III, Corps de Ballet, American Ballet Theatre

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Cupcakes & Conversation with Calvin Royal III, Corps de Ballet, American Ballet Theatre

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What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?

Monday is my day off. So it’s usually little motivation and more sleeping in! It’s my day to get the ‘chores’ done (laundry, groceries for the week, clean the house). If we’re in a performance season, I’ll cook a big meal for dinner to last a few days, so I won’t have to cook every night after a show.

Why ballet ?

My love for ballet didn’t happen overnight. Like most guys, I started my formal training kinda late. I was a freshman at my arts high school. Being fourteen, in tights and a dance belt for the first time (my god!), and having a teacher yelling at me to stretch my knees and point my always cramping feet, I was pretty close to switching majors. There came a point that first year, after getting past the pain and gaining more strength, I was curious to see how much further I could go with it.

Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?

It would be really cool to dance with Sylvie Guillem in a choreography by Mats Ek.

If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance?

I get to travel to some pretty amazing places with ABT on tour. But, if I could one day organize a sort of benefit fundraiser show where all the monies go to helping my dance teachers and studio back home, I be even happier. They were there with me through it all.

What is your daily routine at the moment ?

I’m that person hitting the snooze 3-4 times before rolling outta bed. I get up and shower (it’s my official wake up), make breakfast and sit listening to one of my stations on Pandora, or catch the news. Then I’m off to the ABT studios. I usually make it in time to warm up a bit before company class at 10:15.

On a typical rehearsal day, all five studios are busy from noon until around seven. So, My first rehearsal could be a cowboy in Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo and an hour later have to switch and rehearse as a Spanish toreador in Don Quixote, or a stomper in Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room. One thing I’ve learned since joining the company, is that there’s lots to do in little time. Picking up the rep fast is key, because the next time you rehearse could be onstage the day of a performance! True story.

ballet dancer jumps on stage
What do you eat during the course of a typical working day ?

Meals vary day to day. But I always eat breakfast at home. Somedays it’s oatmeal, or when I cook, eggs, sliced meat, cheesy grits, hash browns, some fruit, and gotta have OJ. I usually eat lunch out. There’s so many options in New York, I’m always looking for new places to grab a sandwich or something hot whether that be at Whole Foods, Potbellies Sandwich Shop, or this really good Korean bulgogi spot not far from the studios.

How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?

I like to get out and get fresh air. It reenergizes me. I’ll grab something light to eat, and head back to the theater a little before half hour call. I warm up a bit, do my make up, and focus, then it’s show time.

What are you looking forward to dancing in 2013 ?

Ever since joining ABT, I always look forward to spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House. The gala, a different production every week for eight weeks. It’s an exciting time of year. It can be one of the most exhausting seasons, but there’s something special about being at the Met. It’s pretty awesome to know I walk the same halls and perform on the stage where so many incredible artists have. I’m excited to see how the upcoming trilogy evening of Alexei Ratmansky’s Shostakovich work unfolds, and this will be my first time dancing in any of Ashton’s work, so I’m looking forward to learning the ballet Sylvia.

How do you deal with the stresses of performing ?

Detaching!! I try to stay away from the stage until the last few minutes before going on. And I don’t like to go over steps right before I have to dance them.

During a performance night, all dancers have to check in onstage 5-10min before the curtain goes up, and in some cases I won’t actually step foot onstage to dance for another 10-15min after the show starts. So I’ll either go back to the dressing room or warm up areas until it’s close to performance time. Giving myself little time to wait in the wings and get any more nervous. It sounds kinda weird when I think about it, but it helps me cope.

You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite ?

Emeril Lagasse (who I’d help cook then he’ll join the party), The Obama’s, Kerry Washington, Anderson Cooper, Regis Filbin, and Betty White. Its kind of an older crowd, but I think these people would keep me laughing, It’d be great!

What would surprise people about you ?

I’m not as quiet as most people think.

Who inspired you to dance ?

Initially it was the older dancers at my high school when I was a freshman. Then after taking dance history, and learning more about the dance world through tapes and magazines, Rudolf Nureyev, Fernando Bujones, and Desmond Richardson all embodied what I wanted to become as a dancer.

How would someone else describe you ?

Anyone who knows me best, knows that I’m a simple person. A bit of a mess at times, but for the most part put together. I love to make others smile. I’m driven when it comes to the things I’m passionate about, and that my family and close friends are everything to me.

ballet dancer in white
What is your best piece of advice ?

Always follow your instincts! I definitely wouldn’t be where I am had I not six years ago.

Which role has tested you the most & how ?

I recently competed in the Erik Bruhn Prize. The role I danced was Lucien in the grand pas de deux from the ballet Paquita. Being 6ft tall makes doing a lot of things in ballet more challenging. Anyone who has seen or danced Paquita, knows that it packs style, bravado jumps and tricks, fast turns, control, and a very regal and proud air. It tested me the most simply because it was the first time I learned and was coached on a role so layered with detail. Also having to create a balance of freedom and control simultaneously. It helped develop a new strength in me mentally and physically that I can apply to other roles I perform in the future. It was an experience I’ll keep with me for a long time.

What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you ?

I’d say, I’m still waiting for it to happen.

If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create ?

It depends on the type of dance it was for, but I’d like to create something blending the structure of a modern slim fitted suit (with a little stretch), and fabrics created from designs by artist Yayoi Kusama’s work.

A phrase I use far too often is …

I really hope I don’t overuse anything, I’d get annoyed with myself if I did.

Who would play you in the film of your life ?

Not sure who’d play me, but the thought of a film created of my life is neat.

What is your favorite quote?

“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” -Bob Marley

ballet dancers dressed in red

Photograph : Christopher Duggan

What’s on your iPod ?

A lot of apps. I’m pretty sure I download on impulse. My music library has a bit of everything though, from gospel to Chopin and Jay Z. I’m really feeling Frank Ocean, Amy Winehouse, and a bit of Chris Rene right now. Couldn’t imagine a day without my music. Oh and Netflix!

Who would you most like to dance for, and why?

Michael Jackson. The man could move! I would’ve killed to be one of his backup dancers in those videos. Last year on tour in Taipei, underneath the arches of this bridge outside the theater, a group of kids were practicing moves to MJ’s Smooth Criminal; it was pretty epic. He lives!

What makes you a good dance partner ?

Okay so, I’ve tried on a pair of pointe shoes a time or two, and lemme tell ya, it’s not all smiles and grace. Imagine having to be on your toes for a four act ballet. It takes so much strength. I applaud the men and women on pointe who are able to deliver performances that are graceful and secure and make it look effortless. Knowing all this, as a dance partner, I commit to being there for my partners. Being strong, and focused, I find myself really attentive, and wanting to learn what works best for both of us. I like to communicate if something is working and if it isn’t. After all it’s a partnership, regardless of what role it may be.

Do you have a secret skill which no one knows about ?

Ha! It wouldn’t be a secret if I told you.

Describe yourself in just three words.

Driven. Giving. Creative.

In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be this time next year ?

This time next year, I would like to have grown more through greater performance opportunities that challenge me in new ways (technically, artistically, creatively). There are moments in a ballet company when you feel like you may’ve hit a roadblock. It could be because of injury or casting, it could really be anything. But I like to look on the bright side of things, and I look forward to the year ahead.

What is your exit strategy, for the time when you stop dancing, and how did you plan it ?

It’s only in the early stages, but I’m working towards having my business up and running by the time I retire from the stage. The artist will always live inside me, I just have find a way infuse it into my next chapter.

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