As soon as Daniel Camargo mentioned his early love for the ballet video “Born to Be Wild: The Leading Men of American Ballet Theatre”, his dancing immediately took on meaning – the brash attack, the dramatic flair, the boundless energy.
Camargo, a native of Brazil who joined American Ballet Theater last season as a guest artist, is no different from the generation of male dancers – Angel Corella, José Manuel Carreño, Vladimir Malakhov and Ethan Stiefel – featured in this episode of “Great Performances: Dance in America. Their sensibilities were different, but they were also stage animals.
Now there’s Camargo, who was named principal last week — the same week he performed three shows of Kenneth MacMillan’s version of “Romeo and Juliet,” which was a new production for him. His first Romeo, like much of his dancing this season – the 30-year-old’s repertoire included Act 3 of ‘Don Quixote’, ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Of Love and Rage’ – got better As things progress. By the time he arrived on the balcony scene? He was so dashing, so warm. Yes, Camargo is a blast from the past.
Hee Seo, his Juliet on two of those nights, said that although they didn’t have much rehearsal time – “we literally shook hands,” as she put it, “and then we did “Romeo and Juliet” – the experience was rewarding. “I think when you don’t have enough rehearsal time to really feel yourself, then you let yourself dance and give yourself space,” she said. “He was great at it. It allows you to be part of the ballet. It’s not my way or his way – it’s our way.”
For Camargo, their performance was “very normal, very human,” he said. “There was nothing put on.”
Before the pandemic, Camargo, a former director of the Stuttgart Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet, worked as a freelance dancer. he returned to this path after the easing of restrictions, but began to seek more consistency. At the same time, the Ballet Theater was suffering from a few injuries. Ballet Theater artist-in-residence Alexei Ratmansky came into contact with Camargo, with whom he had worked at the Dutch National Ballet.
“They knew I was interested and the opportunity opened up,” Camargo said. “So they’re like, ‘Hey, Daniel, why don’t you come over?’ That’s how it started.
Camargo was supposed to attend the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of Ballet Theater around age 12, after competing in the Youth America Grand Prix competition. “I actually got a scholarship for ABT,” he said. “It was a situation where I basically had my suitcase ready to come to New York.”
The day before his flight, his teachers discovered that the people who were going to look after him during the school’s summer classes had decided they couldn’t. “I went to summer school in Florida, then came back to the Youth America Grand Prix in 2005 and ended up going to Stuttgart,” Camargo said. “So this whole thing in New York was on hold. I went through a completely different route before arriving here.
Now it is ready to install. But first, he must find an apartment. During the season he was too busy to watch and the day after the season ended he flew to Italy to work with Brazilian choreographer Juliano Nuñes. Where will it end up in New York? “No idea,” he said with a sigh. “It’s still a big question mark.”
Recently, Camargo opened up about his early years, his rise to Ballet Theater and where he spent the shutdown. It was the day after his last “Romeo” – it’s been a long night – but he was happy: “After the performances, I always get up early.”
The following are edited excerpts from that conversation.
You have danced so much more than originally expected this season. Did you feel any pressure?
It was two very interesting months. Everything was happening very quickly, and somehow I felt comfortable. Somehow, I felt ready to do it. It was good. All my partners, everyone in the company supported me a lot, so I could feel a very good energy before going on stage. And that helped a lot.
Alexei Ratmansky is one of the reasons you are here. How long have you worked with him?
I worked with him a few times with the Dutch National, where he directed “Shostakovich [Trilogy]» and also his « Don Quixote ». He knows how to get things out of a dancer that sometimes you don’t even see or even think you have in you.
Why did you start ballet in the first place?
Basically, it was because of my sisters. I have two sisters, and they are also dancers. So when they found out there was a little brother – because in Brazil it’s not very common for guys to dance – they were like, “Come try it once and see if you like it.” I was hooked.
Why? And how old were you?
I was between 9 and 10 years old. I think it was physical – I was just trying things out and then somehow doing it the way they wanted me to. And after seeing a few videos and competitions, it’s starting to fire up and I’m like, OK, this could really turn into something.
At the John Cranko School in Stuttgart, one of your teachers was Peter Pestov, who trained many male dancers at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. How important was it to you?
It was really a turning point in my studies. I started working with him for the last two years I was in school, and it was a very difficult training. We would do a three hour class. You are not allowed to drink water. Sometimes it would be two hours of jumps. As extreme coaching. But when we were outside the studio, he was very nice. But once we were working, there were no more jokes.
What did he emphasize in class? It was very technical, but what else?
Musicality was one of his most important points. Musicality, soft landings. Every time you complete something you’re doing, you’re actually completing positions; how you use the soil; how to move from one stage to another. I remember finishing the class and my legs were burning.
You were independent when the pandemic hit. Where did you go?
I went to Portugal. You could be a bit more outdoors in nature, and I ended up being in the south, in the Algarve. Portugal was a very important time for me to really learn more about myself. What do I like to do when I’m not in the studio? What kinds of conversations are other people having? I wanted to meet new people, learn more about myself. How am I when I’m not surrounded by dancers? It was very refreshing.
What did you learn about yourself?
That I really enjoy being in nature and connecting with people. See everything with different eyes. I think we bring to the stage the experience that we also have outside. And I discovered that I loved surfing.
Did it feel different to dance and live in New York than abroad?
Yes – especially being at the Met. Everyone is coming together and you can really feel that everyone is looking in the same direction and wanting to put on a good show. The energy of the company is something I can’t quite describe. But that’s the kind of energy I want to be with.