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    Thiago Soares 2018

    Thiago Soares

    Principal, The Royal Ballet 

    interviewed by David Bain
    Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, December 05 2018

    David welcomed Thiago who had just returned from Brazil where he had received an award, a recognition by the Government and current President for years in the arts and dance field and for mounting productions at home. They are given to recognize Brazilian artists who’ve left Brazil but return to give something back. Even though he’s lived in Europe for a long time, he goes back nearly every year to produce a show with invited dancers from abroad.  They decided he was someone who deserved the award, so it was a very special moment for him.

    Thiago said he began his career in the Teatro Municipal in Rio which is home to a huge classical company, where he was doing main roles

    Thiago said he began his career in the Teatro Municipal in Rio which is home to a huge classical company, where he was doing main roles. For his first few years in Europe when he went back, he would perform with them as a guest so they kept in touch. Many ballerinas went back with him, and discovered people they didn’t know so it was a nice collaboration. Eventually he wanted to do his own production and say something different. As a classical company it has its repertoire and as a guest you negotiate with the Director about what’s on offer. Every time he guested it was always the same ballets as the repertoire was a bit limited – Coppelia, Giselle, Nutcracker over and over again. He felt the desire to say something different and started making his own productions, beginning with galas, and invited people from different companies to join him. Then he made his first production from scratch, Roots, which sort of tells his own story – it’s about a present-day dancer meeting a dancer from the past, a friend of Thiago’s who is a hip-hop dancer. It’s a duet with light music with Thiago meeting his old self so it’s a dialogue with him doing those hip-hop moves. The choreographer is a good friend of Thiago’s, and the designer someone they both respect so they had a great team. The idea was great but he recalled going into the studio to begin and thinking ‘what am I doing’?  The other dancer and he had never done any steps together. The idea of making a show is amazing but then you have to create. The first two months were a nightmare, nothing would come, and he thought it would be a disaster, but they stuck together and by the third month it began to look like a show. They had six months’ preparation, creating music, lighting designs, costumes, dances. Then came the premier and it was a great success, a sell-out in all venues with nice reviews. They did about 40 shows in different venues. It gave him the strength and confidence to carry on doing more and different things, perhaps collaborating with artists here, to see what, if anything, he’d learned. 

    Then he did choreography for two music videos, collaborating with a musician, and felt a desire to do something else so started his present project with Marcello Bratke, a Brazilian super star of the piano, classically trained, and a good friend whom Thiago has always admired. They decided they wanted to do something together so 18 months later they went to the studio and started what has become a great project. They’re about to begin their first tour in Europe which is very exciting. In the UK it will only be on in July but they are starting in February at the big Tivoli Theatre in Portugal. It’s very exciting, a little bit of independent work using experience learned from ROH and colleagues, seeing the big producers and choreographers, and trying to make something about what he wants to say at this point in his career. The music, which is beautiful, is by Brazilian composers, including Villa-Lobos. His role is actually five roles in one - he could be dancer, actor, clown, lover, himself embracing a lot of characterisations and investigating lots of things from the past. He has a good connection with Marcello, a great collaborator who wants more and doesn’t just sit at the piano and play. He acts a lot and dances a bit and it seems to work. They have done 20 shows already. When they did the opening night, they asked people to send in their views. The response was positive and the length about right, 70 minutes, the story telling is the stuff we have seen him do and which is his passion. It’s a journey. Whenever he’d seen people doing their own thing he’d thought it’s cool to do it. Some people get it right, some get it wrong. When they were first promoting the show, the producer said they needed faces and names but Marcello is shy and said can’t we just have a theme? But they had to advertise and do enough to sell the show so people knew who they were. It’s all part of the learning process. Sometimes you need someone on the cover doing a big jump even if they don’t actually do it in the show! He’s very proud of the show because it’s honest and they discovered things together. Thiago does the choreography which is something else to be nervous about. The premier was a big night performed in a space like a music hall whose stage had been transformed for dance. They did a lot to host them there and it was completely sold out so there was lots of pressure. A while before, during a run-through in his house, Marcello was playing (beautifully) the Villa-Lobos music with its difficult rhythm which Thiago said was impossible to dance to. Marcello kept repeating it saying he’d convince him and eventually Thiago began dancing badly, using steps like a clown, to try to mess him up. But Marcello’s wife said ‘this is great’ and it became a highlight! Thiago became a thing which moves. The show has a lot to do with their roots, the Amazon, the rain forest and native Brazilians, how evolution moved in Latin America and how they became as they are now. There is also the figure of the Malandro, a folk hero, so these roles were appearing in a very organic way. He feels very proud of the show and during its creation people came in to give opinions. They invited people who knew nothing about ballet who really give the best crits. He has a friend who’s in IT, knows nothing about ballet but has a great eye and hears amazing things in music. Thiago has one big solo at the end, which could be a highlight. The last role in the show is him playing himself, Marcello himself and a female figure, who is usually a guest ballerina, playing herself. It becomes a fun challenge between them while still being within the story. His IT friend said he found the music annoying, so put on his own music and said ‘stop when you’re on your knee. Don’t go on because the rest is too horrid!’ To humour him Thiago cut it right there and people said the timing was just right. So, it was a proper creation where everyone had an input - ballet teachers came and talked about line and style, Tatiana Lescova and other knowledgeable people came and gave their opinions. He’s very excited about the European tour. London is tricky. He had chatted with Kevin O’Hare but there was difficulty because of schedules. They are still investigating but have another venue to perform it in July. At their first performance they will be joined by the prima ballerina from the Portuguese national ballet company. Every time they do it they have a guest ballerina, and so far they’ve had six from different companies like Munich, Ballet de Monte Carlo, and from the Royal Mayara Magri and Isabella Gasparini who stepped in when someone was injured. He saw her picture on Instagram saying she was happy to be back in Brazil so he contacted her to ask if she would be free to dance the next day which she did and was great.

    David asked what would be the state of play for the arts with the change from a far left to a far-right government in Brazil. Thiago said it has been a huge problem with disappointment after they had a lot of hope in politicians in the past and, while there were good things, there turns out to be a lot of corruption as well which affects the confidence in the country and among investors. It takes time to readjust and getting news across the country can be a slow process. Thiago hopes for the best and sees some positives though he knows there are some weird feelings about what will happen. He isn’t a politician but hopes for somebody with sympathy for the arts. Culture is a priority like education and health, and he wants to keep representing his art the best way he can. He feels very positive, having just been in Brazil, that they want to push ahead with a lot of projects and are aware of the need. Thiago is monitoring it a bit and helping in any way he can and they listen to him in his field and gives his humble opinion when asked. He’s been working with young artists and encouraging a positive outlook in support of culture. It’s a very serious matter, the country has been divided and people are trying to understand what will happen but it’s fingers crossed.

    Thiago talked last time about Tatiana Lescova who, although quite aged, is so important for them, and has been a mentor for many dancers. She is a high spirit with very strong opinions, a superstar of the ballet world. She worked with Diaghilev, left Russia, spent time in Cuba and went to Brazil. She helped Brazilian culture in advancing ballet, she has been a coach, repetiteur and director who represents something important for them. They respect and are very proud of her, and seek her opinion. She has always been very honest and helpful to Thiago and it’s good to have her around. She will tell you if you’re going in the right direction so he invited her to the run-through of Roots, asking if it was OK to go on stage, and not to worry about upsetting him. Afterwards she just left! Two days later she sent a message saying it was a well-produced show and would be a big success so go for it. She is one of those figures who’s very important when you need a guide. She was once a director of Teatro Municipal, was a best friend of Margot Fonteyn and Natasha Makarova, and good friends with John Cranko, Marcia Haydee and other well-known dancers and directors. She took care of, and guided, so many of them. She sends Thiago a message if she isn’t happy with something he has done. She is probably well in her 90s but is a strong lady and looks great. They were lucky to have such figures in their careers.

    Thiago has been making a film called Premier Dancer. The director, Felipe Braga, is a Brazilian who was commissioned by HBO to make documentaries about different Brazilians – he’d done a swimmer, fighter and footballer and wanted to do another about a dancer. He had seen Thiago performing in Brazil and had friends who knew Thiago’s work so proposed the idea. It was a problem time for Thiago. There was so much going on and difficulty in his private life as he was going through a divorce while trying to keep going and getting on with life. He and Felipe had a coffee when Felipe said he’d love Thiago to be the subject of his documentary but Thiago said he didn’t think it was the right time as things didn’t look good in his life right then. But Felipe said that is exactly what I want, investigating the reality of your journey and life. Also, Thiago was extremely busy as he was doing Romeo and Juliet, celebrating the anniversary of his 15-year career in Brazil, working on a new piece by Arthur Pita and also a new work by Deborah Colker. It was madness as he was flying back and forth, and was trying to find somewhere to live. Thiago asked for time to think about it and went to chat to Monica Mason who knows him well and understood what was going on. She suggested he did it as it sounded a genuine and honest project. He then chatted more to Felipe as he felt there were so many films around about ballet superstars like Carlos. He likes the attention but isn’t interested in the sort of film which has already been done and he doesn’t have that sort of career but if Felipe wanted to explore what is going on in reality he would feel comfortable with that. He said that was good - if you can go with the flow, I can find what you are made of, how hard it is, what is the glory, what is the pain. He wants audiences to watch the film and make their own judgement. Thiago said he was a serious person who lived inside the theatre so as long as he respected that then we had a deal. Once established the trust was great between them and Thiago said do what you have to do while I get on with my life and we’ll speak during the process. They started very low profile, three or four people with small cameras, which was Felipe’s strategy. He becomes your friend and chats to everybody. When he came to ROH everyone knew him and had tea with him. He became one of us, knew the jokes and who was who. Looking at it now, people were relaxed and weren’t so aware of the cameras. Gradually more cameras were introduced and by the end Thiago realised what a big project it was. After a bit Felipe would ask ‘are you comfortable with this like when you were having a fight with someone on camera’? When Thiago first saw the long cut he said this can’t go on screen or TV or anywhere. Felipe said just think about it and come back to me in a week so he spoke to his family and others who said it was an honest piece of film about how he functions and what he’s like inside the Opera House, how the place works, how shows are created, and everyone is fine even with the crappy bits. There’s a lot of people in it you know – Wayne McGregor, Sarah Lamb, Nela, Kevin, Chris Saunders, Jonny Cope. Friends saw it and thought it was nice and Thiago felt comfortable with its honesty. It is being shown in the Linbury on 21 January. In Brazil it’s on TV at the moment and people say they missed seeing him when he started at the ballet school. Felipe filmed for just over a year so it’s about that particular period and how it is for an artist to go back to his country and about the productions and expectations.

    There are a lot of films about male dancers just now – Rudolph, Carlos, Fernando. Thiago said he’s aware that dancers have careers which make for interesting investigation

    There are a lot of films about male dancers just now – Rudolph, Carlos, Fernando. Thiago said he’s aware that dancers have careers which make for interesting investigation – they are half actors, half artists, working in big institutions, set some trends. He feels the same, wanting to know about his fellow dancers and what they’re up to. He definitely wouldn’t feel comfortable with a self-promotional film – this is about dance and art and how they do things. HBO have the idea of a super hero but he wants to have honesty in his art so hopes there is some in this film. Once on the screen it changes your perspective as it’s so exposed and so revealing that it’s more a documentary about a person who’s in the theatre leading a crazy life which is really happening. 

    When Thiago last came to talk to us, he spoke about his strengths in partnering and acting and where that came from. He said his career started with the classics. There aren’t so many guys in Brazil and he was told he’d be partnering the ballerinas because of his height and proportions. Straight away, aged 18, he had the responsibility of partnering the leading ballerinas and had to work on his figure, his dancing, his behaviour on stage to be the cavalier. He did a cavalier figure in the classics until his early 30s but he also had some moves from the circus school and was always interested in characterisation. He loved the idea of being in other peoples’ shoes, of being an actor where you can be another person as well as yourself. Then joining the Royal he knew it was the right theatre for him as it has all those roles.  This career has a validation and how you drive yourself through that journey is important. Fortunately, we have this amazing rep in the Royal and that has played a huge part in his desire to act more – in this country there are the wonderful traditions of Shakespeare and amazing actors and it’s so rich, influencing choreographers like Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan who used that richness so effectively in creating many amazing roles. Monica loved that part of the ballet rep and was his boss for many years. She offered him some real challenges, like the Ugly Sister, which was a great exercise. He was in his mid-20s and at the same time he was doing the Prince in Sleeping Beauty and Siegfried and it was difficult trying to concentrate on the two elements, classics and character. But it was great to learn something different and now he can look back and reflect on all of that – how to act, how much to act and when not to act – and knows he can do it. There are different elements with roles like OneginMayerling and now Winter Dreams when they have the amazing pleasure of having Irek and Darcey working with them, and those roles give you the chance to work on characterisation as well as physicality. He always likes those roles and gives extra attention to them. In later years he’s made slight alterations, has stood back from the acting a bit as perhaps you do it too much so you adjust and work on energy outside. He’s now in a different position, soon to be 38, and you have to be smart and keep yourself healthy.

    How has Thiago’s Rudolf changed? Thiago said Mayerling was one of the ballets where he had the opportunity to do quite a few shows and felt he got a lot wrong first-time round. It’s a very hard role, both physically and psychologically, but has everything that a male dancer would wish for on stage. It’s very complex but you also have to take care of other people. He is a generous partner and people expect him always to take care of the girl but at the same time you still have to share that with what you’re going to say about yourself as you still have to dance. Last time he felt he was dividing the responsibilities a little bit better. For the man it is demanding and you can tire yourself out before you should - that’s the nature of it and you can feel overwhelmed just by the first duet with your wife. Thiago sets the scenes in his head and understands how much energy he needs to put into each one. He also had a great set of girls with a lot of experience so you take something from them and with what he has in his head and body he hopes that shows through, revealing who you are, and which moments you need to highlight. You have to decide what is the important thing, what should be highlighted? It’s good to have the opportunity to decide for yourself. His coach this time was Alexander Agadzhanov and Leanne Benjamin also came in and gave a few details. For David, he believes the way Thiago disintegrates before your eyes as the ballet goes on rather than being totally mad from the beginning is the way Rudolf should be played. Thiago said it’s tricky as there are so many steps and physical elements. With those roles he tries not to feel he owns them – he’s an artist who has the chance to have a go. There are others who’ve gone before who are big stars and others who will come after who will do them. It works for Thiago that he thinks about what he wants to say, the elements which talk to him and which he feels will talk to the audience. Irek, who was an enormous star, is rehearsing him in Winter Dreams in which he and Darcey created the roles. He doesn’t want to try to show he’s better than Carlos or Irek but he just wants to say something different which makes people think, but he’s not in a competition to be the best. Thiago said Irek is a legend and he is a huge fan. There is something vast and loud about his dance that talks to Thiago. Sometimes he’ll say something with which Thiago disagrees but then he thinks “this is Irek”! They were joking recently about the fact that Thiago seems to be doing Irek’s roles and that makes him closer to him. David said Irek is very generous but when he came to talk to us, he made it quite clear that he was the greatest male dancer! Thiago believes that what’s amazing about this life in the theatre is that it’s not a competition. He’s done competitions in Moscow where you are just a number but we’re discovering a different environment and you can use a lot of these people’s experiences as they created those roles at the same time discovering something different about yourself as well.

    Irek created the role in Judas Tree which Thiago has also done but which isn’t universally popular. Thiago recalled a good friend who knows nothing about ballet coming to see it, probably expecting something like Cinderella, but who actually said ‘you were great’. It’s controversial and divides opinion with people saying you can’t have that on stage so it creates a tension. Working with Irek and Viviana Durante was amazing and he worked really hard, just did what he had to do, and went out with friends after and forgot about it. There were articles in the papers which had a positive outcome because they make you talk about things which aren’t right and gives an importance to the art which then becomes a topic. He was quite happy as it created speculation about what you can and can’t do in the theatre. He is a big fan of Kenneth MacMillan and John Cranko. He would give anything to go back in time to be in a room with Kenneth, and loves any of his works. He creates a lot of challenges for the dancers and to put on something like Judas Tree you have to be courageous because it’s hard, and particularly for the girl, but you need to show the steps, show strength and some sort of structure so it’s not just to shock. Thiago believes Judas Tree is one of those shows which make you think and where the process is as good as the shows while sometimes for him the process isn’t enjoyable but he loves the delivery.

    David enquired if there’s a list of characters in Kevin’s office which states ‘Thiago – rapist’? At the beginning he was always the good guy but Monica rather liked him as a villain and gave him chances. In his mid-20s she was wondering where to put him as there was a lot of talent around but found him roles and challenges because she knew he was up for it. Eventually it was a great deal for Thiago as he began discovering different aspects of himself. He wasn’t the sort of person who’d ask for particular roles but was more interested in what they wanted from him. Kevin is a nice person with a huge sense of humanity who’s open to conversations and has seen Thiago through his whole journey. He is very respectful and lets Thiago have a say in his career. While being the boss he understands when you have the maturity to present the idea that you’d like to prepare yourself for the future and it’s a really nice, smooth process. They have free, sometimes tough, conversations but Thiago admires Kevin for giving him artistic freedom. It’s like an organic strategy to keep going. There’s a huge generation of young dancers coming up who need attention and opportunities. They also have a number of senior artists who are big and who aren’t going anywhere just yet. Thiago is open to conversation and playing other roles and feels very lucky that he’s done the classics and now he is able to do the more mature things and is in a position to do them. Kevin is amazing and sensitive in giving opinions but also takes from other people who know.

    When Cinderella comes back will he be an Ugly Sister again? Thiago said he doesn’t know. We may have noticed that he’s not in the whole of this season so, while still being part of the Royal, he has time to think, to create something, or study something and prepare for the next part of his journey. Once in the Royal Ballet you are always there but in order to be relevant, he has to remove himself from some things and prepare himself for others and to create a different perspective.  If you repeat something too often you ask yourself, why am I doing this again? In many ways, said David, his career has mirrored that of Johan Kobborg, so what about Widow Simone? Thiago said he is a huge fan of Johan, whom he admires a lot, and is always up for a challenge. He will be doing Mayerling again on tour in the US. There is also something being created for him and Nela and after that he has to work on his show. Then there’s something exciting next year to look forward to.

    David said it had been an enormous pleasure to have Thiago as our guest and to watch his progress with the Royal. Now we’re looking forward to seeing the film in the Linbury on 21 January and to following the next stage in his career.


    Report written by Liz Bouttell, edited by Thiago Soares and David Bain. © The Ballet Association 2019