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    Cesar Corrales 2022

    Cesar Corrales

    Principal, The Royal Ballet Ballet

    Interviewed by David Bain
    American International Church, Mon 14th February, 2022


    David welcomed Cesar who had been busy rehearsing Swan Lake. He took a short break after December’s Nutcracker and it was good to start the season with Romeo and Juliet and Giselleafter the testing times of the pandemic when they didn’t know about rehearsing, how to keep fit and what they could and couldn’t do. Every time they built up to a performance something happened – class stopped, show dates moved and every dancer appreciates having time to prepare slowly so there’s no burnout before a show, though if you have too much time it can be as bad as being too rushed. Hopefully now there should be the right amount of time for him to get to know his partner, Mayara Magri, for their performance on 11 March, though they have worked together before in Manon and Coppelia. She’s an incredible partner with so much power and fire which can be overwhelming if you’re not used to sharing the stage with someone like that, so you need rehearsal time to work it out. Mayara dances with her heart which is fantastic – she goes for it and what she feels in the moment. Cesar feels he’s quite similar but you need to find the right balance in the studio. Tamara Rojo has the same fire and determination and on stage it’s much more fun and the audience feel it too.  They started rehearsing a couple of weeks ago with Zenaida Yanowsky. It’s going very well and is really nice to have her as a coach, and to speak to her in Spanish, and she tells funny stories about her dancing the role and shows her insecurities. Initially, right before lock-down, he and Francesca Hayward began rehearsing it with Lesley Collier as coach and they were all set to go when everything was cancelled. It’s interesting going through the process again as it’s completely different working with another coach and partner and as Siegfried the energy is so different with each partner and it can’t always be done your own way as you have to recalculate the role depending on who you’re dancing with. Every time you do a role with a different partner you find another side of the character within you and you see differences in the many casts. Dancing Giselle with Akane Takada was beautiful as she’s so delicate so as Albrecht he had to respond differently from when performing with, say, Mayara.  The technique and coaching for his solo is the same whether with Lesley or Zen as the dancers have done their ballet class and worked on corrections in the studio and the ballets have basically the same steps. Where it’s different is within the partnership and style and you can’t just do it your own way. At the Royal Opera House there are many different styles with people from all over the world so approaches are different too.

    Reverting to Manon with Mayara, it was his first time performing the role of Lescaut which was one of the reasons he fell for ballet in the first place. Rather than the technical aspects, Cesar loved the drama, playing the role of the crazy man with different steps, being drunk and squeezing the ‘blood’ when he got killed! It was a good feeling impressing an audience and younger people. At home his play-time was to listen to music, make up stories and perform like a big drama king while his mum would film him as he copied what he’d seen his parents doing.

    Cesar had described himself on his CV as Cuban-Canadian, though born in Mexico, but now he’s given up on what he is and leaves it to others to decide. He has no memories of Mexico which he left aged one and travelled with his parents, who were professional ballet dancers, to Canada. His father was a principal dancer in Cuba, Mexico and Canada and his mother also a professional, they didn’t defect but went through the Ministry of Culture and left on good terms so they could return which was important for them family-wise. Although the rep was great, Mexico was getting dangerous so after Cesar was born they moved to Canada where his dad performed with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, partnering Evelyn Hart. Cesar spent all his time watching his parents both in class and performing. He could barely walk when he was already trying to do ballet steps on film. He didn’t remember falling in love with ballet but it was just something he did. He started learning properly aged 11 when his mum said he needed to make a decision if he wanted to take ballet seriously. He’d been doing gymnastics since the age of eight and was competing nationally across Canada and this taught him so much about discipline, how to stay focussed and carry on no matter how you feel, and respect your art. But as a gymnast your body changes and you get more muscular in the wrong places for a dancer. His mum wanted him to go and study elsewhere and take ballet class and he went to the Canadian National Ballet School in Toronto for a summer course. His mum was hesitant about sending them videos as they’d have to say he had no training and lacked knowledge of the ballet barre even though he could do a principal dancer’s solo. He was running before he could walk and the school said it didn’t make sense that he’d had no training. The idea of going all the way from Montreal to Toronto to attend the summer school made him feel anxious and his heart sank as he hated being away from the family. When he said goodbye to his parents at the train, he suddenly realised how alone he was and wanted to pass out. Then he and his parents realised he was quite weak and was almost too attached to them when he told them he didn’t want to be a dancer if it meant being away from them. They gave him another year to try to get used to it and he tried to be tough but they said it was the reality of the world and that he would have to live a normal life at school if he wanted to succeed. His parents taught him that in this career you have to make sacrifices - they had to leave Cuba and their families to pursue their careers and that doesn’t come easily. So aged 12 he joined the school and tried hard but still hated being away and that long journey with nothing to distract him. Now he’s glad he went as it makes you strong and teaches you so many things. At the ballet school he learned about port de bras and doing class but at that stage the most important thing he learned was about himself and how to be more independent.

    He’d been at the school for a year when his mum saw auditions were being held for Billy Elliot - the Musical. Cesar had seen the movie and had a friend who’d been in the musical in New York and did well. Cesar didn’t know how to sing or act or tap-dance or speak in a Geordie accent but his mum said he should do it for fun and for the experience of something very different. As his only background was in ballet and gymnastics he expected nothing from the audition and there were amazing kids there doing all sorts of things, being angry and tapping and singing, and Cesar thought it wasn’t for him as he’s not that competitive. They were singing Electricityaround the piano and each person sang a bit but Cesar couldn’t get the words out. But somehow, they were interested in him and he progressed until incredibly he was to go to New York for the final audition. His parents had Cuban passports so couldn’t go and he had a Mexican passport but he needed a visa which was impossible to get at such short notice. His mum contacted the producers and others involved in the musical to see if they could help but they didn’t seem inclined so she stayed up late every night working at the computer trying to find a cancelled visa appointment. Finally, when it happened it was the middle of the night and she had to apply straight away but they needed a photo so she woke Cesar up about 3.30 am to take the picture which wasn’t very flattering! They went through so much to get him there and again he was alone when, aged 11, he got on the plane and was met by a friend of his parents who he didn’t know. He found his first time in New York overwhelming. For him it was a new world, a musical world, alongside so many kids anxious to get the role so they’d even gone to Billy camp to do months of specific training. He tried his best, had singing and tap lessons, and when he got the role he just accepted it without realising what a big thing it was. They performed in Chicago and his parents would alternate coming to help him and this became the first time he really trained with his mum. He spent 18 months as Billy but in that environment they didn’t think a lot of ballet so didn’t provide daily ballet class and the three times a week which were on offer weren’t proper training so his mum said he had to take it seriously and they began working together. He enjoyed it much more than in school as they bonded well, not just as mother and son, but he knew his parents as professionals and it worked perfectly. They rented a studio to work in outside normal hours but the musical people found out and weren’t very happy about his mum teaching him class. She’s a very strong woman and told them their classes weren’t enough and when someone said it wasn’t Don Q his mum said no, it was much harder, and Cesar needed proper training or he’d get injured and they would just drop him. She threatened to remove him from the show so they relented and when they saw his improvement they finally asked her to teach the other Billys as well! After Chicago they went to Toronto but that was enough for Cesar who’d gained his experience and didn’t want to do the show for the usual three years and then be dropped, not know where he was going. At the time there was so much media attention – they were on The Oprah Winfrey Show, did massive interviews, and appeared on morning breakfast news. They were really built up and one day all the Billys were supposed to be having an interview in Chicago at 7am but his mum said no, Cesar had to do ballet class, then focus and prepare for his performance. They called her crazy but it gave him the mindset of a professional dancer and he learnt discipline and how to respect your body and the profession.

    After Billy, Cesar said he didn’t want to go back to school and wanted to train with his mum so did home schooling and she’d make a deal with ballet companies that she would teach for free in exchange for getting three hours of studio time from 8 am and he was also able to take ballet class with the companies. He then did his first competition, the Prix de Lausanne, not because he wanted to win a medal but to get stage time because at school you just had the end of year show. In Billy Elliot they didn’t worry about your line - you could dance your heart out as long as you were passionate but when he moved from ordinary clothes to wearing tights he started thinking clean and about angles etc. Kids start competitions from nine years old but at the age of 16 it was all new to him and good experience to get exposure. At the Prix you sign a paper before the finals saying that if you win a prize you have to go to a school which offers you a place and/or which you choose. Cesar felt he wanted to go to a school but was offered the San Francisco Ballet junior company and something told him he needed a couple more years training with his mum. The Prix didn’t like that decision and threatened to take away his prize but eventually relented and he’s still down as a winner. As a guest teacher his mum travelled all over and landed up in Norway. Aged 17 he got to watch and train with other amazing professional dancers in the Norwegian Ballet company. He began training again for competitions and did Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP). The semi-finals were in Brussels where he won the prize and began to get the hang of things, felt like a new person and got a contract with the studio company of American Ballet Theater (ABT). He was about to turn 18 and it was a good transition for him to be with other dancers, having coaching but also performing so gaining experience of the life style. He went back to New York and four months later came the finals of YAGP so he told the studio company he was going to do the competition and not just for stage time but he was now more competitive and thought he could prove something. ABT didn’t like the idea but he insisted and luckily a coach in the studio company, Carlos Lopez, helped and coached him after hours from 8 pm and so he represented himself rather than the company but when he won the Grand Prix he was suddenly back in with ABT and was immediately offered a contract with the company! It’s a dream to join such a company with so much history that you never say no to it but when you actually see how things work (training classes weren’t obligatory) and look at it as a dancer, you see the ranks at the bottom never make it to the top as the leading dancers all come from elsewhere. There were so many past YAGP winners who were still in the corps when they were promised they would be stars. Cesar was afraid of having the potential but being stuck there with no chance to succeed so in came his Mum and said she’d play the possessive mother for him. She went to meet Kevin McKenzie, the director, and was in tears saying she was crazy but didn’t want to let her son go as he was too young and needed to stay with her, and there could be drug problems etc. They just thought poor Cesar had a mad mum but it was a good decision. Then came English National Ballet (ENB).  It’s not good to have no offers but it is also very challenging to have at lot, make a choice but not burn bridges. If you don’t accept an offer at first, you don’t get a second chance. ENB had something he needed at the time which other companies didn’t have and also they were in London and close to Europe. Tamara Rojo had just become director in 2012 and was known for taking young talent, pushing them and giving them opportunities. At the time (2014) there were amazing dancers who he looked up to and gave him healthy competition when you needed that energy to encourage you to do more in class. Coaching was most important for him and Loipa Araújo and later Irek Mukhamedov were there so ENB ticked all the boxes - amazing coaches, good training, and opportunities to get on stage even if only in Milton Keynes because experience is everything. Cesar recounted an amusing tale of his first trip to London to join ENB.  He had an American debit card but no cash, so when he got to the airport and tried to buy a Gatwick Express train ticket it wouldn’t accept the card. The only way of getting to London was by black cab so he was driven to Jay Mews with all his suitcases, told Reception he was coming to join the company but had taken a black cab from Gatwick and would they pay. At nearly £200 they weren’t too delighted!  Speaking of the training, Loipa is everything in Cuba, known as one of the ‘four jewels of Cuban ballet’ along with Aurora Bosch, Josefina Méndez and Mirta Plá. She had trained his parents so they knew the way she worked and she has an incredible eye. As a young boy with loads of energy wanting to do everything, she was the best person to have around as she knew what he needed to balance his attitude and have a more calculated approach when not everything comes from the heart but also how important is the correct angle to how a dancer expresses with the eyes for the audience. Irek was a father figure and someone who Cesar could go to so was more than just a coach and almost like a best friend. Irek’s attention was always on certain people and Cesar was lucky to be one of those. As an 18 year old, he learnt about Irek’s amazing partnering and the experience of performing on stage which is very different from the studio. Cesar performed Diana and Acteon for the Emerging Dancer and Loipa and Irek were both in the studio together creating one of the craziest versions which was so funny as they kept challenging him to do more and more.

    Highlight performances at ENB. Cesar said every performance was extremely important and it was hard to pick out any one in particular but the Russian dance in Nutcrackerwas his first and so perhaps the most special. The pas de trois in Swan Lakewas also important, and not everyone gets to do Corsaire with their boss, with the responsibility of lifting Tamara! He went to Paris Opera and performed Corsairewith the company, and from Akram Khan’s Giselle he learnt so much, even if it killed his body. He also did Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet, dancing Mercutio at the age of 19, and feeding off other dancers. During his final weeks with the company he performed Roland Petit’s Jeune Homme.It’s one of the best ballets for a guy with its music and passion but it was too emotional for him coming back from major injury and operations on his knee so he wasn’t in such a happy place but it was important to have a good show so he worked at the role to show what he was about.

    He then transferred to the Royal Ballet. Once you’re in the ballet world you get to know the companies, and especially in Europe the place to be is the Royal and, although at the age of 18 with ENB and having a great time he didn’t focus on it, still it was at the back of his mind as an aspiration. He was very fortunate to be offered a contract even though he had to go down a rank but that was fine as he’d been injured and at 23 he thought it was amazing.  He joined the Company in 2018 but feels the highlights are still to come, although he’s done performances which have been important. One was La Bayadere with Marianela Nunez and Natalia Osipova, and working on it with Natalia Makarova was a highlight and it went well. He was still injured for some time after he joined, but coming back he did Manon and Romeo and Juliet and Giselle which was massive. Then came Coppelia and he was preparing to do Swan Lake when the pandemic struck and they lost 18 months of performances. Beginning this season he’s getting back to the real Cesar and can focus on it properly although he still feels very new. He’s done predominantly classical roles but also did Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo, and the Morgen pas de deux by Wayne McGregor.  Cesar has a love/hate relationship with contemporary work. It’s really hard on a classical dancer’s body and the opposite to what you want to do. You need to be able to do it all but it becomes dangerous if today it’s Solo Echo and next week Swan Lake. With Akram Khan they had three months’ preparation so there was time to focus and he felt like a contemporary dancer, gave it his whole body and then recovered to do the classics. He loves turning into a contemporary animal and with Akram he found it within himself. With Crystal her way of choreographing is similar to Akram who would say ‘stand still and then drop without moving’. Cesar thought how can you do that but Akram demonstrated it himself. It looks as if you’re out of control but there is a technique. So, they did Solo Echo and the Tchaikovsky pas de deux immediately after but he’s finding it difficult to do contemporary and classical work together. Now he wants to concentrate on the proper classics and at the age of 25 he feels at his best to execute those works. He can always return to contemporary dance later.

    David thanked Cesar very much for coming and said it was a great pleasure to interview him who, despite being born in Mexico, was still very Cuban.

    Report written by Liz Bouttell and edited by Cesar Corrales and David Bain.

    © The Ballet Association 2022