Choreography is like an incredible mystery. It is a treasure, hidden within musical notes and the minds eye of a person. It waits for the bodies of dancers to be unlocked and expressed. It has a clear direction as well as an abstract one. The idea is set but malleable. It’s a journey. Stressful and beautiful. Demanding and rewarding. And those who lead these journeys are called Choreographers. Ricardo Amarante is one of these pioneers who has brought to life so many hidden ideas, and has touched audiences with his exciting works.
Ricardo is from Brazil but has spent most of his life abroad training, dancing, and now choreographing.
“I’m from Brazil. From a small city, south of San Paolo, called Pirassununga. I started ballet when I was about twelve years old. I originally started because we had a lot of young people who did ballet. All my friends used to do ballet and some boys were quite famous in the city, keep in mind it was a small city. We always went to watch local shows, and what made me fall in love with it was the public. The public would go crazy, like the performers were stars. They would scream so much. I wanted to have that feeling, to dance and all the public scream for me.”
With his dream clearly laid out before him, Ricardo started to train. He began at a private school. It was a small but very good school. His teachers pushed him to travel to the big cities to compete and to diversify himself in different training methods. Eventually, he received a scholarship to go and join the school in Cuba.
“Every year we would have teachers from the school in Cuba who would come and do a month course with us, and at the end of this course we’d have a performance. I did that, and afterwards the teachers gave me a scholarship to go and complete my studies in Cuba. I was 17. I didn’t have much money, but since everything was paid for, and it was one of the best schools, especially for boys, I went and I did one year there. It was a great experience.”
Brazil overflows with incredible dancers but unfortunately, it doesn’t have many established companies, which often means that most artists need to travel abroad. After Cuba, Ricardo came back and finished his schooling and RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) certification, at which he finished top of the class. His high marks led him to get a spot in the competition, The Genée Awards. There he won a scholarship to the English National Ballet School. After one year there Ricardo moved to Paris and worked at the Paris Opera Ballet until he decided to change to Jeune Ballet de France.
“It was always my dream to go to Jeune Ballet de France. It was a young company that had talents from all over the world. They traveled everywhere, they did good rep. They also had good connections with major companies around the world. Because of that, it was easy to move somewhere else afterward. I loved being in Paris Opera, but it was too big. I thought it would be better if I could get more experience by dancing bigger roles in a smaller company. It was amazing, and after my time at Jeune Ballet de France I went to Belgium, where I stayed for 16 years.”
Sixteen years provides a lot of opportunity for growth and change. Ricardo worked under three different directors during that time and was able to perform many different productions. However, not only did he get to be a part of a large range of repertoire, but he also started to contribute to it!
“When I first came to Belgium I thought, I’m just going to stay, three, four, years. But then if you get some opportunities, you find you don’t want to leave. I started to choreograph in Belgium. The reason why I did my first ballet there was because they had a choreographic workshop that the dancers could take part in. My dream until then, now it has changed, was to be a ballet master. I love coaching dancers. I wanted to coach dancers because I always had good teachers and ballet masters, and I thought, I want to help dancers dance better too. So my goal was to make a ballet that was so well danced because of my coaching them well. And then they would say, ‘look, he can be a ballet master!’ But my ballet turned out to be the favorite of the night! And then I thought, oh, maybe I should be a choreographer.”
After this moment there was no going back. Ricardo started making new works every year. However, this first ballet really has a special place. Since it was made it has been a crowd favorite in many different companies.
“It’s a ballet that to this day is performed all over the world. That first ballet I created for this workshop I brought to Astana Ballet as well. And it is a ballet that everyone loves, it’s danced everywhere, even now, I’m going to set it on two or three other companies. It’s called A Fuego Lento.”
Soon it became clear that Ricardo’s career was slowly shifting gears. As he got more offers he found he needed to take time off of work more regularly to go set productions in other places. This soon lead to not only a complete change of job titles but also location.
“Belgium started to ask me to make some ballets and also I started to go to other companies as well. I started to ask more and more for permission to leave work to go to all these different places to choreograph, and also, I was already 36, something needed to change. Then when I was in Kazakhstan making a ballet, which they loved, they invited me to be apart of their artistic associates, to have my perspective, to help them to develop the company. When I made the ballet for them, I was also really impressed with the company, with the dancers, with the place. And since I was already thinking to stop dancing, and because I was choreographing a lot, I thought, this isn’t an opportunity you get every day; to be able to have a company that you can keep working with is really great.”
When Ricardo said Kazakhstan loved his choreography, he was not exaggerating. After the premiere of his new piece for the Astana Ballet. He had a bit of an intense cinematic moment.
“After the premiere of this ballet that I made for Astana Ballet, they played this ballet on the TV almost every week for two months! They were very used very classical ballets. And it wasn’t that I made a contemporary ballet, it was still very classical/neoclassical, but it moved very freely. They love it! At the premiere reception, it was something like a movie. The director of the other company in Kazakhstan was talking to me telling me how much she loved it. She started to say I should come work with them, and keep in mind she was a famous ballerina from Mariinsky. Then, as I was talking to her two big men came to me and told me to come with them. I was thinking, ‘what is going on?!’ They brought me to a separate room, where the director of the Astana Ballet was sitting with champagne and said, ‘please don’t talk to her. We want you to work with us. You cannot work with her…’ I just said, ok. In the end, it was fun, and I enjoyed my time there a lot.”
Ricardo made over fifteen ballets in his six years there, he toured the world, and helped transform the company into what it is today.
Each of the many pieces Ricardo has made has a unique story, a unique experience, making picking his favorite an impossible task.
“People ask me which is my favorite ballet I’ve made, but I cannot answer it. It’s like a child. I’m my biggest fan. Because all the ballets are like your child. You put so much into it. And you know how much effort was put in from me and from the dancers, and in the end it becomes something beautiful! You love all of them. It’s hard to pick.”
As Ricardo said, every choreography is unique. Both in the outcome and the experience. This is also true in his approach to the choreography and the technical part of a work.
“Every time is different. For example, in this first ballet that I did, I was sleeping and in a dream, I saw the whole ballet in my head, or at least a very clear idea. However, now, after so many years, I almost don’t think about it. Of course, I think about the concept, the costumes, the music, but that’s it, I create in the studio. Because when I start to create a home, or beforehand, I get kind of stuck, and I hate that. My ballets from the last six years have all been created in the moment. I don’t think of a step before. I see how the dancers move, tell them to try certain things, and see what looks good. I think generally the ballets turn out better because the dancers give their input. The more technical side also is different depending on the production. For some ballets, I do everything myself: costumes, lights, etc… for others, I have a costume designer, and sometimes I only do the choreography. It depends. But even when I have a costume designer and light designer, I still do a lot.”
For Ricardo, many aspects of producing a new piece change depending on the ballet. He’s very open to doing things differently every time, but there is one constant, one goal, that has been the backbone of all his projects. Enjoyment.
“My thing is, for the ballet to look good, the dancers that are performing it, have to enjoy it so much. They have to feel that it’s in their body, that they are really dancing it. There are always ballets that you prefer to do and those are generally the ones that feel most natural to you. I always try to make it so that every dancer enjoys what they’re doing. The best thing for me is to go to a ballet and see that everyone is enjoying themselves. If you enjoy dancing, you will be confident, if you will be confident, then the audience going to feel it and they’re going to like it. So for me, choreography happens in the studio with the dancers, I move a little bit, the dancers move, and we create something together.”
So many fall into the trap of “trying to be good enough” desperately hoping that if they try hard enough they will achieve their dreams. But the key to success is simply enjoying what you do.
“There was a time in my life when I was younger, I was always trying to prove to someone else that I deserve to be a soloist, and I always have this thought, ‘I have to be perfect because somebody is watching’. But when you’re thinking like this, you’ll get stuck. I said to myself, ‘you know what, I’m tired of this, I’m just going to enjoy it.’ Dance is supposed to be fun, supposed to be about freedom and about expressing yourself. You cannot do that if you’re trying to express it to someone, especially to the director. You have to enjoy it. As I said, when you enjoy, people enjoy. When I started to think like this, that’s when I start to get promoted. Of course, I always was listening to corrections and advice, but I did it so I felt good. It’s a short career for everyone. Really, if you enjoy the results will be clear.”
This is something you can see not only in Ricardo’s choreography but also in the classes he teaches. He is actively trying to find ways to bring enjoyment and passion into the room.
“It is even the way I teach class. I always try to make it fun. To give new corrections in an enjoyable way. Like this, people get excited. It makes them eager to try the corrections and things just end up working much better.”
It’s no surprise then to hear that the number one thing Ricardo looks for when he’s casting a ballet is personality and confidence.
“Personality. The first thing is personality because when you have a strong personality, even if it’s a fragile personality, you can convey it in your dancing. Doesn’t matter if you dance well or not, you have to believe in what you’re doing. I think this is the first thing I see. Even in class, you can see already who has this fire in their eyes. I want to notice the personality. I like these people who have some kind of freedom and security. Because, even if everything isn’t perfect when you have a confident dancer, you can work with them.”
There are so many stages of choreography, from the studio to the costume designing to the final performance, but for Ricardo, the most enjoyable moment is when he sees the excitement and enjoyment his work brings to dancers.
“Of course, I love to create, I love it when the dancers help me. But for me, the most enjoyable part is when I see that the thing I made, together with the dancers, is enjoyable to them! When I see their excitement to rehearse my piece…it so good, because I achieved what I wanted to, to make the dancers enjoy what they’re doing. And also, the applause of the public, that childhood dream come true. For me, these are the best parts.”