This year’s Genée International Ballet Competition took place in Antwerp, Belgium at the end of September. The prestigious competition, named after the Royal Academy of Dance’s first president Dame Adeline Genée, is open to young dancers from around the globe trained in the RAD syllabus, and this edition attracted 59 candidates from over ten different countries. Antwerp was the first Northern European city outside the UK to host the event, and the Royal Ballet of Flanders was the official hosting partner, with Ricardo Amarante, soloist of the company and once a Genée candidate himself, the commissioned choreographer.
Ricardo seems to have come full circle. This Brazilian dancer entered the competition in 1998, and 17 years later, he now returns as a choreographer. He provided two solos for the competition’s finalists: Beyond This for the male dancers, and Between the Lines for the female contestants. We caught up with him after the finals to ask about his training, his experience as a Genée competitor and these works.
TBB: As a young boy growing up in a small village in Brazil, how did you get into ballet?
RA: I started dancing ballet quite late, when I was 13 years old. I had some friends who were practising it, and when I watched their performances I became interested. It was not just performance itself that made me enthusiastic about this art form, it was mainly the audience and the applause that impressed me. The village I grew up in was really small, but it had a few amateur dance schools. I believe that talent can be found anywhere, no matter how big, small, rich or poor the place is. A great example of this is my teacher Nathalia Barbara, who really brought out the best in her students. I joined her RAD elementary class as one of two boys.
TBB: Is RAD a commonly used method of teaching in Brazil?
RA: Yes, because we don’t have major ballet academies like they have in London or Paris. Joining a RAD school is a great alternative, because it produces strong and clean dancers. Many of the Brazilian RAD-trained students I knew moved on to be professional dancers. Thank god it came onto my path, because I really owe my career to it.
TBB: How did you cope with the RAD training and exams?
RA: They were the basis of my training. They taught me a strong and clean technique with a great sense of musicality and style. After joining my first class I had one year to prepare for the elementary exam. It was hard work, but it was amazing to see how fast everyone was progressing. Shortly before the exam, my teacher decided I was not ready yet. After all the hard work this was quite a disappointment, but she was right. So I went through another year of training, and to this day I still have the music from elementary in my head and I know all the exercises by heart… I aimed for honours (in the old system of marking), but got commended instead. This pushed me to work even harder for the next advanced exam. I was too nervous to open the letter with the results myself and asked my younger cousin, who could barely speak any English, to read it for me. Honours it was. Best day of my life!
TBB: This was an important achievement, as you were now eligible to compete at the Genée. What was this experience like?
RA: It was an amazing experience! It was my first time leaving Brazil, and I came to London full of excitement. You learn a lot, work with the best teachers and get to perform in nice theatres. I did not even reach the final, but I still felt so happy and satisfied. I got a scholarship to finish my studies with the English National Ballet School. I also went to Cuba, got a contract at the Paris Opera Ballet, the Jeune Ballet de France, and eventually ended up here at the Royal Ballet of Flanders. All thanks to competing at the Genée.
TBB: What was it like to return to the Genée as a choreographer?
RA: Once again it has proved to be a new beginning for me. I’ve been choreographing for a few years now, but this has given my career a boost. The Genée helped me to start my career as a dancer, and now it has helped me to start my career as a choreographer.
A lot of memories come back now that I’m working with the candidates. I know what they are going through. You’re in a moment of transition in your career from student to professional, and you are hoping for a better future. I feel a special connection with them. I know that they are working hard with me to create a good ballet. It is a privilege to work with so many talented people who are so eager to learn. The support from the audience, the talk I gave at Creative Spaces, the Diamond Dinner and the Queen attending the performance, it all made this experience complete.
TBB: You used your own experiences as a source of inspiration to create the two commissioned pieces. Can you tell us more about this?
RA: Beyond This, the solo I created for the boys, is about the future. What’s going to happen after this competition? It is inspired by my own thoughts and feelings during my time competing at Genée. I told them to dance as big as they could, to reach out and perform with their heart. For the girls, I created Between the Lines, a solo that is really demanding: the first part of the music is really mysterious, while the second part is very rhythmical. This solo is open to different interpretations. I wanted them to show more than just beautiful balletic lines. I wanted to see their personalities shine through.
TBB: As a choreographer, what are you looking for in a dancer?
RA: Of course people always look for the strongest physique and best feet. But for me, the most important things are the clarity of movement, musicality and interpretation. I like dancers with a strong personality who try to give their own interpretation to a work. As for the candidates, my best piece of advice for them was to enjoy it. I believe that when you do, the audience will too!
TBB: How about your plans for the future?
RA: I want to continue dancing with the Royal Ballet of Flanders for a few more years. Here I found a good source to develop my skills as a choreographer. Every season there is a choreographic workshop. My first big work for the company will have its premiere in May. It is part of Flanders Fields, a triple bill in memory of Jeanne Brabants. My work is based on a poem by the military doctor and poet John McCrae. For this piece, I will work with Sayo Kosugi, who also composed the music for the Genée commissioned pieces.