CESAR CORRALES "IN CONVERSATION" WITH LINDA GAINSBURY
17TH FEBRUARY 2021
Opening the meeting, Susan Dalgetty Ezra said the Zoom transmission was being viewed from Canada, the United States and Europe in addition to the UK. She especially welcomed Cesar’s parents, Jesus and Taina who were hoping to be watching.
The conversation was opened with a video clip of Cesar. Linda Gainsbury explained: “we thought the only way to introduce you was to put a piece of your dancing in showing you doing your ‘wow’ stuff so as to get a feel for the kind of ‘oomph’ that you bring to the stage.” As this was the first time Cesar had been interviewed at LBC Linda asked him to explain how with Cuban parents working in Canada he came to be born in Mexico? Cesar said: “My parents are both Cuban, they are both professional ballet dancers and are teachers now. They both worked at the Ballet National de Cuba with many great dancers there. They ended up leaving Cuba and dancing in many places. At the time, in 1996 when I was born, they were dancing in Mexico City.” He continued: “A couple of years later my parents first got to Canada. They had a career in Winnipeg and I grew up in many places in Canada. I went from Winnipeg to Montreal travelling with my parents and my mum throughout her teaching career.” “Your first language was Spanish but you were speaking English from quite an early age?” asked Linda. Cesar confirmed that this was so. At home and with family and friends they spoke Spanish but he spoke English when going to school in Winnipeg “… and when I was living in Montreal I even learned a little bit of French. I was pretty good at French but when I travelled to Toronto I lost it.”
Linda asked if it was the case that his professional stage debut was aged four as the child of Anna Karenina? “Yes, that’s correct,” said Cesar. “ That was my very first time on stage. It was a special moment because it was with Evelyn Hart, who’s a big figure in Canada. She was my ‘dance partner’ at the time.” Prior to that event he would love to imitate his parents although, he admitted, he had no idea what he was doing, or if it was called ballet. “I can see the videos from when I was a year old, just dancing, just improvising steps. I think it was the first thing I did before learning to walk. My parents would always bring me to the theatre because they were both working, just as you see now with some couples at the Opera House. I feel I was a very observant kid. I wasn’t distracted. When I would see something I loved to imitate it.” Being in the studio imitating and then at home making up his own choreography; this was his playtime. Or he would put on a video of Carlos Acosta or the other big names of the time and copy what they were doing.
Linda said: “I don’t think you went to ballet school as such until you were about 11? Cesar confirmed that was the case. “I was doing so much dancing at home, there was really no point in taking me into a ballet school or starting me that early because I was already so involved.” But, he added, his mother did take him to play sports – in particular he loved football. Then at the age of eight he started doing gymnastics and this imbued in him a sense of discipline while starting to build up his body. “With discipline everything else comes along. I was eight, nine, ten, and then eventually by the age of 11 or 12 my mum said to me ‘ This is the age.’ She never forced anything on me. She said: ‘ If you do want to pursue a career as a ballet dancer, then this is the time when you need to start taking it seriously,’ and at that time I just thought ‘Oh, that’s fine. I’ll just keep on improvising. I had no clue about having to be at a barre and having to do first position, second position. I was already doing double tours because I had skipped all these elements. It was the time my mum said: ‘This is the time you have to decide. ‘ She always told me that ballet wasn’t an easy career. It wasn’t a place to become super famous, to become super rich. I had to truly love it to be able to be successful in ballet because there are a lot of heartbreaks, there are a lot of things you have to go through to get where you want to get.” “It sounds,” said Linda, “like a mix of what was happening in the ballet school and also still doing more adventurous things with your parents. So there was double teaching going on.” Cesar said that, at first, his mother did not want to teach him. She wanted him to go away to ballet school and initially they had about two weeks to prepare a video to send off to the National Ballet School of Canada. “And it’s quite funny seeing those videos, it’s me improvising doing double tours, or manèges, things they teach you when you’re much older,” he said. The videos were sent off saying he had zero ballet skills, having not been at a ballet school, but he was accepted nevertheless.
“So that was when I was sent off to Canada’s National Ballet School. Going away was really the hardest thing I can remember at that time because I was so attached to my family … I was the type of kid that was super happy being with his mother and his father. They were also my best friends in a way.” But, despite hating living away from them at the time, he now admits it was the best lesson for him. “So that was the first time I did ballet when I joined Canada’s National Ballet School,” he said. Linda then moved on to Cesar’s involvement in the musical Billy Elliot. “Your personal story isn’t in the least like Billy Elliot and yet somehow you became Billy in Toronto and Chicago,” she said. Cesar explained: “I was at Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto and I was about 12 years old and at the time Billy Elliot in New York was quite a big thing. My mum just randomly had this idea of having me go through an audition that was actually happening in Toronto. I have to say quite a few kids went from the school to those auditions so it was really a small idea without having big hopes. “My mum, which I’m so grateful for, she taught me that experience is everything. So even, if it was about doing an audition and being kicked out of the door in the first one, it was fine. At that time, all I had in my pocket was ballet and gymnastics. There were all these other things like singing and tap dancing, acting, having to speak in a Geordie accent. There were so many things that I was missing so there were no hopes really.” But, against the odds, the next thing Cesar knew was that he was progressing through the rankings. “I’m going up and up, getting closer and closer to becoming a Billy in Chicago, which was surreal at the time.” His mother then worked hard to get him to the final audition in New York City. He had a Mexican passport at the time and his parents had Cuban ones which made it extremely difficult to obtain visas within four to six months to travel to New York. So the decision was taken to get Cesar there on his own. “My mum had sleepless nights just on the computer trying to book an appointment for a visa from someone who had cancelled it. Just up all night. We have so many funny stories of me just waking up in the middle of the night, having to get a visa photo to send off really quickly. We went through quite a lot but I eventually got to New York. It was my first time getting on a plane by myself. Meeting someone that my parents knew. Going through that final audition by myself. Again being just in the moment and not having massive hopes. The next thing you know is that all the hard work and everything my mum went through paid off and I got the role of Billy.” Linda asked if he was part of a rota system with other boys playing the part? Cesar said this was the case. “At the time it was supposed to be a touring company. It would be national, so Chicago first and eventually we ended up in Toronto. But at first the whole process of becoming Billy was extremely difficult because once you got the part you went through five months of Billy training, teaching you the whole musical. And this was three hours on stage as a 12-year-old. You had to sing, tap, do ballet. All these things mixed in together. It was one of the hardest things. If you tell me that now as a professional ballet dancer, that would be the equivalent of doing something like Mayerling; how tired, how fatigued you’d be.” Cesar went through this entire process in New York, sometimes with his father present, and then with his mother. “Then,” he said, “we ended up in Chicago and the musical brought me so much experience on stage doing this type of role where I could do a variation, doing manèges, doing what a 20-year-old would be doing, what a principal dancer would be doing.” The experience encompassed being before an audience, living with the pressure, learning to sing, tap dance, all of which benefitted him in the long term. And he added: “ My mum was my mentor and she was the one that kept me on the right track because you get the role, there’s all this press and media all the time throughout the day and you forget the basis of your ballet training, your warm-up. My mum kept me really grounded and the musical would only provide three ballet classes a week, whereas as a student you would need six days every week just training as a ballet dancer to become a professional.
That was the very first time my mum decided to teach me on those days that were missing. We had this amazing bond where the son and mother thing went away. We were just in the studio working together.” Did you have a studio? Linda wanted to know. Not at first, replied Cesar. Things were very difficult. “There were so many protocols with musicals and movies where you’re not allowed to be doing certain things if they don’t know about it. So first there was me doing class in a hotel room or in a closet. That was where the discipline and just knowing that you really need to keep to your roots and knowing that without the hard work success doesn’t come; that’s where I just learned that lesson.” And in addition to keeping up the training his mother would also say ‘no’ to things that the musical production had planned. “Like taking me to an Elton John show or something very big which anybody would just say ‘yes’ to. She would actually say ‘no, he needs the rest, he needs to train’ and obviously they were baffled.” Then, Cesar’s mother ended up training not just him but also the other boys playing the role of Billy “… because the musical saw the training I was having and I was having success with it. So it went from me being in a closet, in a hotel room, to my mum teaching the other Billys.” Most of the other boys cast as Billy stayed in the musical for about three years, Cesar explained, with the result that they would eventually be dropped. “You were the highest of the high with all this press and you were famous and all of a sudden you’re done and you’re kicked out.” But his was not Cesar’s experience. “I stayed there for about a year and two months – a very short time because my mum said ‘this is enough now. You’ve got the experience, now if you want to become what you want to become – a professional ballet dancer – you need to continue your training."
"At first the idea was to go to Canada’s National Ballet School again but, after spending that year and a half with my mum training, I knew what I wanted and that was being trained by my mother wherever she was.” This meant returning to Montreal where his mother was teaching at the Grands Ballets Canadiens where she arranged with the company director that she would teach the company class as long as she and Cesar could get three hours in the studio. Company class would begin at 10.30 but prior to this Cesar would be taught by his mother one-on-one and this would lead to him eventually joining the company class. At the same time he continued home schooling. Linda asked whether it was he who had this burning desire or was anything imposed from outside? “I don’t think it would be possible, if there’s just the coach having this dream, only the coach pushing. It needs to come from the student as well,” he said. “it was really about me having the desire, the passion, the work ethic and my mum guiding me.” The bond between them ensured that this was the best way forward, making it work even through his early teenage years.
Linda said that age 15 was, of course, when Cesar had been entered into the Prix de Lausanne. [Another video clip followed of part of his performance in that competition where he danced an excerpt from the Alexander Gorsky version of La Fille Mal Gardee.] Watching the video Cesar said that his teacher at the time of the competition was Patrick Armand who had watched his performance and commented “Is there any way you can make that variation harder?” Linda said: “ You were actually quite small here for 15.” He responded: “ Yes, I was a slow grower. I thought I was going to be very, very short. I was very sad about my height as I was always the shortest in class. Mum decided to take me to a doctor because I was getting nervous about my height. They actually had a prediction that I was going to be 5ft 5 inches which is super, super short. Luckily it didn’t turn out that way. I’m 5ft 11 inches. I’m a good size.” Linda mentioned that Cesar had to do two classical solos, a contemporary piece and the judges watched him in class. “Then,” she said, “ you were a prizewinner. Was there a scholarship or an apprenticeship associated with the prize?” she asked. Cesar said yes there was. “The reason why I went to the Prix de Lausanne was to get experience on stage as a ballet dancer. That was the first time,” he said. “There are so many people nowadays that are doing competitions since they’re about ten years old and, by the time they’re doing the Prix, they are so experienced doing competitions and doing all sorts of variations; but that was my very first classical variation, and in tights! Billy was in pants and that was different.” He had not entered the Prix with the thought of actually winning anything. It had just been about being there and his mother using the occasion to present him to the eyes of other ballet schools and directors but in the end he won a scholarship. “At the time it was going to be to San Francisco Ballet. It was going to be to the junior company that they have. So I was very, very close to going there except, at the last second, I thought to myself, ‘we’ve come all this way with this type of training that I’m having and I’m having so much success in terms of how much I’m growing and there’s no-one like my mother who wants the best for me.’ I thought to myself that what I really wanted to do was to stay with my mum, training and keep working hard with her. That was a very hard choice. It wasn’t easy because obviously Prix de Lausanne weren’t too happy about it. There were some issues with that but, again, for me it was about really working hard and having that connection with my mum. I felt that there was nothing better than that at the time.”
Linda then asked when his time with the American Ballet Theatre featured as he had spent some months there? Cesar said that he and his mum travelled a lot. She began teaching in Norway so, by the age of 18, Cesar was living in Oslo while his mother taught at the Opera House there. It was then that he started preparing to take part in the Youth America Grand Prix and this turned out to be a great success for him. It was while competing at the Grand Prix that he was spotted by ABT2 and they offered him a contract to join their studio company, which he did. He found himself for the first time part of a professional company where he could learn choreography, in class with other dancers, and having a routine and a schedule with rehearsals and coaching. He described it as a perfect transition from being taught by his mother to becoming part of a company. Linda said: “I saw you dance, perhaps ahead of most people in this country, because David Makhateli invited you to dance in a little gala in Brussels and that happened in March 2014 and you were still quite small. I can’t remember what you danced, but it was typical Cesar because you absolutely hit the stage and we thought ’wow!’ We said at the time ‘you have to come to London.’ Was that before you went to ABT?” Cesar said he was with the studio company at that time and that was his very first gala. “I was so excited,” he explained. “ I remember Vadim was dancing, Natalia Osipova was dancing. Matthew Golding was performing. For me they were massive, massive stars. I was very much excited. I was 17 but I didn’t look like an 17-year-old. I probably looked more like a 16-year-old because I was a slow grower. I remember that like it was yesterday. It is incredible how time flies. That was my very first gala before coming to London.”
Linda and Cesar then discussed how it was that he came to join English National Ballet. He had been competing in the Youth America Grand Prix, came to the notice of ABT2 and stayed with them for about 6 months. At the time the company was not keen on his going on to compete in the finals but Cesar and his mother took the view that he should finish what he had begun with the Youth America Grand Prix, so he went on to compete and won the Grand Prix award which, in his words, “caught the eyes of many companies.” Linda said: “ Don’t undersell yourself because you not only won the Grand Prix, you got the Artistry Award as well.” Cesar agreed that that was also the case, adding: “All of a sudden ABT offered me a contract to join the company. I had many, many offers which was a good problem to have because you don’t want to burn any bridges. It was a really good thing but it was also a problem because, at the same time, you don’t want to disrespect anybody. You need to be careful how you say ‘no’ to something, especially in the ballet world.” His mother helped him choose. The decision was not to go for the biggest and most famous company where he would just end up at the back waiting and waiting. It was about finding the place where he could keep up his training with good coaches and at the same time have good direction and a chance to perform roles on stage. “There can be a big dip in a dancer’s career, going from school to a company, from training all day long to just doing one ballet class a day where you are at the back of the studio because you’re shy and because the principals are in the front and all you do is stand in the rehearsal for six hours and just hold something at the back and your training just slows down.”
“One of the things that’s really unusual about your career,” commented Linda, “ is that you weren’t ever standing at the back carrying a spear. Almost straight away you were dancing Ali and other roles in Le Corsaire. Did you come in as a junior soloist at ENB?” “I actually came in as an artist,” said Cesar, “when we decided to join English National Ballet. There was so much good coaching going on. Loipa Araújo was there. Tamara Rojo was there ... Tamara was amazing with guys and eventually Irek Mukhamedov came who is one of my favourite coaches. What happened there was I had great coaching and Tamara gave me opportunities to be on stage with big roles and she would push for it.” “Do you remember what your first big role was?” Linda wanted to know. “I believe it was in a ballet by John Neumeier and it was the very first time I partnered Alina Cojocaru,” Cesar replied. “It was a soloist role I had alongside Isaac Hernandez and I was only just an artist and I remember when they told me ‘oh, by the way, you’re going to be partnering Alina and Tamara’ I thought ‘oh my god! She’s my boss and such a big star.’ But that’s something that Tamara did and did it on purpose because it was her giving you experience and giving you the opportunity to seize the moment. But I think the very first thing I did – I remember around Nutcracker time – was doing the Russian dance. That was a soloist role and I had just joined the company and this was a big thing for me and from there on I went from doing the Russian dance to doing the pas de trois in Swan Lake which again was a big deal. Tamara put me on on the opening night. I’m very grateful to her. A lot of this wouldn’t be possible without her being such a good director. From the beginning I had many opportunities to seize the moment on stage and I really think that Le Corsaire was the moment that really pushed me through the rankings. I was actually being promoted each year.”
Linda suggested that, although he spoke about having a big opportunity partnering Alina or Tamara, one of the things that characterised Cesar’s time at ENB was that he danced solo roles. An example was Birbanto in Le Corsaire. His performance had been larger than life but he had not actually been partnering anyone, but was rather a lone pirate. Then there was Mercutio in Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet. [Here, a video clip was played of Cesar both rehearsing and performing the role.] “This was my first time really doing an acting role,” said Cesar. “I learned so much from great coaches and from people who came from Paris Opera to set the ballet. It was a level up in my dancing. It was not just about the technique and how high I jump but really going through the storyline.” Linda noted that roles such as Birbanto, Mercutio and Hilarion in Khan’s Giselle were all solo roles where Cesar could make a big impact without having to do the more classical partnering. He also did Nephew/Prince in Nutcracker and Albrecht in Giselle, not to mention Franz in Coppelia. He also danced in Forsythe’s In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated so, she said, his ENB career was mostly marked by being a solo dancer. Cesar agreed. “It also has to do with being a young soloist at the time. I was about 19 years old and, again, it’s great thinking by Tamara. You don’t want to jump into things that you don’t really fit. You need to have a type of character.” He went on: “In Akram Khan’s Giselle being Hilarion fitted me very well and she pushed for me although I could probably also have done Albrecht.” “I remember coming to watch ENB dance Corsaire at the Paris Opera and your Birbanto was so forceful and so ‘bad’ it felt as though you were dancing half way up the stalls. I felt I wouldn’t want to be on stage with you because you were so forceful. said Linda, who then asked Cesar to talk about creating the role of Hilarion for Khan’s Giselle.
“Ever since the idea was brought to the company of Akram working with us,” explained Cesar, “my eye was on Hilarion, the way Akram would speak about Hilarion. Akram is one of my favourite choreographers and one of my favourite people to work with. I feel his intelligence in the way he brings things forward and the way he moves and the way he mixes with you to create something. It’s just on another level. He brought us to see one of his performances with his own company, Until the Lions. And that was the first time I said ‘Ok, I see what this is’ and I loved this type of work. I love the classical and all that but I love this heavy work on the floor and really digging into everything. He continued: “The way he would speak about Hilarion – not many choreographers do this – the way he would demonstrate a move and do something, it would catch your eye so much, inspire you so much to do it. It wasn’t about ‘let me see what you can do’. It was ‘see this and mould this and change it and make it something yours.’” Khan did not know at that time who he would pick for which roles. It was just working with all the boys together. But slowly he would give Cesar the opportunity to add his own ideas and translate the work into something different. “I remember it was a tough couple of months. I had bruises all over my elbow and knees,” recalled Cesar. “We were really bruised up because we gave so much into creating this role.” The whole process was unlike anything he had experienced before. It was the first time he had worked in such a way to create a new ballet. “It’s something I will never forget,” he said. Linda wanted to know how much freedom Cesar had been given? “I saw you dance that role a lot and I didn’t think I saw you do it the same at all. Each time I saw you he was slightly different, some of the moves were slightly different and sometimes you would jump from a ridiculous height from that wall to the ground, but on another occasion you’d be more cautious,” she said. “Did he allow you freedom to interpret once he’d really bedded in the role with you?” “Yes,” said Cesar. “He would come in with a base, with an idea in his head of a certain move. Already I loved that idea and it would have been quite easy to just copy or learn it the way it was but then he would have such an incredible eye, he’d see something random, something that you didn’t even know that you did and it was ‘that right there is what I want with my choreography’ and he would allow you to make it yours in a way. “A perfect example of this was in the beginning the idea was to make Hilarion sort of like a fox but we ended up making him more like a wolf. He ended up being this thing that was unstoppable. So, every show, which is something I didn’t experience with any ballet, I could make it a different role, not only the moves but the way I would look at Alina one night. I would probably look at Tamara another way and Albrecht, I would do one thing with him, and another night I would change it. I did that role a lot of times and I never felt, ‘oh, here we go again, another day.’ I felt it was like a new role for me every time.” “It’s really interesting what you’ve just said,” Linda responded, “ because, I wasn’t going to put words in your mouth but I think you were different depending on who Albrecht and who Giselle was. The way you interpreted that role was partly in reaction to what they were giving on stage.” Cesar said that different people had different energies and this was especially true in the fight scene with Albrecht. “I would not give the same look that I would do with James (Streeter) to Isaac (Hernandez) because there’s another energy going on. That was the thing that made this ballet so unique. So that’s why I would give James another look or another tap and make him a bit more upset or angry and another day with Isaac I would let him get more angry depending on the mood you’re in and what you’ve been going through. That’s why this ballet is so special and so real, not only to us but also to the audience.” Linda said Cesar had many different demands on his body at the time because there were performances of Khan’s Giselle going on while he was also dancing the Forsythe and probably rehearsing the Nutcracker. “Suddenly your body was having quite conflicting demands made on it because the rep. was including so many different styles of dance.” Cesar confided the effect that dancing Hilarion was having on his body. “I would finish a show, I would go home and put five ice packs on knees, my elbows, my back because the way that that role requires you to perform. You have to go full out on your body. It would hurt a lot and it would do the opposite to what a ballet dancer would be which is long, light, up on your feet and gentle. It’s the complete opposite and this was the first time I had experienced going from crazy contemporary to having to switch to being a prince in Nutcracker with Alina which was the first time with her in a tutu.” He added: “ I would go into the studio and have Alina as this partner who was so different to everybody else, how she communicated the ideas that she brought. I learnt a lot from Alina and from the way that she worked. I was living in dreamland at the time. I was working with these two wonderful people. I was a sponge just taking it all in.” “But you also did Albrecht in the beautiful Mary Skeaping version of Giselle,” said Linda. Somebody (in the Zoom audience) wants to know how you prepared for that?” “This was another time when Tamara wanted to put me on the spot to gain experience,” he replied. “Even if I was quite young to be Albrecht, I needed to have experience and be on stage to feel what it was like to do a variation with these other scenes where I get upset.” He said he was grateful that, at the time, his coach for the role of Albrecht was Irek (Mukhamedov), “… because Irek has done it all and when he’s there he knows what it’s like at that exact moment when you’re extremely tired and how you need to learn not to just go full out from the beginning because you just have to make it to the end. He is so smart in how he coached me and how he let me do the role.” Linda added: “Because there’s a bit in Act II where Albrecht does virtually dance to exhaustion. But it’s very easy to run out of steam before the variation ends.” Cesar agreed that it was very hard to contain one’s emotions but also having to release them. He then spoke about his own approach to entering the stage on his first performance in the role. “Normally Albrechts do the entrechats six, but not in that version, so I had never rehearsed them . But I just love those ‘sixes’ so much that I said to myself ‘I have to do this tonight.’, which is a most dangerous thing, which is something you should not do at all. I never prepared for it. People work for those famous entrechats for weeks and weeks to get the stamina for it. I decided to run in, get into the centre and everyone is looking ‘What is he doing, what is about to happen’ and I could imagine Irek saying to me ‘oh my god, what has he done?’” Linda said: “I saw you do that, that was a bit naughty but you brought it off, didn’t you?” “Luckily I pulled it off,” Cesar agreed. “I just managed to get to the end without literally having a heart attack but they were quite impressed. No-one was super angry or anything. But they told me ‘you could have hurt yourself pretty badly, especially when you don’t practice it. Your body needs to have the stamina for it.’”
In addition to Irek, Cesar also benefitted from having Loipa (Araujo) as a coach at the ENB, Linda noted. Cesar said they were sometimes in the studio together and this was the kind of studio work that later on helped his career. Linda asked whether he toured a lot while at ENB? “Yes”, said Cesar, which for him was not a problem. As a young dancer it was what one wanted to do. “Obviously for those people who have been in the company for 15 years-plus it was ‘here we go again with touring’ but it was quite fun at the time.” Linda pointed out that he had won the Emerging Dancer Award and the Audience Award in the same year at ENB and he was promoted to Principal the following year. Then, a few months later, it was announced that he was to join the Royal Ballet. “And I think you had a bit of injury that year because we only saw you in Le Jeune Homme et La Mort.” He admitted that this had been a tough time because this was his first serious injury. Was it, Linda asked “jumping off that wall?” Probably a mix of different things, Cesar replied. “It was really about having an injury and not taking care of it properly. This led to it becoming a big thing and a long term thing. I just wanted to get back out there. I was dancing with a broken foot when I was doing Akram Khan’s Giselle for a while and it wasn’t until I had a physio tell me ‘this is very serious’ I needed to rest properly and even then I came back way too early for it.” He returned for Le Jeune Homme et La Mort. “I was trying to fight for my life to do it. To be able to be back on stage but my physicality just wasn’t there yet. After going through two major injuries – one on my knee and one on my foot. I feel that things sometimes happen for a reason. It was a time for me to take care of my body and to strengthen my body as well.”
He then shared a funny story of what occurred on the first night of Khan’s Giselle. “After having all of these rehearsals, all this ballet with all these changes all the time, finally it’s the day of the opening night. We’ve done our warm-up. We are about one and a half hours from opening and I remember Akram Khan coming up to me and he’s like ‘Cesar, in this section right here, I want you to forget all of that. I’ve taken it out. You’re actually going to come in and you’re going to improvise the entire time.’ It was opening night and all these things to think about, the pressure, everything going on. You need to improvise now during this entire section. I just remember having this cold sweat. Luckily, it was fine but it was like having a heart attack.”
Back to the Royal Ballet and Linda said that those who saw him perform in Le Jeune Homme et La Mort loved it but guessed that he might be having a tough time with injuries. He also soon appeared as the First Hungarian Officer (in Mayerling) so again avoided a role that involved just standing around. “You joined as a First Soloist but at the same time you were rehearsing La Bayadere and Nikiya was Natalia Osipova and Gamzatti was Marianela Nuñez. That’s quite a big ask for someone who’s just joined the Royal Ballet!” Cesar said he recalled when he first found out about the casting for that production “… that it was going to be these two massive stars dancing with me. The role of Solor is a role that you always want to do as a guy. It was the first time I was going to do it and it’s exactly the kind of ballet that I love.” He was delighted to work with so many different people, including Natalia Markarova who came in to coach. “It’s kind of surreal,” he said. “I was in this amazing world. At the same time I was dealing with my foot injury that had stayed since ENB because I had been coming back too fast. Had I just stopped it would have been gone a long time ago but it came back during the rehearsal period of Bayadere so I remember just having to wrap up my foot every day literally in tape. I barely could move it and I was just rehearsing and trying to forget about that, just trying to enjoy the moment and also trying to please Marianela and Natalia because these opportunities come along and you don’t want to mess it up. You don’t know if that could be your last time. You don’t want to let people down, to let your Director down.” Despite the injury and the pressure the first performance went off very well. “I had a great show; Marianela was very happy, Natalia was also happy. It was amazing to get to work with them in the studio. Unfortunately, it was my last show; I couldn’t do my second one. I remember doing my last jump and being like ‘ok, that’s a wrap. My foot now is officially done.’ From here I was going to go to the hospital to have surgery.” Linda recalled: “At the end of that show the look on your face was one of almost bliss. The huge pleasure of having done it but I don’t think we realised when we were watching you that you were actually saying to yourself ‘I’ve made this one but I can’t do any more.” Cesar said: “ I think I was the only person at the time who knew that this was going to be the last time, the last performance for a while. But it was just a relief from so many different things; the partnering went well, my variation went well, everything went well, and Kevin (O’Hare) coming up to me and officially saying to me, ‘This is the moment we’ve been talking about.’ It was like a dream come true in a way.”
Linda said that, by that point, Cesar had done a lot of classical partnering, dancing with Tamara, Alina, Natalia and Marianela. There were to be other opportunities to partner Francesca Hayward (Frankie) but these had not yet materialised because of the pandemic. Cesar laughed. “It’s all been down to injuries or pandemic,” he agreed. But, Linda continued, he had managed to come back from injury to do a Romeo and Juliet with Frankie. Cesar said this was one of the hardest male lead roles. “MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet just gives me the shivers and at the time I was coming back to a studio and rehearsals after such a long time and Frankie was coming back from doing a movie so we were both quite slow and quite patient but there was a connection and with the choreography I just fell in love with this Romeo, specifically.” Linda said that, compared with Romeo, the role of Juliet was quite light. The heavy work falls to Romeo and here was Cesar just back from injury. “The sequence in Act I ends up with really challenging dancing in that pas de deux and that is quite a strain for anybody.” Cesar admitted that returning from injury he was thinking ‘will this be possible? What if something went wrong again?’ “Mentally I got myself revved up, not to be scared anymore… Again, people were telling me this is one of the hardest things that a guy can do technically and just role-wise because it’s so exhausting. So I really had to just go in there and pace myself. Take it step by step and not be scared. But I think that, with the support I had from my colleagues, from the coaches and from Frankie, it was fine.” The following autumn, said Linda, there was Manon and the basically solo role of Lescaut, except for the famous pas de deux which was with Mayara Magri. “That was a really fun role,” said Cesar. “I think it was the most fun I’ve had on stage. I think this was the first time I really let go in a way, along with Mercutio obviously, and with Mayara, who also has that Latino feel, we just had a great time.” “You carried on dancing with Mayara doing Franz in a different version of Coppelia. You’ve done Franz in the Ronald Hynd version of Coppelia with ENB and now it was the Ninette de Valois version,” said Linda who then introduced a video clip of Cesar rehearsing the role of Franz for the Royal Ballet production and being coached by Leanne Benjamin. Cesar said he had not had an opportunity to be in the studio dancing that version of the solo before being called to rehearse for the Live Relay and had actually learnt the variation with his mobile phone.
Continuing the theme that he often danced solos, Linda said he was also in Raymonda but, for once, he was one of the four men “who dance the fiendish pas de quatre and that must have been a new experience for you because you were almost dancing as a corps member, having to do the same as three other people.” How was it, she asked? “It was fun,” Cesar replied, adding that he was also rehearsing Jean de Brienne with Sarah Lamb. “Someone got injured and she needed someone to do a rehearsal on stage with a whole company. So I was there as the main man. I had already learnt the pas de quatre but the main man does quite a few parts that are different and I remember Sarah Lamb saying to me ‘do you think you can fill in for someone and just partner me?’ I was like ‘I haven’t seen this role, I don’t know it’ so, again, I got my phone out, I just started really to study it and it was the very first time partnering her and the next day I got on stage and it was great fun.” The company was very supportive of him, clapping and cheering and, afterwards, Sarah invited him to perform Le Corsaire with her which, in turn, led to another partnership. Linda said she had mentioned the pas de quatre because in it Cesar was having to turn the ‘wrong’ way. “Yes,” he admitted, “ I’m a left turner but that’s what happens with left turners. All the choreography is to the right so when it comes down to doing something like that with the four boys everything is going to be to the right, the turns, the double tours, but it’s something that my dad had the same issue with. He told me from a young age to just be ready. That’s why me and my mum worked to do everything to the right because both sides would improve the other.”
Linda then posed some questions the Zoom audience had posted during the Conversation. One wanted to know which roles he would like to dance. Cesar didn’t hesitate. He named Mayerling and Spartacus. Someone wanted to know if he had been back to perform in Cuba? He said not yet but he intended to get there. He was clearly a fan of Wayne MacGregor, having recently danced a pas de deux of his in a live streaming from the Royal Ballet. Were there other choreographers that he had created original work with? Cesar said he looked forward to working with many choreographers in future and that included Wayne again and also Akram Khan. Linda said that, after the Royal’s production of Sleeping Beauty, things had gone haywire. “You weren’t able to be in The Cellist and you didn’t have your Swan Lakes and it’s a bit of a year of ‘didn’t have’ because of the pandemic.” “The thing that struck me,” she said, “ when you were talking about being with your mum, particularly when you were being Billy and you were taking any space you could, I thought ‘this guy’s had practice for the pandemic’.” Cesar agreed. “Exactly, it was nothing for me to do class in my kitchen. It was really ‘I’ve been here before and I’ve been in worse conditions.’ That’s what experience is there for. I was able to keep going. It was obviously hard but it was no problem.”
Linda said: “And now you’re back. We’ve all got our fingers crossed that there’s going to be some kind of return even to a socially distanced theatre.” She and Cesar agreed that it would be wonderful if this were possible. Winding up the interview she said: “You have such a lot of your career ahead of you, four or five years on you’re going to have to come back and talk to LBC about all your roles, including ones that are on hold at the moment.”
Thanking Cesar, Susan Dalgetty Ezra said the interview had been fascinating and we had got to know “a spectacular young man.” And she added: “I’m very proud to say as a Canadian that I’m so glad that he has in some way represented my country.”
Written by Phillip Cooper and approved by Cesar Corrales and Linda Gainsbury