Leonore Annenberg Scholarship, Fellowship, and School Funds

Q & A with Calvin Royal III

Calvin Royal III, corps de ballet member at the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), was awarded the Leonore Annenberg Arts Fellowship in 2014. His recent performances include Alexei Ratmansky’s new ballet “Serenade After Plato’s Symposium” and Open World Dance Foundation’s production of “Cinderella,” alongside Misty Copeland, a 2008 Leonore Annenberg fellow and ABT principal dancer. He also appears in a music video for JbDubs (a.k.a. ABT principal dancer James Whiteside) and in ads for Gap’s dance-inspired fitness line “GapFit.”

Question: Could you elaborate briefly on your delightful statement that “dance chose me”?
Answer: Unlike many of my fellow dancers, at four years old I didn’t go to see “Swan Lake” or “The Nutcracker” and have that “Aha!” moment that made me decide to want to get into dance. I started studying ballet my freshman year of high school because I’d been exposed to other styles of dance like West African dance and hip-hop. I really wanted to try something new, so I auditioned for the dance department at my arts high school. Once I was accepted, I discovered it was something I could be challenged in, and after a short time could actually do it, and it became infectious.

Calvin Royal III. Credit: NYC Dance Project.
Calvin Royal III. Credit: NYC Dance Project.

Q: You have been associated with American Ballet Theatre for eight years.  As part of your Leonore Annenberg fellowship, you went to work with new teachers and coaches in the “capitals of classical ballet” – London, Paris, St. Petersburg, and Copenhagen. Why did you feel it was important to experience a culture outside of ABT?
A: It was always a big dream or desire of mine to go and have an experience like the one I had during my fellowship period. I saw it as a huge opportunity to not only visit some of the world’s most incredible cities, but to connect with new people, study, learn, and bring all the treasures and experiences I had in each city back and use them to better myself. I still reference video footage or notes I took while I was away and it inspires me to keep searching, reaching, and developing as a dancer and artist.

Calvin Royal III with Misty Copeland, a 2008 Leonore Annenberg fellow. Credit: Candace M. Stewart.
Calvin Royal III with Misty Copeland, a 2008 Leonore Annenberg fellow. Credit: Candace M. Stewart.

Q: The fellowship also provided you with a number of opportunities for increased visibility.  For example, can you tell us about your connection to the INTENSIO project, your one-on-one coaching with former ABT Principal dancer Ethan Stiefel, and your appearance on the Mariinsky Ballet’s TV network?
A: Daniil Simkin created a project called INTENSIO which he invited me to be a part of last year. His vision was to bring together the favorite dancers he worked with at ABT and his favorite European choreographers to collaborate on an evening of work. His hope for this evening of work was something that was entertaining and challenged dance and multimedia. Being invited to take part in INTENSIO in many ways ran parallel to my vision and desire to collaborate with new companies, dancers, and coaches like Ethan Stiefel. I could learn something from this and other experiences that I’d had, ultimately opening my eyes to a world of possibilities. During my time in St. Petersburg at the Mariinsky Ballet, I was there studying with coach Igor Petrov, but also working on a new creation by Anton Pimonov and partner Kristina Shapran. Mariinsky TV did a profile on the process. I had a chance to express why an experience like this was so important at this point in my career.

Q: In what ways is it helpful for a ballet dancer to work with a dramaturg?  How did you benefit from the chance to work with Byam Stevens and prepare for upcoming shows?
A: Working with Byam Stevens in preparation for my debut in the role of Benvolio in “Romeo and Juliet” was helpful in so many ways. It introduced me to a whole new way to approach learning a key role in a large-scale ballet. The choreography, which drives the story, was something I knew very well, but it’s in what one says in their physicality to express body language that tells the story and makes the difference. I learned this new approach with Byam.

Q: How did your two mentors – an on-site mentor from ABT and a business executive/ABT trustee –  provide you with essential support?
A: Both my mentors, Clinton Luckett and Valentino Carlotti, helped me so much during my fellowship period. I had all of these wild ideas, and both of them helped me bring those ideas into fruition. They have become two forces that I still have very close relationships with and I can go to whenever I am in need of their advice and input on navigating decisions. It’s a blessing to have mentors that I could trust and that believe in my dreams and goals.

Q: What is your best piece of advice for young artists?
A: One piece of advice that I’d give, that I often encourage myself to do, is to learn something new every day and stay true to oneself. Doing this has the power of opening one’s mind, allows creativity to run wild, and provides the confidence to chase after your dreams.