Openly gay principal dancer wows
Technique and discipline are ballet basics. Premier dancers like Paulo Arrais know that emotional expressiveness is just as essential. The 25 year old out Boston Ballet principal dancer has been honing all three fundamentals since beginning study at the Gustav Ritter Cultural Center in his native Goiania, Brazil at the age of 11. The world-class performer-with credits including varied classic and contemporary works in the United States, Great Britain, France, Norway and other countries- is demonstrating that trio in the company’s newly designed The Nutcracker at the Opera House. Recently Arrais spoke to Bay Windows about his training and experience, upcoming 2013 ballets and his enthusiasm about the Boston Ballet itself.
Arrais is now totally invested in dance but, the dancer admitted, “At first I wanted to be a gymnast.” Early on, he revealed, “I did capoeira, Brazilian martial arts. It was something to kill my energy.” At the same time, he said, “I always liked to sing and dance.” Once he began ballet study, in fact, he realized that “Dance satisfied my artistic side in a way that sports did not.”
A unique opportunity blessed that passion for dance once he reached 15. In 2005 Arrais danced in New York’s Youth American Grand Prix, a competition focused towards scholarship. Performing three solos- two classical and one contemporary, he was rewarded with an offer to join the vaunted Paris Opera Ballet School.
The Paris training—from 2003-to 2005—proved a benchmark for Arrais. “For me,” he observed, “it taught me to be a very disciplined dancer.” Superb training, however, was offset by little time for himself. “I was so focused on school, “he said, “ that I really didn’t get to experience the gay life of Paris. “ That experience would come when he moved to London to finish his studies at the National Ballet School and Royal Ballet School. “I was still focused on dance, but my life was not only that. It was great to be a 17 and 18 year old in London. I had really good close friends in London.”
Arrais also praised Royal Academy of Dance third year main teacher Gary Norman. “He (Norman) focused on how dancers express themselves. I worked much better emotionally in London.” On graduating, Arrais received the London Ballet Circle Award for his achievement, the only male dancer in his class so honored. For the next three years, he danced in Norway, where he worked with choreographer William Forsythe, whose sharply danced “Second Detail” was a standout in Boston Ballet’s pre-“Nutcracker” offering “Fall Program.” In 2009 Arrais danced in Forsythe’s full-length three-act effort “Limbs Theorem.”
Before joining Boston Ballet in 2010, Arrais focused on contemporary fare with Alonzo King Lines Ballet, a touring San Francisco company, and took an eight-month breather from classical ballet. “We (King and Arrais) did lots of collaboration.” With Jason Moran on piano, that collaboration included choreographer King’s own modern version of “Scheherezade.”
Eclectic experience notwithstanding, Arrais is now as happy a dancer as he has ever been. “The repertoire we are doing here (at Boston Ballet) is the best in America-very European, very modern and very New Age,” he maintained. “Growth here (for repertoire and the company) is happening constantly.” Boston Ballet is now Arrais’ dance home. He even choreographed an original piece called “Work in Progress” for fellow dancer soloist Whitney Jensen last summer. Arrais enjoys bringing emotional expressiveness to ther various demands of Boston Ballet’s wide-ranging schedule. “I don’t think I could work in any other company, “ he concluded. “ I am spoiled by the repertoire.”
Dance buffs and newcomers alike will understand why Arrais feels spoiled once they have seen the newly redesigned The Nutcracker. Boston Ballet artistic director Miko Nissinen has streamlined the ballet’s 1835-set Party Scene and taken it back to 1815, often seen as an elegant Jane Austen era. Gifted set and costume designer Robert Perdziola has made the Snow Scene freshly royal and poetic. His radiant costumes for the Nutcracker Prince’s kingdom bring a new vividness to all of the second act dances- most notably the pink- dominated outfits of the “Waltz of the Flowers.” A cloud vehicle the Nutcracker Prince and dreaming Clara proves as satisfying as its air balloon predecessor. Near the start there is also an engaging sequence during which child dancers watch sorcerer-nutcracker maker Drosselmeier in action at his toy workshop.
Alternating casts spread the company’s considerable talents across the The Nutcracker run with the consistency of a rich frosting. At the performance seen by this critic, Chelsea Perry displayed fine grace as Clara , and Santiago Paniagua had striking attitude as her mischievous sibling Fritz. Isaac Akiba displayed arresting form as Harlequin, and Yuri Yanowsky danced with force and flair as Clara’s mentoring escort Drosselmeier. Paulo Arrais achieved good height, fast turns and great syle as the Nutcracker Prince. Ashley Ellis was affecting as Sugar Plum Fairy, and Misa Kuranaga possessed strikingly poetic form as Dew Drop. Kathleen Breen Combes brought her trademark sensuality and Altan Dugaraa high-lift partnering to the standout Arabian sweet.
Embrace the novel design of Nissinen’s Nutcracker. Boston Ballet’s fresh Nutcracker is as sweetly well-danced as ever.
Going forward, Arrais’ upcoming repertoire-beyond the roles of Nutcracker Prince, Snow King and the male partner in the Arabian suite in The Nutcracker will include Wings of Wax in All-Kylian (March 7-17) and Sleeping Beauty (March 22-April 7). As the Prince in the latter, Arrais will partner female principal Lorna Feljo as the title heroine. “I’m very excited about dancing with Lorna in a full-length work,” he said.
The Nutcracker, Boston Ballet, Opera House, Boston, through December 30. 617-695-6955 or bostonballet.org.