Few things are more exciting to dancers than receiving a promotion in the ranks of a company. While many dancers get the chance to dance soloist or principal roles while still a member of the corps de ballet, actually getting promoted to a higher rank comes with lots of new opportunities, and lots of new responsibility. This fall, New York City Ballet (NYCB) promoted two corps members to soloist – Gilbert Bolden III and Davide Riccardo. Dance Informa caught up with both gentlemen to chat about their journeys, the newfound responsibility, what excites them and what advice they have, and why it’s important to have outside interests besides ballet.
First up, did either of you have any idea this was happening, or was it a total surprise?
Gilbert Bolden III
“Yes and no. I’ve been really fortunate to do a lot of principal roles in my time with the company. I got past a point where I stopped expecting it after every single principal role, because I would like run myself ragged in my head. But it wasn’t until after my second show of Concerto Barocco that I actually felt a shift in my heart and my body, like something’s happening within me.”
“Very similarly, we’ve both gotten to do so many featured roles in the company. But obviously, that doesn’t mean you are going to get promoted. There are so many amazing dancers in the corps who do big, huge principal roles all the time, and it still doesn’t happen for them. But with a promotion, you start to feel a different sense of duty.”
That’s super interesting. Can you talk a little more about how that sense of duty (before or after promotion), changed your approach to the roles you were being given?
“I wasn’t doing the principal roles that I was given to get promoted very often. You get a big role, and you’re like, ‘Okay, this is it. I’m going to show them I can be a soloist.’ I felt a kind of switch like that I don’t need to dance it well to be promoted, but I need to dance it well because I’ve been given this role, and they trust me to take care of it. It’s not to get promoted; it is to dance the best as I can.”
“I really did feel that shift as the season went on. I felt it from my friends, from lovely patrons at the stage door, who are saying they saw me in a whole new light. But for me, I was on my track. I was doing what I do every day, and I’m just doing my job. It wasn’t until the bitter end that I saw that shift for myself. But with that new set of responsibilities and duties, we really are being looked at differently.”
Now that you both are officially in your new role as soloist, what excites you the most about the change?
“What I’m excited about for the new chapter is having a more curated repertory. Obviously, when you’re in the corps, they need people. You end up being in everything, even if it’s a court role that’s maybe not really suited to you. But you still have to do it.”
“I’m excited to connect with a more diverse pool of partners. When you’re young, you’re relegated to other younger people, which is great. But I really cherished when I got to dance with Megan Fairchild. That was really fun, and I never thought I would dance with her. I hope to do more of that.”
What would you tell your younger self if you could go back and deliver a message?
“When people say that you just have to work at all times, it’s so true. I can’t emphasis that enough. Every day, even if you’re feeling off, you have to push yourself to work harder than everyone else in the room. I remember being a kid when I was six or seven years old, and I would always try to hold a position one second longer than everybody else, because I wanted to make sure that I was the hardest working person in the room. But it’s also really important to have a life outside of ballet. To feel human feelings that you can then bring on stage.”
“I feel like the hard thing about giving advice to my little self is if I were to talk to myself, he’d brush it all off. He’d be like, ‘I got it, it’s fine.’ So the first advice, is to take advice. Also, I think it’s important to go somewhere where you find that alignment. I went to a ton of different schools throughout my dance training from age nine to when I got to the School of American Ballet (SAB), and it wasn’t really until I got to SAB that I felt aligned. And when you know it’s right, it’s right.”
“If I could add something, it’s important to take advice, but also to realize that you have to find your own way to get to where you want to get.”
Lastly, do you have passions outside of ballet, and, if so, how do they contribute to the work you do as a dancer and performer?
“Fashion, designing and sewing is still new for me. I’m only on my third year doing it. It’s a way for me to express another facet of myself. I initially started it because I wanted to sew things for myself for drag. I was doing drag throughout the pandemic as a way to find out more about my feminine energy. But, as the world opened back up, I kind of fused all those attributes that I found with myself, so I haven’t felt the need to get in drag as often because I’ve been able to find this new femininity/masculinity balance in my life.”
“I never really had a hobby that’s so clear as Gilbert’s. But I think that also might change. That’s the funny thing about getting promoted to soloist is that you go from dancing every night to not dancing almost enough, but in a way, it kind of gives you more room to develop different sides of yourself. During my time off, I always like to connect with people — having a dinner party or going out and hearing people’s stories.”
As storytellers and artists, the journey of a dancer is never easy, always challenging, and requires consistent dedication and hard work. For both Bolden and Riccardo, receiving this new designation will allow them to dig deeper into the creative work of expressing humanity via movement. We wish them all the best!
By Emily Sarkissian of Dance Informa.