INTERVIEW: Thiago Soares

Turning over a new leaf

The entirety of his adult life has been spent in tights, as a professional ballet dancer performing around the world. Now, on the verge of retiring from the professional stage at the age of 39, the Royal Ballet’s principal dancer, Thiago Soares, talks life beyond the London stage, culture as a powerful tool, and how solid roots can keep you grounded even when using private helicopters as an Uber.

Artist Thiago Sores

Words Marcio Delgado

Photos Claudio Harris

First things first: how did it all start?

My first contact with dance was with street dance, back in Rio de Janeiro. I grew up in Vila Isabel, a neighbourhood probably more well known for samba; however, they also had a school offering a variety of classes, including ballet and hip-hop. So, when I was roughly 9 years old, a friend of my brother – who was already a member of that group – suggested I should give it a go. That’s how everything started. A year later, as all the other kids there were also attending circus classes, to utilise these skills for street dance, I also joined their acrobatics training. It wasn’t until I was 14 that I had to start thinking if I would turn this into a career or just have dance as a hobby, as my available money was becoming scarce. A member of the group told me that Centro de Dança Rio, one of the main professional dance schools in Brazil, founded in the 70s, was looking for male teenagers to join a classical ballet group. I wasn’t even sure what ballet was, but they told me that, with commitment, I could make a living out of it. I didn’t have anything else going on, so I just went for it.

In 2001 I won a gold medal at the Moscow International Ballet Competition; with this success came a series of invites. Despite the confidence I gained from receiving these invites, I wanted to be part of the Royal Ballet. A former teacher helped me contact them for an audition, which subsequently led to an invitation to join the Company as a First Artist in 2002. The following year I was promoted to Soloist and, then, in 2004 I became First Soloist. Finally, I obtained the coveted role of Principal in 2006.

How is it to be back dancing Alexander Pushkin’s ‘Onegin’?

I first danced Onegin back in 2014, in England (London), before performing in several other countries, including Brazil and Uruguay. This time it is different, though, as it is ends a chapter in my life. As I bid farewell to The Royal Ballet, which has been my house for almost 20 years, a film of emotive memories goes through my head.

Was it a hard decision to make?

It was an unavoidable decision. The stage career of a professional ballet dancer is short and, as I am about to turn 39, I wanted to end on a high note. It has been a magical career, but I wouldn’t want to exploit it unnecessarily. And, on a personal note, I think there is a limit to how often you can do the same things over and over again. My repertory with The Royal Ballet includes Giselle, Swan Lake, Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, La Bayadère, Romeo and Juliet, The Winter’s Tale - amongst many other great productions. I loved each of them. However, I also want to research and dance new things, in new ways.

And when you look back, from your very beginning as a young boy from North Rio that didn’t even know what ballet was, do you feel accomplished?

Yes, I do. Completely. But I don’t think you ever forget who you are and where you came from. I remember, not long ago, being on holiday in Monaco and being offered an air lift to the airport to make it in time to get my flight back to London. As I sat in the helicopter ready to leave, the first thing that came to my mind was the memories of me, as a kid, waiting for the 438 bus in Rio de Janeiro to get to my dance school, still wearing my 5th grade uniform so I could ride it for free. We have to be grateful for the places life takes us – and reminding me of the 10 year-old-boy I used to be helps keep me grounded.

After having the experience of living abroad for so many years, how do you see the investments that are being made in arts and culture in Brazil?

In Brazil, keeping culture alive, in any form, is a constant fight. But we are a powerhouse when it comes to talent, not only in dance, but also music, cinema and literature. So, the biggest challenge isn’t the potential of Brazil, but the country not seeing arts and culture as a priority. Art is a great way of sparking conversation relating to difficult topics, offering a peaceful and intelligent approach. Often a painting or movie speaks louder than any discussion you could have, and they can take you on journeys you wouldn’t otherwise have taken. I think many of the solutions for the problems currently experienced by Brazil lie in encouraging culture and its power to shape citizens.

When you are overworked with training and daily commitments, what do you do to unplug?

I now have a dance school, in Brazil, which I run alongside several other things that are happening at the same time, in different time zones. However, I still manage to find a balance by meeting friends. This triggers the best of me – they are my best therapists and don’t even know it.

What is next?

In May I will premiere in Portugal, ‘Roots’, a 75-minute duet in which I dance with Brazilian hip-hop dancer Danilo D’Alma, who is playing my young self. Following on from this, the show will be relocating to Berlin. Then, I want to focus on my own school, in Brazil, and hopefully still get invited to be part of special dance projects. It is an exciting new chapter.

Thiago Soares dances ‘Onegin’ on February 29;