Principal dancer Calvin Royal III on the magic of translating text to movement

Principal dancer Calvin Royal III on the magic of translating text to movement
American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Calvin Royal III. Photo courtesy the dancer.

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This month’s Ballerina Book Club “Friend Picks” is with American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Calvin Royal III

I was so excited that one of my most cherished partners, dear friend, and American Ballet Theatre’s newest principal dancer (!!!) Calvin Royal III agreed to give us September’s Ballerina Book ClubFriend Picks.” I got emotional reading his interview, knowing how hard he has worked over the years to get to this historic moment of becoming the second-ever Black male principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre (ABT). And his Grandma — who is mentioned in the interview and is a total legend — said these words which I frequently remind myself: “We have not, because we ask not.”

I can’t wait to dive into Calvin’s “Friend Picks”! Find them after the interview below.

Can you describe the emotions that you experienced when you were promoted to principal dancer?

When I heard my name called out on promotion day, it honestly felt like the skies opened up. Whether I was being featured or not over the years, I pushed myself and strived to be the best version of myself on stage and off. So, to finally make it to principal with ABT, it was a dream come true! With all the chaos going on in the world right now, I was happy that a movement like this could still happen. It’s a good feeling to know that the work I’ve done up until now was taken into account and acknowledged in such a major way.

Calvin Royal III with his grandma and mom.
Calvin Royal III with his grandma and mom.

What did your mom and grandma say when you told them the news?

They were both so happy and proud. My grandma cried as soon as I told her the news. She told me she had been praying for this day to come for years, and funny enough, she started telling people years ago that I was a principal (in her eyes), and she was waiting for ABT to catch up. My mom and grandma are my rock. They have been by my side this entire journey.

I’m sure you’ve already talked about this a lot, but you and Misty were scheduled to dance “Romeo and Juliet” together at the Met. Can you explain a little about what that performance meant to you? I can’t wait to see you debut Romeo in the future — a role you were born to dance!

Thank you! This was going to be a night to remember. It would be the first time in ABT’s history that the star-crossed lovers would represent Black love in this iconic ballet. I was excited to finally dance my dream role. I have watched Romeo since I was a kid in the JKO school and always aspired to dance it. I would learn the choreography during my off time “just in case,” and once I received the opportunity to take it on, I felt like I’d conjured it somehow and was excited to get to work! I’m still excited for the day that it will happen.

One of my favorite roles to watch you in is “Serenade after Plato’s Symposium.” I would always sneak backstage to watch your solo at every performance. You brought such emotion and intensity to an abstract role. Have you read any Plato? Can you explain how/if you use literature as a part of your process and character development, for example in “Romeo and Juliet”?

Aw, that is honestly one of my favorite roles I’ve danced at ABT! Whether it’s an abstract or narrative piece, I always love to find the meaning behind the steps. For Romeo, I started with reading the play to try to understand who Romeo is at his core. I look for dynamics on how the character speaks, his timing, when he’s thinking, when he’s not saying a lot, and it all kind of gives me motivations for how to translate that to movement. Once I feel comfortable enough, the best part is when I can release the studies and live it. Acting and reacting, and making choices in the moment. When that happens, it’s magic.

What’s your reading style? Slow vs. fast, late-night, on a plane, reading while snacking, etc.

I like to pace myself. Sometimes I’m anxious to get through, but most times, I like to savor the stories I read. I used to read on my commute, and have missed my stop on the train a time or two, but now that we are home most of the time, I read in the morning on my balcony with breakfast or just before bed.

What was the first book you fell in love with?

It was actually a children’s book! “Corduroy,” by Don Freeman, which centers on themes of love, friendship and hope.

Calvin Royal III reading "Becoming," by Michelle Obama.
Calvin Royal III reading “Becoming,” by Michelle Obama.

Calvin Royal III’s recommended reading list:

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Top Image: American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Calvin Royal III.