Congratulations to Principal Dancer Ricardo Castellanos
Our mission is to nurture, train and educate exceptional young dancers, so few things bring us more joy than seeing our alumni fly in their careers. We were thrilled to see that alumnus Ricardo Castellanos was recently promoted to Principal Dancer at The Norwegian National Ballet.
While at The Royal Ballet School, Ricardo won The Sibley Dowell award for a promising student with potential and he hasn’t stopped proving it ever since. Since leaving the School, he has performed as Rothbart in Holmes’ Swan Lake, the Nutcracker Prince in Boyadjiev’s The Nutcracker, the leading male role in Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante, as a soloist in the 1st movement in Balanchine’s Symphony in C, Romeo in the balcony pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet and Prince Siegfried in a pas de deux from Swan Lake.
We caught up with Ricardo fresh from guesting in Cuba. Ever the professional, he came to the meeting with such lovely energy, made even more impressive by his busy schedule and recent transatlantic travel.
You’ve just finished guesting in Havana at the International Ballet Festival, what was that like?
I got the opportunity to be with some of the best dancers in the world, from Roberto Bolle, Semyon Chudin, and Joaquín De Luz — really big stars who I’ve looked up to since I was a little boy. It was so amazing to share a stage with them. It was a super overwhelming experience. Just crazy!
Huge congratulations on becoming Principal. How did that moment feel for you?
That moment was also really special. They promoted me straight after a performance we did of CANVAS by guest choreographer Juliano Nunes. My director announced it right after the show. My mum was there. It was a super emotional moment because the whole Company was cheering. It was really nice. I had everyone’s support there and the company behind me and my mother—I brought her up on stage—and it was all just like this [clasps hands together joyfully to suggest togetherness].
What are you hoping to work on as Principal Dancer at Norwegian National Ballet?
Right now, my next goal is to become a more refined and well-rounded dancer. I realised in the last work we did, I am capable of moving in a lot more ways than I knew I could. And I think I can work on the neo-classical aspect. I want to be much more complete, a better partner, and a better actor. Just more well-rounded in general so I can guest anywhere and dance around the world. I also aim to go guesting in a lot of different places. That’s another big goal for me.
If you could go back and tell your Royal Ballet School student self anything about the process of becoming a professional or give him any advice, what would you say?
I would’ve told myself to be a bit more patient and to enjoy each moment of the working. I think I was really caught up in school about being good technically and being so focused. If just one thing goes wrong, you get angry with yourself, and you are a bit like a horse with blinkers, you don’t see the big picture. In the Company, I realised that to be a good partner I really need to be able to engage with a lot of people, talk with choreographers, and learn everything really fast. There’s a big spectrum of things that you don’t focus on too much when you’re a student. You learn with a career, I think that’s very normal. Everyone feels like that.
Was there anything that your teachers or peers at the school did to prepare you for professional life?
I was really lucky. I always had really good teachers at School. For some of the teachers, it was their last year, too. Like Antonio Castilla and David Yow. It was both of their last years with me and they were so, so great.
And then I had Paul Lewis, a great inspiration, a really big father figure. He really pushed me. We still talk a lot. When I got promoted, he text me saying, ‘I knew you could do it’. It’s really been a great circle to come back and speak to him now. I keep in touch with Daria also, and of course, my dad was a teacher at the School. But I haven’t been back since I left. I would really love to do that some day—just pop by!
Who are your professional inspirations?
I always looked up to Roberto Bolle. He’s been a really big inspiration for how to dance, and how to behave. I just met him in Cuba and I took class with him. We talked a lot. I asked him how it is to be a big star, and how one should act and approach people. That was a really important moment for me.
There are other big dancers currently at Royal Ballet, like Vadim Muntagirov, he’s amazing. All these icons of ballet. I actually think The Royal Ballet right now has really good principal dancers who everyone could look up to.
Who are your non-professional dancer inspirations?
I guess people like my brother. He’s not a ballet dancer. He’s really inspiring. Anyone who works really hard to achieve their goals. I think that’s inspirational. It doesn’t matter if it’s in dance, in everyday life, studying or in engineering. If you go into it with passion, you’re going to inspire someone with what you’re doing.
You’ve spoken a lot about how important good communication is in your professional career. Do you have any advice about those non-dance elements to make and keep connections?
This is one thing I wish I knew better at School. The human side of the dancer is so important. It’s important that when a choreographer comes, you’re really open towards them and they know that you’re willing to try. That no matter if it’s a class with a teacher that you don’t particularly like because it’s not your style, just know even the teacher that you really don’t like has something they can offer you. Everyone who’s in the ballet world ahead of you is going to try to help you or give you something. It’s an exchange. So you have to be open-minded and willing to try for this person, even if you hate their class. There’s always something you can pick out. Every class has something good.
With the social aspect of things, I think people want to work with nice people. You can be an amazing dancer, but if you’re someone who has something negative to say every time someone speaks to you, or you’re a bit clouded in your own negativity, it transmits and people feel the energy. I’ve been guilty of it myself in the past, being pessimistic. And I have noticed in the past two years I’ve tried to be super positive and open-minded, and I think this has helped my promotion.
What was your biggest challenge on the road to becoming a professional? And how did you overcome it?
When I was in my second year at Opera School, I had a really big injury in my Achilles, I had to get an extra bone removed out of my foot, and once I removed that bone, I still had really bad tendinitis and cortisol injections. I actually lost six to seven months from the second year. It was really tough. I didn’t think I’d be able to point my foot the same again. Through a lot of effort and working it out slowly and with a Theraband, it came back and I was lucky enough to come to Norway and get a job.
Is there anything you’d like to say to our current cohort of students at the School?
From what I see on social media, I think The Royal Ballet School has got dancers at a really high level right now. I think the students are really really good. Probably even better than when I was at School!
As for advice, I think they should also not get too caught up in getting into The Royal Ballet. At the end of the day, two or three students will get into the Company from the School each year and there are maybe 16 super-talented students in one class. They have to know that their career will each be different. It doesn’t mean if they don’t get into The Royal Ballet that the world will shatter and that’s the end of their career. No! They can make a great career. I came to Norway and I’m having a fantastic career, I’m going to places I love, I’m guesting with the big ballet stars, and I’m dancing all the roles I never thought I would dance so young. So really think about what you want to do with your career. The Royal Ballet is an incredible company and it’s fine to aim for that, but if that doesn’t happen, I want them to know there’s a bigger world that they can see and explore out there and there are many amazing companies in Europe.
ClassicalMusic.com wrote the following, ‘he achieves a weightless height in his leaps, almost seeming to hang in the air‘. What goes on in your mind in those moments of suspension?
I have been told that about my jump. I guess I do really think about maintaining myself in the air. When I think of not only the position but when I’m there I kind of hold my breath and think about maintaining the jump. That’s all I think about! I don’t think too much about how it looks, I’m just looking for this inner feeling of being elevated. And, I guess it works!
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I would like to thank my company, Norwegian National Ballet. They have made everything possible for me to become a star here and I’m really grateful. Since I joined, I’ve been given really quick opportunities, and my Director is so supportive and really keen on me making Lead Principal here. So I really want to thank them.