Interview with Dancer Alexandre Hammoudi
French dancer Alexandre Hammoudi has been a soloist at the American Ballet Theater since 2012. For the 2016 ABT Spring Season at the Met Opera, Alexandre will perform leading roles in several repertory pieces and a new production, including works by Alexei Ratmansky. We met after a rehearsal and Alexandre kindly answered our questions.
Nicole Birmann Bloom (N.B.B.): Hello Alexandre. Very glad to meet you. Very soon audiences will see you in the leading role of The Prince Désiré in the new production of The Sleeping Beauty, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky. Could you tell us more about Ratmansky's approach? What it is like to work with him? What are some differences between this and other productions?
Alexandre Hammoudi (A.H.): In the studio Alexei is a very demanding choreographer, he knows what he wants: He wants fast steps and a fast paced choreography which can be challenging for the dancers. Also extremely musical, Alexei is aware of the construction of the score and all the subtleties of the music; he is very attentive to musical details.
In the case of The Sleeping Beauty, we did not have that much freedom as dancers, since we went back to the original production – technically to Petipa’s notations or from the translators who studied Petipa’s notes. So instead of adapting steps to dancers, dancers have to adapt to steps; it is an interesting process because the technique was different at that time. For instance, a lot of the positions are taken from the early periods of ballet like for instance, the passé and the retiré are much lower, they stop at mid-cap (below the knee); most arabesques or attitude lines are much shorter and lower than what one sees now; it looks unusual to us these days and it takes a little bit of adjustment, but in the end, as dancers, we really enjoy this ballet.
N.B.B.: Which other roles will you interpret this season and how do you prepare yourself? Among contemporary choreographers, who else do you like working with? Who do you dream of working with and why?
A.H.: During the 2016 ABT Spring season at the Met Opera House, we will have the pleasure to perform most of the works that Alexei Ratmansky choreographed for ABT; it includes Stravinsky’s The Firebird, Shostakovich Trilogy (a full program performed to orchestral works by Shostakovich), Scarlatti’s Seven Sonatas, and also a world premiere set to Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade after Plato’s Symposium.
All these works are quite challenging, physically and mentally. Endurance, stamina, it requires the artist to be in stellar shape, in order to communicate the message without looking too exhausted. Dancers must take classes rigorously and put in extra strengthening work to be in top shape.
In addition to these works, I am working on Kenneth MacMillan’s version of Romeo and Juliet and Kevin McKenzie’s Swan Lake, also part of the 2016 June-July season.
I really enjoyed doing Jiri Killian’s work; it taught me a lot about partnering and about a certain intelligence of movement on stage, a feeling of movement that is more grounded. It’s based upon a solid ballet technique, yet it gives you a strong awareness of “letting go.”
I also worked with Benjamin Millepied and created a lot of his works. It was an incredible experience as an artist and as a dancer, and it is always nice to speak French in the studio. (Smiles from Alex and Nicole.)
N.B.B.: Tell us more about your training. How did you end up in New York and how was your stay supported? What were the major differences and challenges you experienced while training in the US?
A.H.: I trained in France. I started in a very small studio of a former étoile, Max Bozzoni. Max taught me everything from simple movements to difficult turns and jumps. When it was time to move on to different adventures, I studied in different schools and studios. I ended up in Attilio Labis’s classes and it was a huge change for me. Everybody in the class was an adult or a professional, and I was just a kid. He taught me all the great classical variations from Don Quixote to Giselle and Swan Lake. He taught me how to just go for it and worry about things later.
Once I was done with this training, I moved out of France. After being selected at the Prix de Lausanne, I was offered a full scholarship for the English National Ballet School. After a brief time there, I decided I wanted to follow the footsteps of the great Cuban dancers and ended up in Havana with the National Ballet of Cuba; there I perfected my training and learned to use artistry on stage. It was a wonderful growing experience both as a human being and as an artist. After two years in Cuba, I decided to move to New York, and tried my chances with ABT. That was in 2002.
When I got to America, the biggest challenge in classical technique was the speed; it is considerably faster than in the technique taught in Europe or the Soviet-like technique from Cuba.
My strongest supporter has always been my mother; she was strong enough to let me go to Cuba by myself at age 17 and she was always there for me when I started in New York where things seemed impossible.
N.B.B.: Do you still go frequently to France, to Europe to dance?
A.H.: I have danced in Europe and around the world with ABT and with other dance ensembles presented in festivals. I unfortunately don’t have the time to go back home as much as I would like to. There is always a project or a performance around the corner that makes it difficult for me to go back to France.
N.B.B.: What are your interests outside dance? Would you be interested in choreography yourself?
A.H.: I enjoy working with kids and sharing my passion for dance with others. It is very nice to be able to bring some of the magic to people who may not have the chance to experience it for themselves because of distance, social differences, or to children in need of an escape through dance. We – myself and a long time friend of mine, Radek Kokoszka, Director of the organization Ballet Renaissance based in Colorado with an extension in Detroit – we are currently putting together a scholarship for kids in need in these two areas.
I am not sure if I do want to choreograph but I am interested in a few projects that are bringing different art forms together. I really enjoy and can relate to stories – in dance or ballet – and would love to develop storytelling in dance in the 21st century.
N.B.B.: Thank you, Alexandre. We wish you every success with the upcoming productions of ABT.
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