Excellent interview. Gia Kourlas asks all the right questions. This is a must read for anyone interested in dance and the performing arts.
Alexandre Hammoudi talks about his career at American Ballet Theatre
American Ballet Theatre soloist Alexandre Hammoudi talks about his career and his busy spring: He'll dance Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty
Mon Jun 17 2013
Time Out New York: You’re not doing Symphony in C here, are you?
Alexandre Hammoudi: Not here.
Time Out New York: That sucks.
Alexandre Hammoudi: I’m not upset, but I really wish I could do it here. I have done it twice on tour, and I worked on it all year. But that’s life at ABT. You always have to be ready. It’s such a wonderful ballet on that big stage.
Time Out New York: Who was directing the Studio Company when you joined?
Alexandre Hammoudi: John Meehan, but it was toward the end of his leaving. Clinton Luckett had just retired from the main company, and he was second in command of the Studio Company.
Time Out New York: What did you work on?
Alexandre Hammoudi: We worked on Continuo by Antony Tudor. A lot of new works. I think the first commission of Avi Scher. It was on us. It’s so funny: It was Sarah Lane, Kelley Potter, Grant DeLong, Danny Tidwell. We did some Kylian stuff; some Stanton Welch stuff. Unfortunately, we didn’t do any classical pas de deux. I was there for a year.
Time Out New York: It’s kind of like being in between a company and a school, right?
Alexandre Hammoudi: Yeah, but we got to go to really cool places. We went to London and Dublin. It was a really good group, and we were performing a lot. It didn’t really matter where—performing is the best thing. Ever since I got promoted I haven’t been onstage yet. My first show will be as Espada in Don Q. It’s been two weeks. I can’t wait, but it makes me feel weird. It doesn’t matter if you take class or if you’re rehearsing or not—not to be onstage, your season hasn’t started basically. But it’s okay. It’s going to be intense at the end. [Laughs]
Time Out New York: How did you find out that you got into the company?
Alexandre Hammoudi: It was at the end of the Met season. We had our evaluation, assessment—we did the final performances at the theater, it was the Kaye Playhouse and after that we had meetings with Kevin [McKenzie] and John. They were telling people yes and no, and they offered me an apprenticeship. It was a very regular day. We didn’t even really know what it was about; they hadn’t told us anything. We just knew we had an evaluation. All we knew at that point was that you couldn’t do more than two years of Studio Company. And then it changed, and with the school it’s a different thing now, but back then it was that. Some people needed one year and went on to somewhere else. I miss the Studio Company like that. It’s very different now. We really weren’t part of a school. It was really a second company touring all around the States. We had our own apartment; the guys shared an apartment, and the girls shared an apartment.
Time Out New York: I remember hearing something about that. Where was it?
Alexandre Hammoudi: It was downtown. It was on 13th and First Avenue, and the apartment was insane. There were six guys. We didn’t have to pay rent. We had no bills. That was a great experience. It was like if somebody told you, “This is the last year that you get to live like this.” You know?
Time Out New York: And I always liked watching the old Studio Company. I loved all the stuff Brian Reeder was doing.
Alexandre Hammoudi: Yeah, that’s right! We did that. [Now] they’re trying to do what other companies have. They’re trying to have a structure with a lot of students, and a facility and a foundation for a company.
Time Out New York: You have done so much, it’s crazy. Usually this part of the interview is 15 minutes.
Alexandre Hammoudi: I’m sorry!
Time Out New York: No, it’s wonderful. You were in ABT’s corps de ballet for eight years. What was going through your mind in that time?
Alexandre Hammoudi: Things change. Things really do change. The company was different when I joined, and the company was different five years after I joined, and now the company is different again. When I first joined, I had an injury. My very first season, I was kind of a ghost. I had been getting good stuff to learn, but when I came back it was very different. For a good three years, I didn’t really do anything. I didn’t know what I was doing here, and I’m not sure they knew—but one thing that was for sure was that I knew I wasn’t ready, and they knew I wasn’t ready. I didn’t mind doing mazurka. I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life, but I was having a blast performing. I started getting more responsibilities, little by little. Very early, Kevin told me in a meeting that I had a certain theatricality and a certain sense of drama that goes along with my physique and my training. He was like, “There is really something there—there are some things that we have to work on technically, but there is something that is extremely natural about you. If you put in the effort and the time, you can have a great career with this company. Actually, you could have an incredible career with this company.” He never said, “You’re going to be a principal,” or “You’re going to be promoted,” but he did say certain key things that made me hang on. There was a time when I did peasants every night for, like, two years. Some people were like, “We know you from your Spanish dance—your port de bras, you’re so fun onstage.” It took me six years for them to put me in Spanish dance. It’s not their fault. There are a lot of people, and you have to make yourself known. You have to sometimes remind them that you’re there. You have to be in class. You have to show them what you have. You can’t just hide in the back and hope that they’re going to be like, “Do this.” I really believe it’s 50-50. I got certain things, and we did certain ballets that I had good opportunities in.
Time Out New York: What stood out?
Alexandre Hammoudi: When Manon came, that’s when I actually touched drama. I did the Jailer, and I learned it from Victor Barbee. I was kind of an underdog; I was learning good stuff. I could tell that when Kevin was giving a correction or talking, he would always scan the room to see if people were listening or not. Even if it was not about them. So it was a good connection, and he started trusting me with more things. Then, Alexei Ratmansky came to the company.
Time Out New York: You’ve danced in so many of his ballets. What kind of relationship do you have with Ratmansky?
Alexandre Hammoudi: To this day, Alexei and I have not exchanged many words. We do when we work, of course. He knows how to talk to me and how to get the work out of me. We communicate very well in the studio, but I’m not one of these people to have really extended conversations during the five. I know he’s thinking about the steps he’s going to have to give. I understudy David [Hallberg] a lot; I’m tall, David’s tall. To do a show or to not do a show didn’t really matter. It was just nice to work with Alexei. And he gave me most of my opportunities. The big change, the real exposure, the responsibility, trust—that came from that time.
Time Out New York: And then others saw it?
Alexandre Hammoudi: Yes. Actually, I haven’t told this to anybody. We were onstage doing Swan Lake. It was kind of a turning-point moment for me. I hadn’t gotten exposure. I was getting out of a relationship. Everything was kind of a struggle, and Georgina [Parkinson] came up to me. It was maybe a year before she passed. She held my head and was like, “You know, Hammoudi, I’m really proud of you. Are you okay?” I said, “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” She said, “Next year is going to be very important for you.” I really had no idea. She just said, “Don’t blow it. Don’t drop the ball. You’ve got it.” It was probably the most intimate moment I ever had with George. And she taught me Paris in Romeo. She taught me so much. She was great. It was in one moment where she said these things. She was never around to see the transformation or the change, but it was in that time that everything happened. Seven Sonatas came around. On the Dnieper came around.