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

Alexandre Hammoudi, American Ballet Theatre

Alexandre Hammoudi, American Ballet Theatre Photograph: Renata Pavam

Alexandre Hammoudi, a soloist with American Ballet Theatre talks about his spring season, which includes Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake opposite principal dancer Hee Seo and The Sleeping Beauty. Alexandre Hammoudi, a French dancer whose elegant demeanor and flair for drama sets him apart, performs with American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House.

Alexandre Hammoudi has never been on the fast track at American Ballet Theatre. His slow-and-steady progression from corps member to soloist is, in many ways, a reflection of the way his own quiet drama gradually unleashes itself onstage. Raised in Paris, where he trained with Max Bozzoni of the Paris Opera Ballet, Hammoudi moved to New York in 2002 and studied briefly at the School of American Ballet before joining ABT Studio Company. (At that point, he had already been a member of the National Ballet of Cuba.) Tall, dark and equipped with the sort of brooding handsomeness that makes it possible for him to play a prince or a villain, Hammoudi has a doozy of an ABT season at the Metropolitan Opera House: Along with Romeo and Juliet on June 12, he makes his debut in Swan Lake (June 19 and 22) and The Sleeping Beauty (July 5). Hammoudi, 29, spoke about the twists and turns of his career. 

Time Out New York: Why did you start dancing?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
My family was always in the theater. They were involved. My grandfather was the chief director of lights at the Paris Opera and many other theaters. I grew up with the sets and the atmosphere of backstage, and my mom used to dance, not really professionally—I mean, she had to have me basically. [Laughs] I had a lot of energy growing up, and I wanted to try.

Time Out New York: Do you have brothers and sisters?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
I’m an only child. I really wish I did though. When I was growing up, it was just my mother and me. I didn’t know my father. It felt, not lonely, but it would have been nice to have someone else to relate to in the family. It’s something I never experienced, but always wondered about.

Time Out New York: So your grandfather worked in the theater and your mother danced. What kind of dance?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
She did classical ballet and character dance. She was in a touring troupe that was strictly character dancing before I was born.

Time Out New York: Did you connect with ballet from the start?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
Yes, it’s very strange. I couldn’t really stay awake for the shows. I’m sure I saw a lot of avant-garde stuff. I saw Roland Petit when I was very young. They’re harder subjects; more mature. But just the backstage, the lights—that was always fascinating because it was from a completely different perspective. I have a vivid memory. I was watching from the wings, which actually you can’t do. I was really little, and I remember Paris Opera doing [Harald Lander’s] Études, and the boys coming from the stage into the wings doing those ménage jetés. I remember the slow motion of these guys doing this stuff. I did want to try when I saw it.

Time Out New York: Do you know about lighting design yourself?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
Yeah, a little bit. I wish I knew more. My grandfather used to point at things, and I would tell him which one was called what. You know the gels? I used to take them home and play with them with flashlights.

Time Out New York: Did you start training at the Paris Opera?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
No, no, not at all. I actually never went there. All of my teachers did. Max Bozzoni was a big principal; he did all the [Serge] Lifar ballets in the Paris Opera, and he is the teacher who made Patrick Dupond, basically; if we have a mentor, somebody we learn from, I pretty much learned from him. And it wasn’t that much about technique. It was a very old-school way of going about ballet and steps and movement, because I had zero discipline at that age. I was wild and full of energy and he was like, “Dance, dance, dance.”

Time Out New York: How old were you?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
I was nine. That’s when I started, but it wasn’t intensive. It was just kind of body expression—a way to get my energy out. I was terrible at soccer. [Sighs] For a French guy, it was really bad; all my friends were so good. They were from the street, and I started spending more time in the studio and less time with my friends and from ten, the gap started closing. You don’t really go to birthday parties because classes on Saturdays are important, and that’s when everyone doesn’t have school. I was a bit rebellious of all of this as a child. I understood later. I think girls are much better at that. They are disciplined. Their dedication really fascinates me. We all have it now, but at a young age, I remember they were so focused. Girls know what they want.

Time Out New York: Were you tall as a kid?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
I had really long legs and kind of a short torso when I was young. But I wasn’t that tall. All my teachers, and my mom were like, “You’re going to be so tall.” I never actually saw my father, but he was 6'4" and my mom is pretty tall for a woman. I grew when I was 11 to 14—I took off—and at 16, I stopped. I was tall at 16 or 17. That was a good thing, because it helped with a lot of things. But I was terrible. Your body feels different every day. For a tall guy, growing is really difficult for ballet. The strength is not there; for lanky people, it comes so much later. I remember my friends—even in Cuba or even prior to that in England—were shorter and had that strength. For me, that came later with my training in Cuba.

Time Out New York: Did Max Bozzoni have a school?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
He did. He had a very modest little studio in a little Parisian courtyard. They would teach an adult class at 10:30am; there would be a children’s at 5pm and another adult class at 6:30pm. So I started with that basic 5pm class once or twice a week, and then as he saw my interest, I took the early class and the later class with the adults. I was very young, and I was with people who were doing their own thing—amateurs or professionals from Paris Opera. It was very interesting.

Time Out New York: How did that atmosphere form you?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
It’s strange. I really believe that everyone has a path. All of my friends went to the Paris Opera school, which means that they all had that structure. They couldn’t get out, either. They were in that dorm, in that environment—that’s all they knew, and it was extremely competitive. I was an outsider. I was in a private school with this mentor, and it was very different. I would start learning variations and solos—things that they don’t really teach in the Paris Opera school. They teach impeccable lines; épaulement, port de bras. And my teacher had that, but it was a very different environment and all girls. There were no guys. Almost. It was just a friend and me, and it was like that for quite a while.

Time Out New York: Did you start partnering early on?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
Not at all. I almost came to America not knowing anything of partnering. I met Azari Plisetsky; that’s what led me to Cuba. There was a famous summer intensive in my hometown—not in Paris. I was born and raised in Paris, but my family is from the south of France by the Spanish border: Biarritz. So there is a nice summer program there, and my family has a house there—that’s where they lived from my great-grandmother’s generation. Azari Plisetsky would come, Attilio Labis would come—all these teachers would teach master classes from different schools around the world, and that’s where I learned partnering mostly. They were known for their partnering skills. They were known for partnering Alicia Alonso.

Time Out New York: Didn’t Mikhail Baryshnikov bring Plisetsky to his dance center to teach master classes a few years ago?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
Yes! He has a very organic way of teaching class or turning. It’s not at all that academic; it’s about moving. And that’s what they used to do. Look at Spartacus—but [there’s] no technique. She’s up there—flip, flip—but there was no technique of “putting the hands lower, feel her center.” It was more about dancing. All of that refined partnering came much later when I came to America.

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