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

Time Out New York: In a Ratmansky role that wasn’t made on your body, how much contact do you have with him?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
It’s difficult. It used to be easier, because he was around more. But the thing is it can be kind of a handicap to not be first cast of Alexei’s piece. If you’re first cast, you’re getting the full experience. You know Alexei: If one cast is called and not the other, he’ll change something, and you don’t know about it and you might just find out right before.… That’s the way he is. At the same time, he likes to change things for people. I think his ballets are really demanding. There are a lot of steps, a lot of cardio, and maybe what he liked is that when I did one of his pieces, maybe it would look really bad, but I wouldn’t really give up. If you just keep going, it’s going to be okay. I think that’s kind of what he looks for in certain dancers. But definitely it can be difficult, and sometimes it’s very difficult because the choreography is harder because the first cast has a really good dancer.

Time Out New York: Which of the Shostakovich pieces are you in?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
I’m in Symphony #9, which I did in D.C., but I’m not doing it here. I’m not doing any Ratmansky this season.

Time Out New York: I’m sorry about that, but I guess you’re doing some big roles.
Alexandre Hammoudi:
It would be nice to keep going right now. To keep dancing.

Time Out New York: So that you don’t have that alienated feeling.
Alexandre Hammoudi:
Exactly. Romeo is going to come around really soon after Corsaire, and I’m off in the Corsaire week. I’m going to just have to work on that for that week.

Time Out New York: Romeo isn’t new, but you haven’t danced it often.
Alexandre Hammoudi:
No, not at all. We have very few shows at ABT. This will be my third time. It’s a hard one. You want to be at your physical peak for it; stamina, the steps. It’s a challenge. They all say it, no matter how many years they’ve done it. They all say, “There’s nothing like Act I Romeo.” It’s true. It starts so soft. There’s nothing going on in the beginning except the sword fight and then once you do the gate scene, you just don’t stop dancing—there’s the ballroom and the balcony and then it feels like five seconds have gone by and it’s “places for Act II.” It’s like a freight train a little bit. It’s just going. It’s a great role, and dancing with Hee [Seo]. I’ve never done that role with anybody else. It’s nice because we get to develop something. We can build from the previous experience, so I hope they don’t change us anytime soon because then you have to reconnect and restart.

Time Out New York: You’re also dancing with Hee in Swan Lake. Could you talk about learning that ballet?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
[Laughs] It’s the ballet. For some reason, it wasn’t a dream for me like Romeo. It is, but the character is a little flatter. It’s a little difficult because it’s reality and fantasy; it’s a completely different era. It’s a prince, and I like being a prince, but the Black Swan is so heavy. All these phrases and the variation—I always saw them as being so heavy. I don’t see it like that anymore. I enjoy doing it, but it’s very hard. The stamina is no joke, but it’s worse for the girl. All I can wish for is more coaching. I hope I get to rehearse it, now that the Met has started, as much as I was rehearsing before. This has a tendency to happen a bit: We stop and move on to new things. I would like to do that variation every day for a half an hour. 

Time Out New York: Can you work by yourself?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
I can, but the problem here is that we don’t have that many studios. There are eight programs that they have to fit, so there are only two real functional studios and the rest are for musicians. We don’t have the floor that we need. Polina Semionova was telling me, “Whenever you have a chance to be onstage and can just jump—even if the curtain’s down—do it. Do your jumps onstage. Do your turns onstage.” And it’s true. It’s a really different feeling.

Time Out New York: What made you shift your opinion about Black Swan?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
I don’t know. It’s something about the way you carry yourself. It’s much more about performing it. You have to enjoy it. It’s much more about that than it is about doing the steps. And I was very focused on that: I have to do the steps right. Then everything else gets lost. If you do it like you’re enjoying it, it makes the process much easier.

Time Out New York: You’re a contemporary person: How do you figure out your approach to roles like this and Sleeping Beauty?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
I don’t know. Sleeping Beauty is simple male technique. There is no hiding. You can’t put a face on. It is what it is. Whereas Swan Lake, there is more, there is a story; I really like acting and storytelling. The steps and the dancing in Swan Lake are elegant. Sleeping Beauty, to me, is different. I only have images of Misha and Rudi [Nureyev] doing Sleeping Beauty. [Laughs] But I’m working with Rinat Imaev. He is Xiomara Reyes’s husband. He teaches company class two or three times a week, and he started coaching during the past two weeks; it’s really nice to see what we have accomplished with him. Just working on variations. He’s done all this work, he’s done them before and he knows how you’re going to feel. There’s a certain way of telling somebody the little things, and he’s really good at that. When I have a variation, I work with Imaev; for all the calls with Hee and for Swan Lake are with Kevin. 

Time Out New York: You are dancing with Gillian Murphy in Sleeping Beauty, right?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
Yes, yes, yes. She’s very strong. And she is very relaxed. She’s always like, “Calm down. Take your time.” She’s really easy to work with. The guy is always doing too much. It’s one of these partners that you have to be there, they have to sense your presence, but too much is bad. You want to make somebody turn, but when they’re already such a natural turner, you don’t want to mess them up. You just have to be there. But she’s so solid, it’s great.

Time Out New York: You have so few chances to perform. How do you get to the stage without freaking out?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
Well, you’re ready. Even if you’re not, you have to tell yourself you’re ready. The stage brings things out of people that they didn’t even know they had. If you crumble and the pressure is too much, it can also destroy you. Julie Kent told me something good—three years ago, my back or my knee was hurting in rehearsal, and I said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” She said, “You know, I’ve done so many shows, so many guestings when I went to places and I didn’t even know how I was going to finish the coda, or how I was going to do a ballet. You just have to tell yourself that you will do it.” It’s definitely up to the individual. You have to use the time that you have wisely. And it’s difficult when you don’t get every opportunity, but the time onstage cannot be spent freaking out. It’s there. When I get the makeup on, I’m always like, Ahhhh. [Laughs] But then it’s fine.

Time Out New York: What do you want out of your career?
Alexandre Hammoudi:
I would like to go as far as I can go with what I have. I don’t know. Once this is done, what do you do? I don’t know if I will stay in the dance world. I love acting. I’m starting acting lessons. I started reading books and looking at technique, and it’s very different from what we do. But what I enjoy the most about dancing is the range of emotion you go through. It’s maybe not that easy in a big theater like this for everyone to feel and see it, but the roller coaster you go through when you do Romeo is crazy. The steps are very intense, yes. The choreography is technical and difficult, yes. But the feelings and the emotions are amazing. Even as Paris, you really lose yourself, and you really hope that everybody’s with you. You interact with other human beings the whole time. You look into people’s eyes. You can tell when somebody’s not in it. There is no B.S.’ing around at all. But I enjoy that. Even before I was promoted, I really enjoyed these roles, these things. And it’s little things. They aren’t things that everyone can see. There is no glorification in it. There is no success in it. It’s just very personal. I am French. I do have an accent, so I don’t know if I could actually pull that off. But I would love to try.

American Ballet Theatre continues at the Metropolitan Opera House (at Lincoln Center) through July 6. Alexandre Hammoudi performs Romeo and Juliet on June 12, Swan Lake on June 19 and 22 and The Sleeping Beauty on July 5.

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