Cupcakes & Conversation with Herman Cornejo, Principal, American Ballet Theatre
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
I have to admit that I’m not a morning person, but I feel very lucky to live out my dream as my job. Sometimes there’s not one specific motivation to go into the studio every morning is it just the way I feel alive, just like a fish in water or a bird flying, it is a sensation of liberty that it makes you feel that you can own the world.
Why ballet ?
The most special aspect of ballet is the expression of the soul through movement and music. To have the ability to create another world for the audience and to become someone or something else, makes this profession the greatest career in the world.
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?
At present I enjoy performing with each of my partners because they all have something special and together we can create different emotions and so I have a unique and special chemistry between each of them. However, if I could go back to the past I would love to have danced with Maya Plisetskaya.
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
As a ballet dancer there’s nothing more spiritual and real than performing in a theatre, that’s where the magic happens. Having said that I have to say that when I performed in open air theaters like the one in Athens, the ruins of Verona or the desert of Masada in Jerusalem, it was an incredible experience.
What is your daily routine at the moment ?
My daily routine at the moment is to take company class at 10.15, followed by rehearsals from 12 to 7pm of which can include the classical full length ballets or the modern repertory, depending on the season. When we perform the schedule changes slightly as class starts at 11am, rehearsals until 5.30 and the show from 8pm until 11pm.
What do you eat during the course of a typical working day ?
I try to have a very good breakfast because it is the most important meal to fuel your body for the day. In ABT the breaks between rehearsals are very short so often there is no time for lunch, so breakfast is imperative! I try to keep hydrated by drinking a lot of water throughout the day and normally just have time for little snacks until I finish work and then I have a big proper meal for dinner. I know this is not the most ideal thing to do but it is the dancer’s life!!!
How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
After rehearsing all day I try to relax, take a shower, stretch and do my make-up slowly. Before the show there’s always a little anxiety, especially if it is a new role. However, after so many years performing as a professional dancer the moment just before I go on stage the nervousness disappears. The stage is where I feel in control and the place I feel the most comfortable. I don’t have any kind of ritual, so after I put my costume on I’m ready to go!
What are you looking forward to dancing in 2011/12 ?
I am excited for what I think will be the highlights of my season; La Bayadere at the Met with Alina Cojocaru and Natalia Osipova and the opening night of Romeo and Juliet with Xiomara Reyes. I’m looking forward to making my debut in Le Corsaire as Conrad and performing Albrecht in the beautiful full length of Giselle. I’m also excited to work with Alexei Ratmansky again for his new production of The Firebird.
How do you deal with the stresses of performing ?
I have to say that for me it is the opposite, I can’t wait to be performing so my stress disappears!
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite ?
I have so many questions and there are so many controversies that I am dying to know the truth about so, in no particular order, my guests would be:
God ; to explain everything from the beginning!!!! Cleopatra; the last Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, Achilles; the most important Greek hero and considered the fastest man, Anne Boleyn; one of the strongest, most influential and important Queen Consorts of England. Michael Jackson; a true legend, and my hero, the Barcelona FC player Leonel Messi.
What would surprise people about you ?
I think that people are surprised at how outgoing I am because I appear very serious at work and quite shy when I first meet people.
Who inspired you to dance ?
My inspiration and idol is, and always will be, Vladimir Vasiliev.
How would someone else describe you ?
Perhaps we can have this question posted and see what the answers are ?
What is your best piece of advice ?
My best piece of advice is to always choose with your heart. I have never regretted anything that I chose with mine, so be honest with yourself in everything you do. I think this is the best approach to life.
Which role has tested you the most & how ?
I have to say that creating a new ballet with Twyla Tharp was one of the most challenging projects I have ever undertaken, with regard to stamina and keeping pace with the enormous energy of this genius choreographer. Of the full length ballets; Romeo is one of the most demanding roles. You need the stamina, technical skill and strength to perform pas de deux after pas de deux, interspersed with all the sword fights, in addition to portraying the storyline and the feelings of the character. This combination of artistry and technique makes it one of the most challenging roles.
What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you ?
When I joined ABT one of my first parts, apart from Bronze Idol in La Bayadere, was the Court in Giselle…. Yes! the “Court” the costume was so big and the sword was so long, that it was dragging across the stage as I walked around with the procession, plus my shoes were too big for me and so falling off!! You can imagine, the whole picture was hilarious!
If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create ?
I would love to be able to dance with lighter costumes. Some of the jackets we wear are so uncomfortable that it is impossible to lift your arms, so imagine partnering a 3 hour ballet with that on! So my design would be a jacket made with the lightest materials possible!!
A phrase I use far too often is …
“Life is beautiful.”
Who would play you in the film of your life ?
Many people have told me that I look like James Franco and I really admire him as an actor, so I guess he would be a great actor to play me.
What is your favourite quote?
“Be the change you wish to see in the world” by Gandhi.
What’s on your iPod ?
Everything! My 32GB memory is not enough, one of my favorite albums is from Philip Glass.
Who would you most like to dance for, and why?
I have a special feeling for the New York audience because they have seen me grow as an artist, their support has given me the chance to become who I am today.
What makes you a good dance partner ?
Look in the eyes of your partner and be there for her.
Do you have a secret skill which no one knows about ?
Hahaha if I tell you, will not be a secret anymore.
Describe yourself in just three words.
A human being is very hard to describe, but I think honesty and happiness would best describe myself and as a Taurus, I’m very stubborn.
If you could dance in front of anyone, who would it be and what makes them special to you?
As a UNESCO peace messenger, I love to perform in charity galas for those in need. I would also love for my family to be able to be in the audience every time I go on stage, for them not to have to worry about visa regulations, which often makes their presence impossible.
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be this time next year ?
At this time next year, I would like to continue experiencing different audiences and companies around the world. It is important to me to continue to instil joy and enthusiasm from the audience, or even a simple smile from people around you.
This not only fulfils me as an artist but also as a human being.
What is your exit strategy, for the time when you stop dancing, and how did you plan it ?
I am a certified Gyrotonic teacher, so I will probably combine Gyrotonic alongside teaching and coaching. I should like to pass on my experiences to young dancers and perhaps further into the future become a director of a company.