Daniel Camargo, ABT’s New Principal, Is A Dancer With Acting In His Veins

October 18, 2022

This spring, during American Ballet Theatre’s season at the Metropolitan Opera House, it was hard not to notice a new face at the company. Daniel Camargo, a Brazilian-born dancer formerly of Stuttgart Ballet and Dutch National Ballet, came to ABT to fill in for injured dancers. In the year before the pandemic, Camargo, now 31, had gone freelance, craving freedom and variety. Before that, at Dutch National Ballet, he had worked closely with the choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, who recommended him to ABT. And it was in Ratmansky’s new ballet Of Love and Rage that Camargo made his first strong impression at the Met. By the end of the spring season, he had signed a principal dancer contract with the company.

Pointe caught up with Camargo soon after his arrival in New York City for rehearsals ahead of ABT’s fall season. He had yet to move into his first New York apartment.

You really made the role of Dionysius in Of Love and Rage your own. So much of the role is about creating a compelling character, full of nuance. Is acting important to you?

Dionysius is a very strong character, with a deep presence in the story, and a lot of room to play with from the beginning to the end. He goes through a lot of emotions. It was interesting to explore all those sides of him. You know, when I started dancing, I really didn’t think about acting, but as I’ve done more dramatic roles, I’ve started to really enjoy it. If the story of a ballet comes from a book, I read it and try to get as much information as I can before putting my own spin on it. Now that I’m a little older and have a bit more baggage, I can listen to my instincts and figure out what path works best for me.

You worked with Ratmansky before, in Amsterdam. Do you think he has helped to shape you as an artist?

I think everyone you work with counts. But I remember loving his musicality and the way he works. He pushes the dancers to the limit and gets things out of you as an artist that you don’t know you have inside of you. You really get out of your comfort zone, which is nice.

Daniel Camargo, costumed in a blue tunic, white tights and ballet slippers, and a black eye-mask, holds onto the waist of Hee Seo as she balances in arabesque on pointe. The dancers look at each other in the eyes, and Seo wears an off-white empire-waist gown, pink tights and pink pointe shoes.
Daniel Camargo and Hee Seo in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy ABT.

You seemed to immediately find your groove at ABT. What was that first season like for you?

I had such a good experience. Everyone was so supportive. And I ended up dancing way more than I expected, because of injuries and COVID. It’s one of the best companies, and you might expect people to be more resistant to somebody coming in from outside, but everyone was so welcoming. I spent a lot of time rehearsing in the studios, and we were able to get to know each other, and so it felt really natural.

Did you come with the expectation that you might end up staying?

I really came in with no expectations, but at the same time wanting to have a very good experience and to enjoy the moment, and that’s exactly what happened.

Before joining ABT, you were a freelancer, which meant you were in charge of your time and your artistic choices. Will you miss that?

Freelancing, being able to travel and to dance different things, was exactly what I needed at the time as an artist. But I was also getting to the point of wanting to be stable and have a home and stop traveling so much. It was perfect timing. I haven’t really planned ahead very much. I just really want to settle down in New York and with the company.

Did the pandemic change the way you think about what you do?

I spent a lot of the pandemic in Portugal, which was nice because of the language, and also because I got to spend a little bit more time outdoors. [Portuguese is the language he grew up speaking in Brazil.] I really grew as a person, because I got to experience different things, not being in the studio all the time, and spending more time in nature. I had time to ask myself what I enjoy doing as a person, and not just as a dancer. I took a long break, and then, when I returned to the studio, I really went back to the basics, building up very slowly, almost like you do after an injury.

Daniel Camargo, wearing a loosely fitting white peasant blouse, white tights and white ballet sippers, stands in a wide stances and holds Isabella Boylston over her head by her forearms. Boylston, in a pink nightgown, makes a small arabesque and looks up towards the ceiling.
Camargo and Isabella Boylston in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy ABT.

You started your dance studies in your hometown of Sorocaba, near São Paulo, following in your sisters’ footsteps. What kept you going back to class, and who were your role models?

There weren’t many boys who studied ballet in Brazil. I knew about Marcelo Gomes, and later I met him at a few galas. But, basically, I enjoyed being in the studio, trying new steps, adding something of my own to them. And it was fun to watch videos of famous dancers and try to do those things, as well.

After you left Brazil and went to study in Stuttgart, you worked with the Russian teacher Peter Pestov. He was famously tough, but what important lessons do you feel you learned from him?

It was tough training. He was very specific about musicality, soft landings, the way you finish things. Everything has to be done properly, with care, in order to maintain a longer career. If you made any noise when you landed from a jump, he made you do it again.

What are your hopes for your time at ABT? Are there ballets you are dying to perform?

At the moment I want to go into it without expectations and see what happens. I’m really happy that I’m here now. I’m someone who always wants to keep learning; you can never learn enough. I just want to enjoy each role as it comes.

What are you dancing this fall?

I’ll be débuting Oberon in Frederick Ashton’s The Dream. It’s my first time dancing Ashton. It’s fun, and acting is a big part of it. I’m working to create a real character. And it’s demanding, and quite puffy.

What motivates you to dance?

I love the freedom. It’s funny because the whole process of getting ready to perform is not at all about freedom. You have to be very focused and do exactly what you need in order to be physically and mentally ready. You’re projecting toward a goal. But once you step on the stage, that’s when the freedom comes in.