Interview with Cesar Morales - Graham Watts for ACS
Having studied ballet, in Santiago, from the age of 11, Cesar Morales continued his training on a scholarship at the Academy of Houston Ballet. At 16, the director of the Chilean National Ballet, Ivan Nagy, offered him a contract to join the company. After just one year in the corps de ballet, Morales – who was born in Rancagua in central Chile – was promoted to soloist; and after one more year, at the exceptionally young age of 18, he became a principal; gaining promotion on stage immediately after his first performance of Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake.
Morales stayed with the National Ballet, in Santiago, until 2003, when he left for Paris to work as a freelance dancer across Europe; before settling in the UK. He joined English National Ballet, in 2004, transferring to Birmingham Royal Ballet, again as a principal, four years’ later. He is soon to complete his tenth year with the company; and his twentieth year as a professional ballet dancer.
Dance critic, Graham Watts – a member of the Anglo Chilean Society - caught up with this very busy dancer on the eve of his performance in the title role, as Aladdin, with Birmingham Royal Ballet, at Sadler’s Wells, in London, to ask about his life in dance.
GW: Can you tell me something about your early attraction to ballet, in Chile; and how your training began. How difficult was it to find a place at ballet school, in Chile?
Cesar Morales: I was very interested in arts in general from a very young age. I was part of my school choir and we were taken to see a ballet at the Opera House in Santiago. It was the first time I had seen ballet and, from that moment, I felt that ballet was what I wanted to do. It was, literally, my dream. To be honest, getting into the National Ballet School wasn’t difficult because, at the time, there were so few boys wanting to do ballet.
What prompted you to leave Chile to finish your training in the USA?
That was just an amazing opportunity. Ben Stevenson (Director of Houston Ballet, at the time) came to Chile to work with the company and to visit the school. He saw me and worked with me for a while and after that he offered me a scholarship for the Houston Ballet Academy, and, of course, I took it, and so off I went to Texas when I was just 15 years-old.
You joined the National Ballet, in Santiago, at a very young age and were quickly promoted to soloist, after a year; and principal, at the early age of 18. What was it like to be elevated to the upper ranks, so quickly; and did you miss having longer in the corps de ballet, either at the time, or since?
Well, to be made a Principal, so young, was amazing. I had the opportunity to work with incredible choreographers, teachers and dancers; perform great roles; and also travel for international galas and be invited to perform as a guest with other companies. All of that has been great; but is also true that not being part of a corps de ballet has made my career as a dancer, lonelier. My work, learning and dancing leading roles, has always been done more privately and never so much in a group, most of the time. But I am very happy with all that I have achieved over my career, to date, and all of the different and fascinating places that I have danced.
You danced in Chile for several years. What are your fondest memories of that time?
I have so many beautiful memories of dancing in Chile, especially working with great people like Ivan Nagy, Natalia Makarova, Marcia Haydée and Ben Stevenson; and to dance choreographies by Balanchine, Robbins, Glen Tetley, John Cranko, Kenneth MacMillan, Ricardo Bustamante, Vicente Nebrada, Jaime Pinto and many more.
If I was asked to choose just a few, it would have to be the promotion to principal after my first Swan Lake; dancing the lead role of Des Grieux in Manon; and creating the role of Conrad in Le Corsaire. These are just a few of many loving memories from dancing at home.
Why did you come to Europe?
I was always attracted to the European dance world, and especially the quality that French dancers have; and the artistry that I could see in companies like The Royal Ballet, for example. What you can find across all European culture is huge.
You have been in England, since 2004, dancing first with English National Ballet; and latterly (since 2008) with Birmingham Royal Ballet. What have been the highlights of your time, here?
I have to say that it has been the amazing places in which I have danced. The Royal Albert Hall, the Palace of Versailles and at the O2 Arena in London. And, I have also enjoyed having the opportunity to dance many important ballets from the English repertoire.
Do you have the chance to go back and dance in Chile? How often? What have you been back to dance recently?
Yes I do, regularly, although I wish it could be more often. I was in Santiago, recently, dancing in Paquita, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake.
How important is ballet in Chile? Do you feel that you have a special status as a Chilean dancer who has made a successful career, both at home, and in Europe?
Ballet in Chile is now more open and it is much more popular, and therefore important, than when I was there. Yes, I feel very special when I’m back dancing in Chile, but I don’t see it as a status; I see it more like love and a big respect for my career, and that is such a nice feeling.
You are dancing in Aladdin, tomorrow. What should we look out for in this ballet and particularly what excites you about your role?
I think that the audience just needs to come knowing that they will have a good time and enjoy the dancing, colorful costumes and sets. It’s a great ballet for the family. I really enjoy dancing, as Aladdin: he is spontaneous, mischievous, funny and brave.
There must be roles that you have not yet had a chance to dance. What is top of your wish list?
That would have to be any of John Neumeier’s works; Maurice Béjart’s Firebird; and, especially, in the title role as John Cranko’s Onegin.
And, finally, what does it mean to you to know that there are members of the Anglo-Chilean Society coming to see you perform?
I’m so happy to know that they will be there. I never have anyone from home watching my shows, in all these years of being in Europe. It will be a very special feeling for me and I’m looking forward to meeting them afterwards.
As are they to meeting with you! They are very proud of you. Thank you so much, Cesar.
© Graham Watts
About the Author:
Graham Watts writes for magazines, websites, theatres and festivals across Europe, and in Japan, Australia and the USA. He is chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle and of the National Dance Awards; a mentor of aspiring dance writers through the Resolution Review programme; and a guest lecturer at The Place and the Royal Academy of Dance. His book, ‘Agony & Ecstasy’, written with Daria Klimentová, was published in 2013. Graham is a Commonwealth fencing medalist; was captain of the GB sabre team at the Barcelona Olympics; and fencing team leader at the Olympic Games of Athens and Beijing. He was appointed OBE, in 2008.