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29. Because Calvin Royal III Gave Up the Piano

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Calvin Royal III grew up practicing piano, not training to be a dancer. A military brat from St. Petersburg, Florida, he’d only dabbled in a bit of hip-hop and West African as part of a yearly event called “The Chocolate Nutcracker” when he decided to join some of his friends in the dance program at his performing-arts high school. “I thought, I kinda want to try something different,” he says. This fall, when Royal, 24—now a corps member at American Ballet Theatre—debuted in a principal role in Twyla Tharp’s Bach Partita, he gave the kind of performance few dancers achieve so early in their career, if at all. His gloriously expansive upper body, lush extension, and remarkable control made Tharp’s quicksilver choreography look not only easy but fun. When I saw him on November 3, while dancing opposite Marcelo Gomes, he suddenly broke into a radiant, hard-to-miss smile. What was he thinking? “It was toward the end of the ballet, when it’s like, We’re almost there! We almost got it!” He laughs. “It’s just a moment of hope. It’s really cool to find that onstage, where you just kind of be human, you know?”


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