When Ricardo Graziano was a young boy growing up in Brazil, he thought he wanted to be an actor.
He was an outgoing kid with an energetic disposition and an affinity for soap operas. He danced, but he never considered it anything more than a hobby. The way some boys take karate lessons, Graziano took dance lessons.
Acting seemed more attainable than dancing, anyway. In a country where most people’s favorite pastime is soccer, ballet performances are a rare commodity. Only a handful of professional companies exist in Brazil.
Graziano never considered it would turn into a career until at 16 years old he earned a scholarship to a dance school in Germany.
“The door to the dance world opened, and I said, ‘OK, let’s see what happens,’” he says.
Two years later, Graziano joined the corps de ballet at Oklahoma’s Tulsa Ballet, where he unsurprisingly earned a reputation for performing character roles in story ballets.
He laughs as he rattles off the list of roles, both male and female, that pad his repertoire.
“I’ve played the step-sisters in ‘Cinderella,’ a drag queen, a witch and a wizard … ” Graziano trails off. “I get a lot of acting parts for some reason.”
Perhaps it’s his inner soap star still itching to come out.
“No,” he snickers. “I no longer want to be an actor. This is what I love.”
He’s near the end of his first season with Sarasota Ballet. When he joined the company as a soloist last year, he immediately landed the role of Prince Ivan in the season-opener “Firebird.”
This weekend he’ll share the lead role in Balanchine’s “Prodigal Son” with fellow soloist Logan Learned, another dancer with a penchant for dancing character roles.
Staged by Paul Boos, the 1929 ballet is sandwiched between two lighter works on the company’s all-Balanchine triple bill: the plot-less and aristocratic “Divertimento No. 15” and the Broadway-esque Gershwin ballet “Who Cares?”
A half-hour emotional rollercoaster inspired by a parable pulled from the Gospel of Luke, “Prodigal Son” is about one man’s rebellion, defeat and redemption following his decision to run away from home.
Despite his dramatic range, the role has been one of Graziano’s most challenging to date.
“You go through a lot of emotions in 30 minutes,” he says. “It’s a lot of responsibility.”
IF YOU GO
Sarasota Ballet will perform “Mr. B! A Tribute to George Balanchine” at 8 p.m. Friday, April 1 and at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 2, at the Sarasota Opera House. For tickets, call 359-0099, Ext. 101 or visit www.sarasotaballet.org.
Q&A WITH PAUL BOOS
Former New York City Ballet dancer Paul Boos is a repetiteur for the George Balanchine Trust and an international guest teacher. “Prodigal Son” marks his first time working with the Sarasota Ballet.
Logan Learned and Ricardo Graziano are sharing the lead in “The Prodigal Son.” How do they differ in their interpretations of the role?
Each of them is physically different people. Logan is very sort of small, and when he dances you feel like a very tender, delicate young man is throwing himself out into the world. Ricardo, although he’s a bigger guy, still has a real sensitivity about him. He’s still able to convey the same sort of innocence.
What is your impression of the company so far?
The dancers are so open. They’re like sponges. They walk into the room and soak up so much information and pretty much instantly apply it. They’re not afraid to take chances and develop. It’s ideal for any guest who’s coming in to work with a company.
And your thoughts on this all-Balanchine program?
The first ballet is a Mozart piece from his middle period. The second ballet — an earlier work, which I’m responsible for — tells a story. And his last work has a jazzy, Broadway feel to it, so the audience is getting a wonderful taste of the best of Balanchine at various points in his career.
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