An artist who, surprisingly, often slips under the radar, she gives some of the company’s most memorable performances. Petite, with long arms and beautifully etched legs and feet, she dances with technical strength and an innately dramatic quality that is palpable. With her natural, unaffected beauty, the Uruguayan-born dancer looks like she could be one of the bold, determined heroines in a novel by Isabel Allende. She has an unmistakable authority in both classical and contemporary works—and that is a rare thing in the ballet world.

 

“Maria has a very appealing presence,” says ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie. “She brings a sense of self and a sense of humor to the company. She also brings the ability to genuinely support her colleagues.”

 

Although she dances her share of soloist parts, Riccetto has made an unforgettable impression in many principal roles. In the prelude of Les Sylphides, she draws a delicate pianissimo quality from the steps. She brings a special vulnerability to Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun and in Mozartiana,
she understands the tricky dynamics of off-balance adagio and allegro movement. And her Giselle has a haunting gentleness.

 

Riccetto is particularly fond of the Romantic repertoire. “I love to move slowly and pay attention to every detail,” she says. “My port de bras and the way I use my neck seem to come naturally in adagio movement.”

 

The daughter of a rancher, Riccetto began dancing at age 6 at a local school in Montevideo. Her mother loved all kinds of dance and ballet classes were a way to keep Riccetto occupied while her parents worked in the late afternoons. After a few years, her teacher urged her to audition for the national ballet school. By age 12, she was an apprentice at the national ballet company, while continuing her training at the school. “My days were crazy,” says Riccetto. “There was a lot of pressure, but at that age you feel like you can do it all.”

 

When Riccetto was 14, University of North Carolina School of the Arts offered her a scholarship. At first she was excited, but then got cold feet. “A month before I was due to leave, I was crying every night and telling my parents, ‘I’m not ready,’ ” she says. Riccetto ended up turning the scholarship down. At 17, when she grew frustrated with the Uruguayan company’s bureaucracy, she finally went to UNCSA.

 

Upon her arrival in the U.S., she knew three phrases in English: “My name is Maria. Nice to meet you. Please speak slowly.” It was a period of adjustment. “I was very naive, but I wanted to challenge myself,” she says. “I am a lyrical dancer, but I learned to move faster without losing my roots.”

 

When graduation approached, Riccetto traveled to New York to audition. Homesick for her tight-knit family and her country, she set the stakes high, trying out for ABT—but not expecting to receive an offer. “I said if I don’t get into a big company, I go home,” she recalls. To her surprise, ABT asked her back for a second audition, then offered her options: joining as an apprentice for the spring season in 1999 or as a corps member that August. She chose the latter, so she could dance in Balanchine’s Symphonie Concertante, coached by Melissa Hayden, for UNCSA’s graduation performance.

 

“People say a lot has to do with talent,” says Riccetto. “I think a lot has to do with timing and luck.” She joined ABT when a number of short girls had left, so she was immediately thrown into the front row of the corps. At 5’ 4”, she didn’t lack for partners. The company had several talented short men,
like Herman Cornejo, so she was quickly dancing Sleeping Beauty’s Bluebird Pas de Deux and Olga in Onegin.

 

“I love ballets where I can tell a story,” she says. “That’s what I was made for. As time goes by, you realize better how to tell it. How are you going to dance Giselle when you’ve never had heartbreak? Life experience gets you ready to do those roles.”

 

Riccetto has had many talks with McKenzie about broadening her repertoire. “I asked, ‘Why don’t you consider me for this?’ He has a vision, whether you agree with it or not,” she says. “I am certain that if you work every day like you’ve never worked before, it pays off. That’s what happened with Giselle.”  Having already danced Giselle in Uruguay, coached by Julio Bocca, she was prepared when other dancers’ injuries gave her an opportunity to assume the role during the 2009 Met season.

 

Riccetto is loved in the ABT family. Her close friend Sascha Radetsky praises her blend of “graciousness and feistiness.” He adds: “I think Maria’s wisdom and perspective on life makes her dancing special. A lot of living is packed into her 30 years.” Like McKenzie, he praises her attitude towards her colleagues: “She’s dedicated, supportive of others, fun to be around, inspiring in her dancing and her conduct.”

 

For a long time, Riccetto was always thinking, “I want to be a principal, I want to be a principal.” Now, she has made peace with dancing exquisitely as a soloist and developing other areas of her life. She has a boyfriend in Uruguay and a burgeoning business there called Primma, a dancewear company that is co-run by her sister, a former dancer. “I know my dancing isn’t going to be forever,” Riccetto says. “There was no place to buy leotards and tights in my country. We manufacture everything there, and we are putting together a showroom.” She loves to ride horses on the ranch at home and does work for a Uruguayan charity organization called Reaching U. Since her mother died six years ago, she finds it hard to watch sad movies: “Now only stupid movies to make me laugh.”

 

Riccetto hopes more roles lie ahead. “I want to be recognized onstage for who I am and for my work,“ she says, “not because I asked for a role. Everything I have done until now was because I deserved it.”

 

And when she dances, the audience deserves—and gets—the best.

Joseph Carman is the author of Round About the Ballet and is a Pointe contributor.

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Angela Sterling, Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet

Clear your schedule now for Monday, January 29th, 2:45PM (EST)/ 11:45AM (PST). Pacific Northwest Ballet will be live-streaming rehearsal from Kent Stowell's Swan Lake, straight from their Seattle, WA-based studios. To psych us up for their on stage performances February 2nd - 11th, PNB is letting us in on their Act II rehearsal.

From the corps of swans to Odette and Prince Siegfried's pas de deux, and the infamous four swans, this rehearsal is not to be missed. You can sign up now for a live-stream reminder on their site. In the meantime, we'll be brushing up on our Cygnets with this PNB sneak peek.

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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Lopez in Circus Polka. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB.

When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

Keep reading at dancemagazine.com.

Summer Study Advice
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Videos are a great alternative when auditioning in person isn't possible. Here are some general guidelines for making a good impression.

1. Follow directions. Before filming, research what each school you're interested in requires. "It demonstrates your ability to follow instructions, and schools pay attention to that," says Kate Lydon, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre's summer intensives and the ABT Studio Company. "If the guidelines haven't been followed, your video might not be watched the whole way through." You may need to make multiple versions to accommodate different schools.

2. Videos should be no longer than 10 minutes. "Keep it short, simple and direct," advises Philip Neal, dance department chair at The Patel Conservatory and artistic director of Next Generation Ballet. "You have to be sensitive to how much time the director has to sit down and look at it." Barre can be abbreviated, showing only one side per exercise, alternating. Directors will be looking at fundamentals—placement, turnout, leg lines, stability—but don't ignore musicality or movement quality. Make sure music choices match combinations and are correctly synced in the footage.

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Career
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I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

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Videos

They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

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