That Ricardo Rhodes would become a professional dancer might once have been considered improbable. Introduced to the art at age 7 through Boston Ballet’s inner-city outreach program, Citydance, he admits his original attraction was getting out of school one day a week. But he quickly fell in love. After graduating from Boston Academy of the Arts and doing a stint with Boston Ballet II, Rhodes auditioned for Sarasota Ballet—and had a job offer by the time the class was over.
Now in his fourth season with the Florida company, the 22-year-old has earned kudos for his athleticism and versatility, dancing roles both traditional (the prince in The Nutcracker) and irreverent (Ken, of Barbie and Ken, in Matthew Bourne’s reworking of La Boutique Fantasque). Last winter, Rhodes was introduced to Twyla Tharp’s choreography, as one of the ballet couples in In the Upper Room. Here he describes the unique challenges of dancing Tharp.
Ricardo Rhodes: “Everything in Upper Room is so fast and frantic that I tend to panic and rush the steps. You have to count the music constantly to really do the movement fully. I’ve always heard that the faster you move, the more you have to relax and breathe, but I finally believe that now. I don’t cut anything short and I give it all I have, because I feel like the worst thing that could happen is I’ll be tired. I like to push myself like that.
“Learning this has been more complicated than learning a classical piece. The movements aren’t familiar—they’re not drilled into your head like basic ballet steps. There are spins instead of pirouettes, and it may be the first time I’ve ever been told not to jump so high. But learning how to forget about technique has made me feel freer. I don’t care if I look silly. Sometimes as ballet dancers, we get way too caught up in looking perfect.
“Dancing this piece takes you to another realm. Like Elaine [Kudo, a former Tharp dancer who staged the ballet] says, it’s almost spiritual. This is one of my favorite pieces to perform—though it may also be the hardest.”