The Artist

by Hanna Rubin for Dance Magazine

Herman Cornejo talks about his recent award-winning roles.

For many critics and fans, American Ballet Theatre principal Herman Cornejo reigns supreme as ballet’s preeminent male artist. A nuanced and expressive dancer, Cornejo, 33, has been expanding his repertoire with many notable debuts. These earned him the Benois de la Danse prize as 2013’s outstanding male dancer this past May. Last year, Cornejo not only debuted as the ardent Aminta in Ashton’s Sylvia, but also had three major roles created on him: a lead in Alexei Ratmansky’s Symphony #9, Caliban in Ratmansky’s Tempest, and Cheri in Martha Clarke’s dance-theater piece of the same name. Later this summer, he will appear at the Vail International Dance Festival as artist in residence; this October, he reprises Cheri with Alessandra Ferri at the Kennedy Center. Cornejo recently spoke with DM's ENews about his Benois roles and his dance dreams.

What was special about the roles that the Benois committee cited?

Many were new creations. When a role is made on you, it contains your thoughts and the way you move. In some way, it’s your own. It was very, very nice, to be able to work with Alexei on Symphony #9 and Tempest, and Martha Clarke on Cheri.

How would you describe the title character in Cheri?

He’s very spoiled. He knows he’s beautiful, that he has a beautiful body, and everything comes easily to him. He’s used to an easy life of money and beautiful women, and it has made him very weak. When his life has problems he must confront, he can’t handle it.

What was it like, dancing with Alessandra Ferri?

I don’t think there’s a word to describe it, to be able to dance with one of the most iconic dancers in the world. We overlapped at ABT for a while, but never had the opportunity to really dance together. So, for me, it was really a dream come true. At first, Alessandra wasn’t sure it was going to work, because when she knew me, I was just a baby. In her mind, she had a hard time imagining the affair between us, but the first day we rehearsed, the chemistry really kicked in.

What is it like, working with Alexei Ratmansky?

He asks things of you that you don’t think you can do, but when he asks, you just try. He could tell you, “Jump from the fifth floor,” and you’re going to do it.

Are there any dance dreams you have yet to fulfill?

I am hoping next year to dance Le Jeune Homme et La Mort. I’m still crossing my fingers that happens. I think to stop dancing—as I must one day—without doing a Roland Petit ballet is a crime.

(photo credit: Cheri; Signature Theatre; Amy irving, Alessandra Ferri, Herman Cornejo, Sarah Rothenberg; Director - Martha Clarke)