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By Craig Salstein
Craig Salstein sends out a blast of energy onstage, whether he’s tackling the technically demanding role of Bronze Idol in La Bayadère or the hilarious tractor driver of Ratmansky’s Bright Stream. He can be dashing as Birbanto in Le Corsaire and the funniest, most raunchy guy onstage in Paul Taylor’s Company B.
Salstein started training at the Ballet Academy of Miami at 8 and continued his studies at the Miami City Ballet School. After summer intensives at MCB, School of American Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre, he joined MCB in 1999. Only a year later he was accepted into the ABT Studio Company. Within two years he became a corps member and was made soloist in 2007.
At left: In Ratmansky’s Bright Stream. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy ABT.
In the first act of Puccini’s opera La Bohème, Rodolfo asks Mimi a rhetorical question. “How do I live? I live!” The oversimplified question is answered with oversimplification.
I dance because I dance. However, arriving at this declarative statement doesn’t come easy. In fact the question proposed for this article requires an intense inward approach to pull forth from the individual some meaning and reason for why I dance. I think the best way to start the discussion is to ask another question. That is, Where does my dance origin begin? For this I must share with you the earliest of what I consider two major discoveries of my own ability: watching and listening. Watching Michael Jackson’s music video “Smooth Criminal” was so powerful that I committed the steps to memory. The sharp bunny hops, quick turn-in/turn-out kicks, and the calm upper body are just so classy with a late-’80s update. (Later I realized he was just copying Hermes Pan and Bob Fosse.) The listening may have even started as early as being in the womb. My mother and father would blast Al Green and no doubt they would both be rocking out! The opera that I love so much came later, at age 10 when I discovered Enrico Caruso. It was impossible to just listen to his singing. I had to get up and move around to express a certain emotion I was hearing in the music.
Another question comes to mind, and that is, Was I destined to dance? I do remember dancing around at home at a very early age and I also remember my mom signing me up for dance classes with Mia Michaels at age 5. Mia Michaels had a huge impact. My parents paid for private lessons and with that came solos. I worked almost five years with her every day. She was the epitome of coordination. She had great taste in music and she was a great dancer. At any rate, I have continued with very little doubt and with great pride to travel the narrow road of being a professional dancer. I came to ABT through the summer intensives, ABT Studio Company, corps, and then soloist. Happy and fortunate, depressed and anxious was the journey to my personal level. I have battled MacMillan’s choreography for Mercutio for all these years and I have rehearsed the Bronze Idol over and over again. The first sailor in Fancy Free is one of my favorites until I am ready to do my variation and then after, when I am ready to puke. I have bowed in front of the gold curtain at the Met, exactly on the spot some of my favorite opera singers received their ovations.
These powerful experiences, however, are not why I dance. Had I not come into contact with any one of these examples I would still be dancing. So what is it? Perhaps the answer lies in my conscious choice of continuing to dance. I do it every day and really without regret (except during Nutcracker). Now I must confess something to the reader that I should have gotten out in the beginning, but it is probably best to close with this. There can be one indubitable truth which wills me to dance. Why I dance—I love it!