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By Joseph Carman
Alexei Ratmansky, resident choreographer of American Ballet Theatre, makes complex roles for artistically mature dancers. ABT corps member Alexandre Hammoudi is one. As Olga’s jilted fiancé in Ratmansky’s On the Dnieper, Hammoudi brought a rich intensity to the role. While the part was made on principal dancer David Hallberg, Hammoudi stepped into it as if it were his own—with precise classical footwork, an expressive upper body, and a clear back story of a man at the wrong end of a love affair.
Six-foot-one and darkly handsome, Hammoudi has elongated lines that enhance an impressive technique and a striking theatrical presence. The 27-year-old craves performing. “There is a feeling when you’re onstage that has nothing to do with steps,” he says. “You are totally involved in the moment.”
It’s no surprise, then, that Heath Ledger’s disturbing Joker in The Dark Knight remains Hammoudi’s screen favorite. “He invested himself in the role 100 percent,” he says. Hammoudi throws himself into a performance with similar zeal. Yet his manner is soft-spoken and thoughtful—qualities that shine through in ballets like Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas.
Ballet master Clinton Luckett praises Hammoudi’s onstage charisma. “His natural deportment is very noble and masculine,” says Luckett. “This colors every aspect of his performances: the quality of his movement, the beauty of the shapes he makes, and even the way he relates to his partners and fellow artists.”
Hammoudi was born in Paris, the son of an Algerian father and a French mother. He grew up watching performances at the Paris Opéra, where his grandfather was the head of lighting design. At 7, he asked to go to ballet class. When he ended up in a basic rhythmic movement class, he wasn’t satisfied until he could be jumping and turning. So he studied ballet with Max Buzzoni, a former dancer with the Paris Opéra Ballet, and won local dance competitions. “It was a way to get stage exposure,” he says, “and one of the reasons I started dancing was to be onstage.” He idolized Paris Opéra star Patrick Dupond, but videos of ABT dancers like Jose Manuel Carreño also mesmerized him.
At 14, with the encouragement of Colette Armand, mother of former Boston Ballet principal Patrick Armand, Hammoudi entered the Prix de Lausanne. It proved eye-opening, particularly the pyrotechnics of the Japanese and Cuban dancers, who had been meticulously coached. “I realized something was missing,” he says.
Hammoudi made it to the semifinals and won a scholarship to study at London’s English National Ballet School. But because of his exposure to those extraordinary Cuban dancers, his dream became to study in Cuba. When he had the opportunity to take class with Loipa Araújo, a former ballerina with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba (see “ABT in Cuba,” p. 20), she offered him an apprenticeship with the company. Initially he refused. “I wasn’t ready or good enough.” Nevertheless, six weeks later, he flew to Havana and ended up dancing the classics with the company.
But ABT was still on his mind, so Hammoudi made his way to New York. After a short time at SAB, he was hired by ABT’s Studio Company. In 2003, he became an ABT apprentice and a year later, at 20, joined the corps de ballet.
After occasional featured roles came principal assignments in ballets like Ashton’s Sylvia and On the Dnieper. “These roles broke boundaries for me because they are very tough,” he says. “You don’t want to crumble. They’re not just giving you steps, but responsibility.”
Working with Ratmansky, who cast him recently as the Prince (partnering Yuriko Kajiya as Clara) in The Nutcracker, has boosted his career immeasurably. “If you are open and willing to invest whatever time you are given with Alexei, he gets it out of you very easily,” he says. For ABT’s Metropolitan Opera spring season, he will dance the protagonist Pyotr in Ratmansky’s Bright Stream.
In his spare time, Hammoudi hangs out with his girlfriend Devon Teuscher, an ABT corps dancer, and loves to take his puppy out. But primarily he concentrates on his dancing. To put his signature on roles like the Prince in The Nutcracker presents both an opportunity and a challenge. “I don’t want to think about it as such a big role,” he says. “Then I could feel that I can’t mess up.”
That focus keeps him on track. “I used to be worried about the way I looked and what people would say. But since I have worked with Alexei, I am able to let go and be in the moment.”
Joseph Carman is a DM senior advising editor.
Elegant and expressive in Ratmansky's Seven Sonatas. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.