An Elegant Leap from Uruguay to Ballet Superstardom

She’s a beloved national figure in the U.S. and also in her native Uruguay, with her superhuman seeming spins and turns in the air. But there was a time when dancer María Riccetto didn’t want to take a leap of faith.

She was 14 years old and an up-and-coming dancer in Uruguay when she was offered a scholarship to study abroad. Scared, in tears, she didn’t want to leave her family so she turned it down.

“I was crying every night. I did not want to go, I was afraid I was going to be homesick. So my parents said, ‘Well if you are going to get sick, then don’t go.’ so I stayed.”

Three years later, at 17, she was offered another scholarship chance, and she took it. Now she’s a soloist dancer with the national American Ballet Theatre, one of the premier dance companies in the world. 

Today, Riccetto, 32, is an emotional dancer who charms and drives audiences into a frenzy. For her, technique is just a tool for interpretation, but above all it is only the ‘angel.’

“You need to have that angel that conquers your heart from the start,” she said.

Ricceto  is touring, rehearsing (she takes the stage with Onegin, Le Corsaire and Thirteen Diversions), and getting ready for more curtain calls and her biggest season yet at the Metropolitan Opera House with ABT in New York City. Her show opens May 14.

“I'm dancing a lot and I want to be on top of my game.”

Riccetto has superstar status in both the United States and in Uruguay, where her occasional performances fill theaters.

Riccetto grew up in a quiet neighborhood in Montevideo. While dancing at S.O.D.R.E. - the National Ballet Company of Uruguay - she initially turned down a scholarship offer but, three years later, wanting to grow as a dancer, she accepted a full scholarship at the North Carolina School of the Arts in 1998.

“At 17, I had a need to see other things and learn more, so it was great to have that opportunity. After a year and a half I auditioned for the American Ballet Theatre, they hired me right away,” Riccetto said. “And now this is my home.”

Another dream came true when she recently talked to Julio Bocca, an Argentine celebrity and one of the top dancers of his generation; he is now the Artistic Director of S.O.D.R.E., the National Ballet Company of Uruguay.  On August 1st she will join the company as guest Principal Dancer for one year, once the ABT spring season is over.

“The company has a new theater, new ballet productions and great dancers. I wanted to be a part of all that. Julio and I talked and everything happened naturally,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed. The idea of working with him one-on-one was extremely appealing to me. I've been a guest with the company since he started directing. Going home and dance there is fulfilling, satisfying and after being in America for almost 15 years, I thought it was a good time for me to go back and make up for some lost time.”

After a year’s leave, María will come back to New York to continue her work at ABT.

“Deep inside I feel it's going to be a wonderful year, I want to learn and be challenged in my career,” she said. “There is nothing like performing at home.”

Like sports, one of the most critical challenges for a dancer is physical, therefore it is a career that has a short duration.

“As you get older, everything is harder and a little bit more painful, you have to be ready all the time. The audience doesn't know if you are injured or if you are just having the worst day,” she said. “You have to perform at your best each time. I try to. When it gets a little crazy, I just tell myself I am only human.”

Who knows what the future holds? Maybe acting (she already tasted Hollywood by being the double of Mila Kunis in Black Swan). Or maybe she’ll be an entrepreneur – she already owns a clothing line store in Montevideo. Or she could be a dance teacher.

In the meantime though, she said she’s in no rush to stop dancing.

“After all, I love what I do, and I want to enjoy every minute of it,” she said. “Who knows how long it will last?”

Mariela Murdocco is a journalist, TV writer-producer and photographer in New York City.


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