The Carioca Club: Thiago Soares
We are thrilled to introduce to you the inaugural member of the Carioca Club: principal dancer of the Royal Ballet, Thiago Soares. Our newly-launched members’ club brings together those who champion the Carioca lifestyle in all its audacity, confidence, and inclusivity. Each individual is an exceptional player in their chosen field and, more importantly, embodies the indefinable spirit Rio de Janeiro shares with its inhabitants. We look forward to sharing their stories with you, and bringing to life for a larger audience the Carioca spirit we know and love.
The life story of Thiago Soares has all the sympathy, determination, and ultimate triumph of a heart-warming family film. You can’t listen to his story and not think of Billy Elliot dancing his heart out on the roof of a shed. He recounts it to me, cheerfully and without a hint of self-pity, over a black coffee and whole banana (a request that seemed to confound the waitress as she removed a complex brunch menu full of trendy ingredients).
Now the principal dancer of the Royal Ballet, Soares grew up in Rio to a family he describes as “middle-class with difficulties” in a neighbourhood where opportunities for young people were limited. These days, his daily life unfolds across a litany of internationally renowned locations, “La Scala, Milan; the Royal Opera house; Paris” thanks to what he describes as “a magical journey”, with joy and gratitude evident on his face.
In the context of the Rio of his childhood (a city where children can, even today, become chess pieces in gang feuds), Thiago’s mother insisted on him finding a hobby to keep him occupied. And so he found himself signed up – more or less against his will – to the circus school. Beyond simply keeping him busy without costing anything, the circus was to give Thiago the tools and training he needed to start him on his unorthodox path to classical ballet. He learned acrobatics and became more aware of his body, developing the habit of daily training that he carries on today, and realising the importance of giving each audience a unique performance.
This concern with demonstrating his personality and sending a message through his dancing is a frequent concern, he asks more than once “what can I say? What can I add?” as he considers his performances, both during our conversation and in Primeiro Bailarino, the HBO documentary which followed his project to bring a world-class ballet performance to Brazil. It is during this film that he also utters the words that seem to constantly underpin his motivation: “I can’t stagnate.” There is a constant drive to push, improve, to conquer new fields. He admits that he always looking for new projects, to push his boundaries and explore his potential. Yet this determination never borders on hubris, or self-importance. He walks nonchalantly past a poster of himself outside the opera house, where a passerby gasps “you’re famous!” and asks for a photograph. He obliges, grinning, but brushes off the attention when I ask if this happens often, “oh, sometimes!” he demurs.
Despite a preoccupation with the power and potential of his voice, the earnest perfectionism is balanced out with a cheeky sense of humour. Throughout the photoshoot, he makes the team smile, and put everyone at their ease “I should not have had pasta for lunch,” he laughs, patting an ostensibly still-flat stomach as he changes out of a grey hoodie. Yet even as he strolls around the studio, to take a drink of water, or swap clothing, he retains his flawless dancer’s walk, feet ever so slightly turned out to mirror ballet’s first position. The concept of balance is very important to him; he has a strong belief in the importance of the early morning ritual of barre exercises, a soothing routine of basic building blocks of dance. He also weighs up the relative power of celebrity and importance, contrasting his reputation in Brazil (“there, if I dance, I’m the main guy!”) with his place in the revered institute of the Royal Opera House: one piece of a world-class team in a legendary company that stretches its long and distinguished history over this corner of Covent Garden.
After so many years of an international career and a home in London, the Carioca spirit is still evident and clearly a large part of his personality and sunny outlook on life. For him, the ultimate mark of a Carioca is a casual approach to everything, all the time. “And in any circumstances,” he adds, with a mischievous laugh. He believes it’s a side-effect of Rio’s unique situation: “that mix between city and the beach and that vibe, it makes us very down to earth. There is a swagger, but there is also a sense of nature and feet on the ground.” This distinctive casualness, he explains, led him to taking the Queen by the hand on their first meeting and simply saying hi. And how did she respond? “She smiled and shook my hand!” This innate charm is also on evidence throughout the day, as he breezes through the opera house without his pass, convincing various members of staff to let him through as he goes with his gratitude, his grin, a joke and an offer of a beer.
I am embarrassed to admit I had not seen him dancing live before we met, there were some snippets from the HBO documentary, and of course, his movements during the photoshoot were beyond the reach of most ordinary individuals, but a full performance evaded me. Some weeks later, he invited me to the Royal Opera House’s summer gala, which featured a piece with his former wife, the Argentinian ballerina star Marianela Nunez. Their performance is the stand-out of the night. In getting to know him, his down-to-earth personality, his relentless work ethic, you almost forget he is, already, a world-class ballet dancer. His youthful scrappiness and his willingness to take on projects makes you forget he is not still fighting for recognition. He’s fighting for the hell of it, because he can’t stop. His performance is powerful and touching, the on-stage chemistry with Nunez still tangible and a joy to watch. As a crowd climbs the stairs to the bar during the interval I hear a man exclaim to his wife, “I am so thrilled we managed to see Thiago and Marianela dancing together!” I feel almost proud as I overhear this. Having met the dancer once, spent some hours and shared some emails, you already feel a connection, and a desire to see him succeed. You can’t help but feel a part of Team Thiago.