Daniel Deivison-Oliveira joined San Francisco Ballet in 2005 and was promoted to Soloist in 2011. I first saw him in 2006. It was my first assignment. The occasion – a matinee, the final performance of the Company’s previous production of Swan Lake. The dual roles of Odette / Odile were danced by Lorena Feijóo. Davit Karapetyan appeared as Siegfried. Life was never the same and both superstars have just bid their farewells. ”I was Apprentice for a month,” said Daniel, “and then Corps after that. I danced in the Act I ‘Peasants’ and the Act III ‘Czardas’.”
How did he land at San Francisco Ballet?
“I went to the YAGP competition in New York. Through that, I got a lot of offers for either a contract or a school scholarship including with Canada's National Ballet School, some in Germany, Alvin Ailey, and American Ballet Theatre. Kevin McKenzie [Artistic Director of ABT] offered me an invitation. I was 16 and he thought I was too young to join the company, but would take me when I turned 18. I was also offered an apprenticeship with San Francisco Ballet for 2003, but I had a fight with my teacher. So, it didn’t work out for me to come here and I stopped dancing for a while. In 2004, I was contacted by San Francisco Ballet saying they had a school company they were starting. Then my dad got involved and I came here. I became one of the pioneers in the training program.”
“Coming from Brazil, famous companies such as ABT, Paris Opera, Royal Ballet were always out there. Every kid wants to be in one of those companies because they hear so much about them. I had never heard of San Francisco Ballet. Back then – in Brazil and also South America – I was one of the most talented of the kids and the men in my age group. I say that because of the number of competitions I went to. My name was appearing in the newspapers, on television, the arts world. It never went to my head. I was doing very well and was ready to take another step – such as the opportunity to leave Brazil. My thinking back then was that I wanted to spend a few years outside, to see what was going on, then go back to Brazil and my family. I’m very attached to my family. I believe I made the best decision in coming here. But it wasn’t easy.”
Daniel’s bio on SFBallet.com reflects the company’s amazing range of repertoire and its diverse roster of choreographers. His strong technique, athletic drive and artistic insight commands our attention, especially through the (sometimes challenging) contemporary works and – on the other end – the anticipated demands of a dramatic role such as “Tybalt” in Tomasson’s Romeo and Juliet.
“It’s up to you – your level of artistry – to come up with something. The choreographer should not have to say something like, ‘Smile here, look sad there.’ Even though I’m classically trained and take class every day to maintain my technique – I’m very into the modern and new classical works. But I would like to do Romeo. I’m at my best whenever I have an acting role. It’s what I enjoy performing the most. It’s only a matter of opportunity. I’ve also done Von Rothbart in Swan Lake, the Moor in Petrouchka, the Kaschei in Firebird. There is a tendency for me to play the bad guys. But tonight I have Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour – third pas de deux, principal and Tomasson’s Trio – second movement, principal. For me, it’s the most interesting part of the ballet. He has said certain things about what it represents. I do a pas de deux with Lauren Strongin – we look like we are enjoying what we’re doing, we’re in love. Suddenly, another guy comes in. He represents death. He begins pulling her away and eventually takes her away. Technically, I don’t see him. It’s like – omigod, where are you going? I move from smiles and enjoyment to suffering and regret. I would definitely enjoy dancing ‘the bad guy’ – but, in this piece, I’m happy with my role. Whatever the music is – you have to create a mood even though there may be no character, no story.”
I told Daniel that every time I attend The Nutcracker I wonder how many kids out in the audience will wind up in a ballet class the following January. His countless appearances have no doubt sparked many an imagination. What would his advice be to the kid, especially the boy, who thinks he may want to continue with ballet and knows he must compete?
“How much do you want to do this? Where do you see yourself? You will always have to keep up with these things in order to get these other things.
“It’s hard to see somebody who has everything they want in their life. I never wanted to have everything I ever wanted, because that would have made me lazy. It would make me stop being as hard-working as I am – to stay focused, disciplined. It has always been really hard for me. But I can’t complain. I am so blest to be a healthy person. I have a fantastic and supportive family. I understood that difficulties would come, but it was up to me to surpass them in order to achieve my objectives. And I’m still doing that! Every day it’s a different fight. When I was sixteen and started getting lots of attention and opportunity, I realized I could become something out of it. I’ve always had an image of what I wanted to be and where I wanted to be. That has helped me to stay focused and surpass the difficulties – whether it was the separation from my people, my home country or the financial struggles I had at the beginning. Going to ballet class and doing my best work every day, I knew that at some point – no matter how long it took – I would get there.”
I asked Daniel about his greatest difficulty. What is the ‘demon’ he deals with?
“Distance. Every time I go home – my parents are older, my nephew is older. I feel like I have missed so much of their lives because I only go home once a year – every May. Every time I get there, something is different. I have memories of the day I left, how young I was and how everyone looked. When you’re younger you don’t realize some things – how important it is to save money, to be polite, to pay attention to certain things while you’re busy doing something else. I was a different type of younger person. Even as a boy, I felt mature. I had all these priorities. My priorities have changed. I still have a lot of time – a lot of years still left in my legs. But I don’t know how much longer I can take being away from my parents, from my family. I don’t want to have regrets. So, I need to figure out how I can still do what I do and be closer to them.”
“At some point, I would like to move to Europe. It has become so difficult for Brazilians to move to America, because of governmental issues. My parents have never been able to come to San Francisco to see me perform – because of the government. But every time I go to Europe they come to watch me. When I first came here I spoke no English. I had no friends, no money. I had to deal with that situation for a long time before I felt comfortable. Learning English was the easiest thing I had to do. I had my dictionary, I watched movies. A year later, I had a Spanish roommate. He spoke absolutely no English. I knew a few things in Spanish, but not really. As time passed, I realized I was speaking fluent Spanish. Today, my Spanish is on the same level as my English.”
Daniel and I found vocabulary-in-common when I asked what piece of music he would choose to have choreographed on him / just for him. He’s already thought about that. “Can I have more than one?” Sure. He listed four. His category of choice – Opera.
“The flower duet from Lakmé [‘Sous le dôme épais’]; O mio babbino caro [from Gianni Schicchi]; the aria of the Queen of the Night [from Magic Flute, ‘Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen’ aka ‘The vengeance of Hell boils in my heart’]; and every Olympic skater’s favorite aria-without-words competition solo, ‘Nessun dorma’ [from Turandot].”
And his choice of choreographers? That took a moment.
“Val Caniparoli, Christopher Wheeldon, and Yuri Possokhov. I’ve done many pieces by these choreographers – and wonderful ballets by many other choreographers. But you’re asking me to name them, right off – and where I felt I really did something? Then it would have to be Val Caniparoli for O mio babbino caro; Wheeldon for Lakmé; and Possokhov for Nessun Dorma and the Queen of the Night.”
Perfect. Let’s all bend over backwards and make it so!