With more stamps in their passports than most teenagers, António Casalinho and Margarita Fernandes are just getting started.
In between the conclusion of their first season as professional dancers and the beginning of the next, António and Margarita have been on a whirlwind tour performing in galas and accepting awards in France, Portugal, Japan, and Italy. All of this traveling granted them only ten days of vacation in Leiria, Portugal, their city of birth and the place where their personal and professional relationships began while studying at the Annarella Sanchez International Conservatory of Ballet and Dance (whose renowned namesake, incidentally, is Margarita’s mom!)
And now I virtually visit these two friends in Munich, their home away from home since mid-2021 thanks to having been offered soloist contracts in the Bavarian capital.
Soloist contracts. That’s not a typo.
At the ripe old ages of 18 (António) and 16 (Margarita), they transitioned from the proverbial studio to the stage with Bayerisches Staatsballett (Bavarian State Ballet) where they have just started their second year with the company. They share with me how they love the company and the city as both make them feel safe and welcome. Read on to hear more from these young stars as they continue to dedicate their lives to their art.
Interview with António Casalinho and Margarita Fernandes
‣ Congratulations on your premiere at Fall for Dance at City Center! What is it that most excites you about this new experience?
It is already very exciting to be part of the program of such a great event as Fall for Dance, but also it is so special that this will be the first time that we will be performing as professional ballet dancers in New York City. And our premiere at New York City Center.
‣ Can you share some of the highlights of your journey that led you from Leiria to New York City?
We both started studying ballet in Leiria when we were very young. At that time it wasn’t a big school but a ballet academy were we would spend our time just having fun. Later, we continued our training there to become professional ballet dancers.
From early on we participated in many different competitions in Europe, the United States, China, South Africa, etc. These trips were real highlights during which we gained wonderful stage experience as well as a certain reputation along with that of the school. This helped to increase our visibility which later would become of great assistance.
A: I won numerous top awards at YAGP, the Beijing International Ballet Competition, Varna and then the gold medal at Prix de Lausanne in 2021. Meeting people like Vladimir Vasiliev and Julio Bocca, whose dancing I had watched on video and admired greatly, was extraordinary and inspiring. And getting to see young dancers from different schools all over the world in class, rehearsals and competitions gave us so much food for thought.
M: Later on, we had the opportunity to work with Maina Gielgud in productions of full ballets (we danced the principal roles in La Sylphide, Giselle, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty) just like we would in a ballet company. During our last two student years, we had the opportunity to be regularly coached by Maina and perhaps this intense preparation assisted us when joining the Bavarian State Ballet as soloists, to immediately dance solo roles in works by Balanchine, Wheeldon, Ratmansky, as well as in the big classics.
And now – dancing Le Corsaire pas de deux in Fall for Dance at City Center… what an honor!
António Casalinho: Solo from Le Corsaire
Margarita Fernandes: Solo from Le Corsaire
‣ You have previously performed the pas de deux from Le Corsaire together. How will your approach to training – both technically and artistically – be tailored to this festival setting? What makes this particular occasion unique?
We realize that we will most likely be performing the only purely classical ballet in the Fall for Dance season, so we would like to make sure that New York audiences see and share our love for it.
Every single performance we do we wish to be unique and special. Technically, we always try to improve what we think wasn’t so good in previous performances, but the artistic content is what gives the uniqueness that we always search for. We try to find more details which will assist us in taking an audience into the particular world of the work we are performing, whether it is communicating our sense of the music if an abstract piece, or in a story ballet, getting the audience to understand the story and sympathize with the characters, making them laugh or cry.
‣ Why was Le Corsaire chosen?
We have done Le Corsaire together many times before and it is a pas de deux which we love because it shows both virtuosity and style. Plus, it is very popular with audiences.
A: I’ve always loved Corsaire partly for the challenge of the virtuosity for which it is so well known. But then continuing to perform it a great deal, later as a pas de deux with Margarita, helped me to discover the artistic and stylistic nuances to make it more than just a “wow!” piece of choreography.
‣ What is it that you most like about dancing with each other?
A: I feel very comfortable dancing with Margarita since we have known each other for a long time. It feels so natural to dance with someone for whom you have mutual trust and respect.
M: Just as António said, we have known each other since we were very young. We have built a relationship which enables us to find very special moments when we perform together. Also, we share the same ambitions and help each other constantly.
‣ What are some of the challenges of being in the spotlight at such a young age?
Well of course we have to be, and actually, hopefully we are – very aware of being a part of a team. And we have to be very aware of how what we do and say can be perceived. Hopefully we will have long careers ahead of us. We don’t want to step on toes, but of course we want to make the most of every opportunity.
A: I became used to being in the international spotlight from a young age. I had to learn to manage my relationships with friends and then to compete against them on stage. I think I was fortunate to have my school back in Leiria where we were all friends and students together and that gave me a normal life growing up.
M: Being the youngest soloists in a professional company has been an adjustment. We miss having friends our age.
‣ I imagine so! Plus, you’ve both missed out on being in the corps de ballet which is a significant step to a ballet dancers training.
M: It’s true. But here, soloists also have the opportunity to dance in the corps. All the women are so tall here, though, so I don’t always fit in. But I was lucky enough to have fill in a spot in Giselle as a Willi and to be cast as one of the four swans in Swan Lake. Plus, at our school, we really learned about how to dance as a group.
A: Although I haven’t had many opportunities – it’s different for boys than it is for girls – I got to jump into Diamonds which was so much fun! And I danced one of the four boys in Rubies. These experiences allowed me to get to know the other dancers better and to enjoy and be proud of the work that we achieved together.
‣ Your professional accolades are already well-known in the professional ballet space. What are some personal goals that you are currently working on?
M: I have to say I am looking forward to finishing my academic schooling! I only have one more year, and then I can be totally concentrating on my career and everything that goes with it. And I am fascinated by the different cultures in foreign countries, so I hope to travel a great deal.
A: I am hoping to learn more languages and to discover more about other art forms.
‣ What is something that very few people (meaning beyond your Instagram accounts!) know about you?
Many people think that through the entire 11 years we have known each other that we have always gotten along the way we do now. That actually is not true. For a long time – when we were younger – we used to argue all the time. Over time our relationship changed and we now are the best friends anyone could possibly have.
Featured Image for this interview of António Casalinho and Margarita Fernandes in Coppélia. Photo by Emma Kauldhar.
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