Ever heard of freelance dancing? Independent ballet dancers Joseph Gatti and Adiarys Almeida — formerly of the Cincinnati Ballet — stepped out as free agents this past July, following five years of contracts with some illustrious international companies.
The pair has returned to the Cincinnati Ballet to perform in the company’s next two productions, The Nutcracker and the world premier of King Arthur’s Camelot, choreographed by the ballet’s artistic director/CEO Victoria Morgan.
Call it a sort of homecoming: Gatti and Almeida, who are a longtime couple off-stage as well, met at the Cincinnati Ballet and danced there for three and four seasons, respectively, before moving to Spain in 2008 to join Corella Ballet. After two years, the pair signed on with the Boston Ballet, where they spent three years before venturing out on their own.
“We’d always wanted to try it,” Gatti says of freelancing. “We wanted to do the things that we enjoy doing, before we can’t anymore.” After all, ballet is a shorter career than most.
Over the past few years, they’ve been getting frequent offers to appear at galas and as guest artists, and this encouraged them to take the risk of freelancing, but they needed a plan.
“It’s different when you’re your own boss,” Gatti says. “It’s tricky. There’s a lot of things you have to think of: Where are you going to rehearse? How do you stay in shape?”
Now based in Pompano Beach, Fla., the two train and rehearse with a beloved instructor who hails from Almeida’s native Cuba.
Like any form of self-employment, freelance dancing has its pros and cons.
“You can put it in a balance,” Almeida says. “It’s great to be in a company, of course. You get all the benefits and the security. You always have performances. But being committed to a company full-time you cannot always go and do [guest appearances] because you have a contract, and that’s your priority.”
They’ve also experienced certain differences between working in Spain and in the U.S.: Spain offers year-around contracts, sometimes for life after three years, as opposed to the seasonal contracts more typical in the States, with shorter seasons and summers off — and the contracts must be re-engaged annually.
“You have to prove yourself every single time,” Almeida says. “Every year you’re nervous, like, ‘Am I gonna get my contract back?’ On the other hand, then you see a lot of people [in Spain] who just get comfortable, like, ‘Oh, I’m just going to have babies for five years,’ because they can’t really fire them.”
Still, their work elsewhere proved beneficial, and Morgan and the company here were glad to have them back.
“I feel like their presence has been educational and also I feel like our dancers have been able to teach them as well; it’s not just a one-way street,” Morgan says.
“I always feel that in our art form, because it’s so visual, that it’s important that you’re able to see new things, that you’re able to be stimulated by new movement ideas that you can see in other bodies and other people,” she continues.
Naturally, their broader experience includes different takes on The Nutcracker. And Almeida and Gatti know their Nutcrackers: Before the year ends, they’re each performing in three different versions of the ballet across the globe. They give high marks to Cincinnati Ballet’s production, choreographed by Morgan.
“I have to say, [Morgan] is so smart to put something like this [production] together because what I think people forget and directors forget is the playfulness, the comedy, the characters,” Gatti says. “I mean they’re making it so serious now, these Nutcrackers … and you can’t have that for the kids.”
Almeida adds that Morgan’s choreography is also very technically challenging. “It’s great because it pushes us to be better,” she says.
Though The Nutcracker represents a quintessential holiday event for many, it holds a special place in the memories of both Almeida and Gatti.
The role of Clara became Almeida’s first principal role in a professional company (the National Ballet of Cuba); Gatti’s first time onstage was also in The Nutcracker.
“I just remember looking up at the lights and being awed on the stage, and then everything was fine,” he says.
For Almeida and Gatti, no doubt things will continue to be.
Cincinnati Ballet presents THE NUTCRACKER Friday through Dec. 29 at the Aronoff Center. Tickets: 513-621-ARTS or cballet.org.