Switching Roles from Dancer to Choreographer

Paulo Arrais and Kathleen Breen Combes in rehearsal for Ela, Rhapsody in Blue

Paulo Arrais and Kathleen Breen Combes

Photo Credit: Brooke Trisolini

Explore the Making of a World Premiere

Principal Dancer Paulo Arrais shares his process behind creating his first work for the main stage.

Paul Craig and Rachele Buriassi

Photo credit: Brooke Trisolini

Paulo Arrais and Paul Craig

Photo credit: Brooke Trisolini

Paul Craig and Rachele Buriassi

Photo credit: Brooke Trisolini

Paulo Arrais and Paul Craig

Photo credit: Brooke Trisolini

ELA, Rhapsody in Blue is inspired by your mother. How has it been creating a piece so deeply personal to you?

I’ve been thinking about this with a lot of care since I started in August. It’s easy for me to create something personal because I can explain my emotions to the dancers. It’s inspired by my mother, but it’s also inspired by my grandmother, my aunts, my three sisters, the female influences I had in my life when I was growing up in Brazil. They were very strong, loving women. It’s almost like a therapy because I get to create something I really love and I get to relive happy moments and not so happy moments and use those life experiences I have toward something positive. It’s therapeutic to me.

How does it feel choreographing a ballet for the Citizens Bank Opera House stage for the first time?

I am so grateful for the opportunity to reach such a large audience with this work, and I feel it's my duty to talk about something important. If I can touch even ten people each night with this piece, I think I’d be doing something good. It means so much.

What is it like switching roles from dancer to choreographer for this? How different is it?

I’m starting to think of the next level, the next step. I love working with the dancers, I love helping them own something so they feel passionate too. My goal is to get there with them and I’m sure it’s also going to help me as a dancer. When you’re in front of the room you see everything and you feel everyone’s energy. I’ve been getting to know sides of dancers I didn’t know before.

Paulo Arrais and Roddy Doble in rehearsal for Ela, Rhapsody in Blue

Paulo Arrais and Roddy Doble

Photo Credit: Brooke Trisolini

What is it like working with your fellow Company members? How have they helped bring your vision to life?

I’m so grateful because in the beginning I was nervous about being a leader to some people who have been in the Company longer than me, but they’ve been so supportive. Boston Ballet is my family, so I feel confident and comfortable and loved. They’ve been wonderful and I hope to help each dancer because I love doing that. I love passing on my knowledge and experience.

Boston Ballet’s Artistic Director, Mikko Nissinen, is working on the costume design. What has it been like collaborating with him?

It’s been wonderful. Mikko and Brandon Baker, the lighting director, are incredible. It’s been such a collaborative work and it has definitely brought on a new phase of our relationship.

This piece aims to capture female power and celebrates strong women. How important is that in today’s culture around gender equality and the #MeToo movement?

I can’t believe we are still fighting for gender equality. The #MeToo movement is a huge breakthrough because people are coming forward, which takes a lot of courage. My piece is about the reality of making mistakes. I find strength in people when they go through something that’s tough and they rise up. They deal with it and they grow from it and they accept it. It’s hard to rise up from struggle and that’s what the #MeToo movement is. Women are standing up and fighting for what’s right.

What should the audience know about the piece before coming to the theater? What do you hope they feel after seeing it?

My goal is to help people break out of labels and boxes they live in to find happiness. This piece shows a taboo subject and may make people uncomfortable. But in that feeling, I hope it will make people think and reflect on why they’re angry, so I just want the discussion on female empowerment to continue well beyond the performance.


May 16–Jun 9, 2019

The illusion we create is intended to deepen your understanding of reality.

Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director