‘The Nutcracker’ inspires Calvin Royal III

Calvin Royal III first caught wind of a real-life ballet when the “Chocolate Nutcracker” strolled into the hometown he grew up in. Soon enough, Royal found himself being part of the ballet. 

Today, Royal is a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre (ABT). Royal steps into the limelight as a soloist on Dec. 14 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts as ABT performs “The Nutcracker.”

“It’s always exciting to be here in Southern California at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. It’s kind of like our second home for ABT,” Royal said in a phone interview. 

What makes “The Nutcracker” special to him is the music, Royal said. 

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Calvin Royal III attends the American Ballet Theatre’s Holiday Benefit at The Beverly Hilton on December 11, 2023, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for American Ballet Theatre)

“I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say for me it always starts with the music,” he remarked. “I can listen to the music at any time of the year. It has that magic in it, and when you are able to see it [The Nutcracker] on stage, all the elements come to life, from the choreography to the music to all the kids that perform with us at ABT (Segromscenter) and the dancers and the company who have been doing it for years now. 

“It’s just one of those holidays, traditional classic. Everybody knows or has heard of The Nutcracker. And within it, there is this whole idea of transformation and the idea of experiencing a world that is part of your imagination and making it real. And I think that’s the magic of The Nutcracker. It’s chasing a dream and making that dream a reality.”

Royal chased his dream as a dancer and is now living in his reality. After having his interest piqued by the ballet bug, Royal invested his time in pursuing the artistic profession. It has worked out for Royal. 

With that said, Royal has had his share of lumps and bumps along his journey of success. Some of those bumps have hit hard enough that they created some self-doubt for Royal, he said.    

“Being in the ballet, specifically, is hard,” Royal said. “Like the physical demands. In those moments of self-doubt, for me, it was important to lean on my family who really supported me…Having that was everything for me.”

Royal is not an overnight sensation. He has had to put in work to be where he is at this juncture of his career. This is factual advice that Royal said he shares with students to let them know that nothing is given. 

“It’s incredibly important to me even when I go out and teach when we’re in New York or when we go on tour,” Royal said. “I go and teach young students because it’s important for me not just to teach but I’ve had to talk with them about their journey, about my journey, and just share anything worth doing that you are passionate about, that you really want to achieve, it’s not going to happen in a snap, and it’s not going to happen overnight. 

“That was my experience. It was a process, and It had low moments with injuries, with self-doubt about being in the ballet. There was no guarantee I would get those roles, but I think it’s important to share that it is a process and it takes time to develop your craft, your technique.” 

That process has taken Royal from being a finalist at the Youth American Grand Prix Ballet Competition to getting a full-time scholarship at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of American Ballet Theatre (ABT) to being part of the main company at ABT. 


LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: (L-R) Jon Avnet and Calvin Royal III attend the American Ballet Theatre’s Holiday Benefit at The Beverly Hilton on December 11, 2023, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for American Ballet Theatre).

From there, Royal navigated his way through the ballet world, tapping successfully into getting fellowships, and eventually moving his way up the ABT ladder as soloist and now principal dancer. Royal is just the third Black performer who has been elevated to principal dancer at ABT.

With all the company climbing he has done, Royal has been able to play just about every role in “The Nutcracker.” 

“Physically, I’ve done almost all of the roles that you can in The Nutcracker, from a party parent to one of the mice in the battle scene,” quipped. Royal. “I was a bumblebee way back in the day. This is my second year doing the Prince in The Nutcracker and leading the production. It’s really exciting to be able to cover that journey and now being a Principal and leading the show.”

The lead photo appears courtesy of Calvin Royal III/American Ballet Theatre

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