In one sense, American Ballet Theatre soloist Calvin Royal III’s company debut as the lead in George Balanchine’s Apollo in October felt momentous: a black dancer, in a historically lily-white company, portraying a god. In another, it felt inevitable: Royal is regal as soon as he stands onstage, to the manner born. As Apollo, authority radiated even from his decisively placed fingers. That famous “stoplight” moment, in which the hands open and close in quick succession, like flashing traffic signals, registered with spine-tingling precision.
But he was clearly a young god, too, with a combination of vulnerability and curiosity that felt convincingly adolescent. He made Balanchine’s notoriously difficult choreography look like playtime—which, of course, is exactly what it’s supposed to be. It’s a role that parallels Royal’s current career moment in an almost uncanny way: He’s destined for Olympus. It’s only a matter of time.