Principal Dancer, Boston Ballet
• Promoted to Boston Ballet soloist in 2011
• Promoted to Boston Ballet principal dancer in 2012
• Gold medal, Passo de Arte Brasil 2000
• Silver medal, Festival de Danca de Joinville 2001
• Bronze medal, Premio Cecilia Kerche 2002
• Finalist and Paris Opera Ballet School Scholarship, Youth America Grand Prix 2003
By April M. Crehan
Paulo Arrais, principal dancer at the Boston Ballet, fell into his career almost by accident.
His mother took him to an arts conservatory in his hometown of Goiânia-Goiás, Brazil with the intention of enrolling him in gymnastics to burn off some of his energy, he recalled. But the school didn’t offer gymnastics, so at age 11, he started ballet.
At first, it was only a hobby, made more enjoyable by the attention he received as the only boy in class. “I think any kid at that point likes the attention,” he said, chuckling.
But the attention was also because he was, quite simply, very good. At 15, he received a scholarship to the Paris opera ballet school, and suddenly he could see himself doing this as his career.
Arrais and his mother moved to Paris and from there the self-described “global baby” studied in London, kicked off his career in Norway, and moved to San Francisco to work on his contemporary style with Alonzo King’s LINES before joining the Boston Ballet.
In just two years, Arrais has moved from corps-de-ballet to principal dancer and has been dabbling in choreography since 2011.
Surprisingly, Arrais said being a Latino dancer in an artform so historically white hasn’t been too difficult for him. “The Cuban school is very strong so therefore we [Latino men] didn’t really feel a difference.”
For women, though, it’s a different story, most especially for Black women.
“Now and then I still hear ‘Odile danced by someone with dark skin? No way.’” said Arrais, referring to the Black Swan role in Swan Lake, one typically danced by the lead ballerina who also plays the White Swan, Odette. “It’s shocking and it’s really sad.”
That racism is part of the reason he was so careful picking dancers for his recent premiere, “Castle,” which was part of the BB @ Home program that offers Boston Ballet dancers a chance to choreograph.
“I wanted to make sure I picked a cast that was diverse,” he said, noting the dancers included two minority dancers (one Black Connecticut native and one Chinese Chongqing native) and two white dancers (one from Australia, another from Michigan).
Arrais hopes and plans to continue his venture into choreography, which currently trends towards new classical, though that could change.
“I might wake up tomorrow and be like ‘I want to do something totally different,’” he said.
“I’m still finding my language.”