Daniel Roberge was acting, singing and dancing in his native Australia when he was still a little boy. But at 16, he unwittingly embarked on a career when he began classical ballet training in Newcastle, his hometown.
Within a year he was successfully competing in international ballet competitions and after several additional years of training, he relocated to Washington where he’s a company dancer with The Washington Ballet. He’ll be featured in its upcoming productions “The Washington Ballet Welcomes,” “Contemporary Masters” and the annual six-week run of “The Nutcracker” followed by “The Sleeping Beauty.”
During off-season from the ballet, Roberge, 27, takes on other dancing gigs. In June he was part of Chamber Dance Project’s stunning program “Ballet, Chant & Song” at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre. Chamber Dance Project’s founder and artistic director Diane Coburn Bruning says Roberge is all about “clarity and commitment. He’s a hardworking dancer who doesn’t know how to give anything less than 110 percent. He’s also a lot of fun.”
“Chant,” an especially beautiful new piece in the luminous program which Bruning describes as a visceral sculpture of sound and movement, featured hauntingly sublime chanters and insanely agile ballet dancers including Roberge and two other strong male dancers clad only in long skirts.
At the post performance party at trendy Hotel Monaco, a rapt female admirer recommended Roberge always dance shirtless.
Recently Roberge, speaking via phone directly from the beach at gay hotspot Fire Island Pines, New York, addressed the idea of dancing shirtless and other facets of a dancer’s life.
WASHINGTON BLADE: So how about dancing shirtless?
DANIEL ROBERGE: With the amount of work we put into it, why not let the people see that? It’s nice to see how muscles ripple — it’s the cause and effect of movement. That shows best when you’re shirtless or in tights.
BLADE: And what brought you to DC, rather than, say, New York City with all its dance companies?
ROBERGE: The Washington Ballet. It struck me as a good fit. I liked their diverse array of work. I knew I’d be able to use my background in jazz and musical theater. I didn’t know much about the town. That came later. I was excited about work and fell in love with the city afterward. In my travels I’m always an advocate for the city. Subsequently I’ve found many opportunities here including doing an ad campaign for D.C.’s City Center. For right now my career is just where I’d like it to be.
BLADE: And do you have a favorite ballet?
ROBERGE: I like doing anything that makes me feel good whether that means the process or the music. I do what I do because I love it. That’s the only way I can put it. Each piece is unique. I feel different things for different pieces. I love contemporary work and I love classical ballet too although it can be a little rigid sometimes. Working on Chamber Dance Project’s “Chant” allowed us all to bring what we have to the table. And when you do that it doesn’t feel like work.
BLADE: As a kid you did musical theater. Have you brought that to Washington Ballet?
ROBERGE: Yes, though I was never a principal actor, I love doing non-dancing character roles in ballet. I’m comfortable doing it and I’m good at it. I received very good reviews for playing Bottom en pointe in … “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and for tapping in another of our ballets. I’m a versatile dancer and performer for sure.
BLADE: And when you’re not working?
ROBERGE: My partner and I travel a lot. He’s a Midwesterner who works in medical education. Before he met me he’d never been to a ballet. We’re different but I’ve exposed him to the arts. It’s changed him. I’ve learned a lot from him too. Also, I’m working on a liberal arts degree. It’s been interesting because as dancers we start our professional careers so early, we don’t have a lot of time for university.
BLADE: Is it difficult being on the other side of the world from your native country?
ROBERGE: I came to the U.S. with dual citizenship and the money I’d won at a ballet competition in 2009 in Singapore. And with that I made it work. When I reflect on the last eight years, I think about how far I’ve come. I have a good credit score and a savings account. And most importantly I’ve learned from other people’s mistakes. I’ve seen people get into debt, spiral out of control on drugs and other things. Things could have gone very differently for me. Also, I came out young. Basically, I’ve always been out. And my parents have been fine with it. I’ve never had to overcompensate for that. And I think that’s helped a lot to build the confidence that I have today.