Orlando Ballet’s Arcadian Broad has been called 'the future of ballet' 

Wunderkind? Prodigy? Unicorn?

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click to enlarge PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett

A Google search of Arcadian Broad will net you a somewhat infamous clip of him at 14 years old, competing on Season 4 of America's Got Talent. After an incongruous but spirited performance, a hybrid of ballet and hip-hop in homage to High School Musical, Broad stands onstage sweating in a jersey and shorts and holding a basketball, awaiting America's judgment. David Hasselhoff loves it, but Piers Morgan says, "Are you good enough to get into the final? ... The answer to that question is no." A sardonic smile starts to form on Arcadian's face. I know that smile – it's the same one that landed me in detention in seventh grade.

It's a great moment, with Arcadian emotional – this matters for him – but also full of such obvious disdain for the circumstances: the stupid jersey and basketball, the judges and the routine – none of it fit. Standing before a TV audience of over 10 million people, you can see he is already looking past it all to the next opportunity, the next challenge.

After making it to finalist for the title role in Billy Elliot on Broadway, after winning numerous competitions (medalist in the American Dance Competition from 2006-2011; first prize in the Youth American Grand Prix in 2012), after studying at Juilliard, there was no doubt that he was ready to step into the spotlight he so obviously craved. But also, there was no doubt that he would refuse to be contained in just one role.

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"It's a lot and it does overwhelm him at times, but I think that would be the case for anyone who's taken on what he's taken on at the age of 22," Orlando Ballet Artistic Director Robert Hill tells me over the phone.

From early on, Hill has been a father figure for Broad – proud, and also protective. ("He taught me how to tie a tie," Broad tells me.) Hill says, "I met him at an age when he was living with his mom and two sisters and he was kind of the man of the house. His measly Orlando Ballet second company $75 a week or whatever it was was supporting the family. He was very serious about it and it was heavy on him."

I ask Broad if he ever felt pressure to just be one thing – dancer or choreographer or musician. "When I first started, yes," he admits. "I did have to figure out how to fit into the mold, and I did have a crossroads when I started ballet." This was the notorious "dipping your fingers in all the different pies" moment, when he decided to quit ballet.

When Hill hired the ballet school's next director, Dierdre Miles Burger, in 2010, the first thing he tasked her with was getting Arcadian back. At 16 years old, he was hired as the company's youngest professional dancer.

As a kid he was competing for our attention, pushing for recognition of his talent – any talent – even as he outgrew role after role. Now, as OB's official unicorn, dancing and choreographing and composing music, he's a highly touted, heavily marketed featured attraction. Hill has called him "the future of ballet." Talk about pressure.

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Broad is pushing his hand through his hair as he addresses the crowd at Uncorked, an Orlando Ballet event where members of the company dance and speak to a live, well-paying audience – a sort of peek behind the curtain.

Demonstrating how it all comes together, Hill extemporaneously choreographs some elegant steps for three pairs of dancers – male/male, female/female and female/male. They memorize their parts, the music starts, they dance for about four bars and then freeze as the music stops. There is applause.

Now it's Broad's turn, and where Hill chose movements that the three pairs could memorize easily and execute gracefully, Broad is in Mad Hatter mode, tying the dancers into Twister-esque knots, occasionally leaving them momentarily confused or bumping awkwardly. He's brainstorming, circling the performers and envisioning one step at a time, never losing the connection from one step to the next.

The two male dancers twist and turn until they emerge from a sort of floppy grappling, suddenly and unpredictably, into a moment of beauty and repose. The audience lets out a gasp and then cheers loudly. It felt like 10 minutes to work out four seconds of music, but the payoff is real, and Arcadian is grinning.

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"His talent speaks for itself," Hill says.

"When he started conducting his first rehearsals," he says, "there was a lot of scorn and 'Who do you think you are, don't tell me what to do' [from the other dancers]." Hill didn't tolerate dissent or disrespect for his protégé, and now Broad leads like a veteran – tight ship, loose grip.

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