Andrei Chagas has taken many leaps of faith in his career. His latest has him landing back where it all started: After making his Broadway debut in the revival of Carousel and playing a Shark in the upcoming West Side Story film remake, he’s now returning to Miami City Ballet as a corps de ballet dancer.
Chagas left his hometown of Rio de Janeiro when he was 15 years old to train full-time on scholarship at Miami City Ballet School. He spent two years as a student apprentice and then six seasons in MCB’s corps de ballet. During that last year, he began thinking about making a change, and started taking singing lessons. It was Justin Peck who encouraged him to audition for Carousel, which Peck was choreographing.
Andrei Chagas with Brittany Pollack in Carousel
“I loved working with Andrei on Heatscape at Miami City Ballet,” says Peck. “He was instrumental in the creative process and building off of that experience. I had a sense that he would appreciate and grow from the challenge of working on a major Broadway musical. The storytelling quality that runs through him was really key for this.”
Chagas went to New York City, where he had to sing at an audition for the first time. When he got cast in Carousel, he had a tough decision to make. For him to legally work as a dancer in the U.S., he had to get an O-1 Visa, which covers individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics and must be obtained through an employer sponsor.
“As an immigrant, I would have to choose between gambling with the odds of freelancing versus the security of having a company that will provide that visa for you every year,” he says. In the end, he realized he needed to take the chance. “It was the right thing to do artistically.”
By the time Carousel closed in September 2018, a film remake of West Side Story was in the works, also with Peck as choreographer.
Chagas auditioned, was cast, and then had to wait almost two months to get his contract as his visa was worked out. Filming wrapped in September 2019 and for the first time, he had no jobs lined up.
“The ‘What is next?’ question came with so much weight,” he says. “We freelance dancers had to deal with those emotions and anxiety every day and it was not easy. But we learn how to deal with those things, and it was preparing us for something even greater, which was 2020.”
Fortunately, the visa for the movie covered Chagas for three years. As it was about to expire in March 2021, productions in New York City were still shut down due to COVID-19. So, he reached out to MCB artistic director Lourdes Lopez.
Andrei Chagas in Miami City Ballet’s Heatscape
Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Miami City Ballet
“When Andrei called me to discuss his return to Miami City Ballet, I didn’t hesitate for a second,” says Lopez. “He is beloved in this company by his colleagues, by the artistic staff, by me and by our audiences. He is a wonderful dancer and a generous and warm human being. We are thrilled that he is back home!”
Chagas underscores the difficulties of working as an immigrant in the U.S. “A lot of times we have to choose safety over pursuing what is really in our hearts,” he says. “This fact shouldn’t be confused with my love for Miami City Ballet.”
As he makes his return, he knows he is a different person. He says watching other artists he worked with and learning how they pursued their crafts helped transform him from a dancer to an artist. He wants to share that artistic exploration and process with everyone at MCB.
“That’s what I’m looking forward to going back—to having a different approach,” he says. “To bring with me all those highlights but also the experiences that taught me so much.”
He does not see this career move as a step backward, but as an expansion of his creative pursuits. Chagas will continue freelancing as a member of The Forest of Arden Company, a company of multidisciplinary artists—dancers, actors, composers, writers, musicians, filmmakers—created by Michael Arden to reinvent theater during the COVID-19 pandemic. And he is still learning as much as he can about acting and would love to do another film or a Broadway play if given the chance.
In the last three years, after every leap into the unknown, Chagas has landed on his feet. He says he would tell any dancer with the same dreams, “Please go. There is no wrong turn. You’re going to learn and find out so much.”
“I did not give up, because I was still hopeful,” he says, “and if there is still hope, you gotta keep going.”