The popular TV show which goes behind the scenes of the Royal New Zealand Ballet returns for a second season, with a Spanish import in a leading role. Scott Kara reports.

Even though it's been two years, Sergio Torrado still sounds a little star-struck about being Natalie Portman's dance partner in Black Swan. It was, says the Spanish ballet dancer and current Royal New Zealand Ballet hottie, "like being in a dream".

"I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be in a Hollywood movie with Natalie Portman," he says in his shy, smouldering lilt.

But these days the 30-year-old finds himself in little old Wellington as one of the Royal New Zealand Ballet's lead dancers and, by default, one of the stars of the second series of tell-all reality TV show The Secret Lives of Dancers - and he couldn't be happier.

"It's a great company and they work a lot," he says.


He came to New Zealand last year to play Prince Desire in The Sleeping Beauty because he wanted the chance to work with the ballet's new artistic director, American ballet legend Ethan Stiefel. After Sleeping Beauty Torrado had the option of staying on with the RNZB or pursuing other work. He chose to stay.

"The company is always performing and that was my main objective - to be on stage as much as possible."

And his decision possibly also had something to do with a certain female dancer he met during rehearsals last year.

"Oh, you know ... " he says with a laugh. "You get to know someone and certain feelings start growing - and yeah, I'm just happy that I met her."

It would be giving too much away about the show to say who Torrado is in a relationship with, but all will be revealed when the second series starts on TV3 on Tuesday at 7.30pm. Let's just say he sets quite a few hearts a-flutter - one in particular - when he arrives at the RNZB headquarters in Wellington. Which is understandable. Look at him.

But why, Sergio, is it that dancers are drawn romantically to other dancers?

"Well, it depends, and the thing is we work with each other 12 hours a day. And when we're not in the studio we are always with each other, so it's bound to happen.

"I was never one to mix work with my relationships, but when you find someone you feel something for then ..."

What's a guy to do?

"Oh yeah, exactly," he laughs.

In true Secret Lives of Dancers style Torrado's relationship is just one of the ongoing storylines in the reality show, which won best observational reality series at the Aotearoa Film and Television Awards last year.

In 2010, when the first series started screening in primetime, it was a bold move for TV3 considering this type of arty telly was traditionally confined to Sunday nights on TV One.

But it became somewhat of a hit show - for both the network and the RNZB - because it offered a unique insight into the art of ballet, while taking a candid look into the dancer's lives and the juicy, scandalous, and quite often bitchy stuff that goes on behind the scenes. It was also about truly talented performers rather than Idol and X Factor wannabes.

Amanda Skoog, the managing director of the RNZB, says the series was a ratings winner and provided the company with a way of connecting with a diverse - and new - audience.

RNZB research showed 26 per cent of those who attended The Sleeping Beauty had never seen the ballet perform before.

"It is hard to determine the direct impact of the series, but we can say that in 2011 we had record attendances for the Stravinsky Selection in June, and record-breaking sales for The Sleeping Beauty."

This year the series starts with the ballet company undergoing its biggest upheaval in its 58-year history with Stiefel taking over, and the introduction of new talents such as Torrado meaning existing dancers' roles are on the line. Flamboyant former artistic director Gary Harris is back in a new, less high-profile role, and locals such as loud and outspoken dancer Jaered Glavin and up-and-comer Lucy Green also return.

Torrado had no idea he would be part of a reality show when he joined the company.

"So it was a bit of a surprise for me to see all the cameras. But it was interesting because I've never been in a reality show. I'd done a movie before that though," he jokes.

Torrado is a humble and gracious chap, even if he looks like a Spanish stallion who rates himself in these TimeOut photos.

For example, this is him on getting the part in Black Swan. "Really it was just because they wanted a dancer with a sad, and rough look in the face. They took some pictures, they [director Darren Aronofsky and his crew] called me up and said, 'Would you like to be in the film?' I'm like, 'With Natalie Portman? Oh, yeah'."

And ask him about his prowess as a dancer: "I just do my best. What else can I do?"

He was 7 when he started dancing in his hometown of Madrid and he hasn't stopped since. When he was 17 he left Spain to go to ballet school in San Francisco, before joining the San Francisco Ballet in 1999 and becoming a soloist in 2003. He then joined the Pennsylvania Ballet in 2007 before coming to New Zealand.

"Basically when I was a kid I was always jumping around and playing sports. And my uncle was a professional dancer and I saw him in a video tape and I said, 'I want to jump like that'. They took me to a school and that's how I started, and at the beginning I didn't really like it, but as the years went by I started actually liking it and then everything happened."

And as for what he thinks is the biggest misconception about ballet dancers - no, it's not that all male dancers are gay. He believes most people don't appreciate the extreme physical demands of ballet. "We work as hard as any athlete, and we put as much work into it. The only difference is that we cannot show how much effort we are putting in. It needs to be effortless, so people don't really get how difficult everything is that we are doing."

"But," he says with a laugh, "they don't have to know, because they just want to see something beautiful."


Who: Sergio Torrado, ballet dancing star

What: The Secret Lives of Dancers, reality series inside the Royal New Zealand Ballet

Where and when: Tuesday, 7.30pm on TV3

Performance: The Royal New Zealand Ballet, NYC - Three Short Ballets from the Big Apple, The Civic, Auckland from Feb 29. Also touring six centres around New Zealand. The programme includes 28 Variations on a Theme by Paganini, by Black Swan choreographer and actress Natalie Portman's husband Benjamin Millepied. Black Swan screens on Sky TV, 8.30pm Sunday.