Joseph Massarelli
Photo: Jan Willem Kaldenbach

Joseph Massarelli


As a little boy, Joseph Massarelli wanted to be just like his older brother and sister in everything. Allyssa, his sister, was doing a combination of ballet, jazz and tap classes. One of her classes was open to the public and her mother had to do her utmost to restrain Joey – as Joseph was already known. So she enrolled him in the ‘boogie babies’ toddler group, but it wasn’t a great success. “We did kind of childish Disney-themed dances, which were totally different to what my sister was doing. The classes were meant to be fun, but I sat crying in the corner.” 

In the years that followed, Joey tried out different sports – football, baseball, basketball and gymnastics – but his passion for dancing remained. “At home, I was always performing for an imaginary audience, and I worshipped Michael Jackson and John Travolta. People said, ‘You could become a musical star’, but unfortunately I couldn’t sing at all – so no Broadway for me.” When his sister and a friend took part in a talent show at school, his mother said, “Go on, let Joey dance with you.” Joey says, “On the video, you can see how incredibly unmusical we were, yet the audience was wildly enthusiastic. And even more important, it was the first time I’d been on a real stage… and I thought it was absolutely amazing.” 

Twenty thousand dollars 

When he was ten, Joey started dancing classes again. First he did breakdance, then jazz and tap, and soon he was invited to join a selection group and gradually became acquainted with other dance styles, including ballet. One day, his teachers took him along to a class in Chicago, and the teacher there suggested that Joey went to The Chicago Academy for the Arts. “I hadn’t a clue what that was at the time. When I looked at the website, I saw the fees were twenty thousand dollars a year, so I thought, ‘Well, I can forget that then!’” But his parents’ response – when he eventually dared confess the whole story – was extremely relaxed, and they said, “Let’s see if we can find a solution.” Joey says, “It helped that I’d just won a sort of So You Think You Can Dance competition, which had made my father see the light as well.”

In 2010, without having had any formal ballet training, Joey was given a scholarship to go to The Chicago Academy for the Arts. “Actually, it was only once I was there that I realised what was really involved in being a professional dancer. In the school library, I watched videos of star dancer Ángel Correa, for example, and of Nacho Duato’s Remanzo, a work for male dancers. I’d never seen men dancing like that before.” 

Joseph Massarelli
Joseph Massarelli in Blake Works I (2023) | Photo: Alex Gouliaev
Joseph Massarelli

Versatile dancer 

Joey sees himself primarily as an athletic dancer, with a strong physical inclination. “I excel at high-energy movements and quick, dynamic steps.” Classical refinement doesn’t come naturally to him, he says. “But with regard to that, I’ve learnt a lot already, and I still want to learn lots more.” His goal is to get the most out of his career and work intensively with many more choreographers and dancers, and thus to grow into a versatile, all-round dancer. “One of my greatest wishes is to transport the audience really convincingly, in a leading role, in the story of a big, full-length ballet.” 

Joseph Massarelli in The Sleeping Beauty
Joseph Massarelli in The Sleeping Beauty (2022) | Photo's: Michel Schnater
Joseph Massarelli in The Sleeping Beauty

‘Game time’ 

From then on, Joey’s dream for the future kept changing regularly, partly due to the summer schools he attended at Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Ballet West and The Royal Ballet, among others. After previously winning a regional preliminary round of the Youth America Grand Prix, he went on – following a further triumph – to the final in New York, in 2014. “One of the classes there was watched by Ernst Meisner (artistic coordinator of the Junior Company – ed.), so then you know that it’s game time!” After the competition, Joey was offered four scholarships, and he eventually chose the one for the Dutch National Ballet Academy, in Amsterdam. “Although straight away Ernst warned me, ‘You may not end up getting a place with Dutch National Ballet, because of your build and short stature.’”

Joseph Massarelli in Legacy Variations
Joseph Massarelli in Legacy Variations (2022) | Photo: Altin Kaftira
Joseph Massarelli in Legacy Variations
Joseph Massarelli in Legacy Variations (2022) | Photo: Altin Kaftira
Joseph Massarelli and James Stout
Joseph Massarelli with James Stout - rehearsal Legacy Variations (2022) | Photo: Altin Kaftira
Joseph Massarelli - rehearsal Blake Works
Joseph Massarelli - rehearsal Blake Works I (2023) | Photo: Altin Kaftira

Dawson, Ratmansky and Forsythe 

But things turned out differently. In his first year at the Dutch National Ballet Academy, Joey did four auditions for the Junior Company in vain. However, after the end-of-year performance in 2015, in which he gave a sublime interpretation of Maurice Béjart’s Seven Greek Dances, among other ballets, he was accepted into the group after all. And just one year later, he moved up to Dutch National Ballet. “Since then, it’s been one fantastic roller coaster of experiences and opportunities.” His bond with choreographer David Dawson (after whose Legacy Variations – which was partly created on him – he was promoted to soloist at the end of 2022) is extremely special to him. “David continually pushes and stimulates me to develop myself further.”

And Joey also cherishes the collaboration with choreographers like Alexei Ratmansky and William Forsythe. “Ratmansky is completely true to the aesthetic rules of classical ballet, and it’s so interesting to share in all his knowledge. Forsythe, on the other hand, is at the opposite side of the spectrum. His ballets give you a whole new view of how to use the body.” 

Text: Astrid van Leeuwen

Joseph Massarelli a.o. during rehearsal Legacy Variations with David Dawson

midden Joseph Massarelli - repetities Legacy Variations  - Dawson


Place of birth: 
Elk Grove Village (Illinois, USA) 

With Dutch National Ballet since: 

Career with Dutch National Ballet: 
Soloist (2022), grand sujet (2019), coryphée (2017), élève (2016), Junior Company (2015)

Chicago Academy for the Arts (United States)
Dutch National Ballet Academy (Amsterdam) 


  • 2014: Youth America Grand Prix, New York, first prize in the category modern and second prize in the category classical 
  • 2014: Youth America Grand Prix, regional preliminary round Indianapolis (United States), first prize 
  • 2013: Youth America Grand Prix, regional preliminary round Indianapolis (United States), first prize 

Honourable mentions: 

  • 2023: ‘Outstanding performance by a male dancer’ (for Pas/Parts 2018 and Blake Works 1), Critics’ Choice Dance Europe
  • 2020 and 2019: ‘Outstanding performance by a male dancer’, Critics’ Choice Dance Europe 
  • 2017: ‘Outstanding performance by a male dancer’, Critics’ Choice Dance Europe (for David Dawson’s Citizen Nowhere

Last update: 24-10-2023