I have performed on stage in straight plays and musicals, but I can’t even imagine the time and practicing for something as complex and beautiful as a ballet. My only experience with ballet was in college as a theatre major, so at first I was a little intimidated when I was told I got an interview with lead dancer for the world renowned Joffrey Ballet, Fabrice Calmels. When we started our conversation, I realized that I had nothing to fear, he was absolutely charming and oh so continental sounding (That accent!!!) Between preparing for the opening of Chicago on Friday, Fabrice took the time to chat.
Just returning from a triumphant production at the Kennedy Center in Washington, Fabrice told me how they put a production of “The Nutcracker” on the road together. “The best part is the kids” he smiled. In each city on the tour, kids who have spent their whole year practicing for this chance got to see one of their dreams come true. They danced with a professional company like Joffrey. “The kids practice and practice before we get there, then we put them together with the company for the performance.” According to Fabrice, this is the challenge . This is also done on a very tight schedule to get ready for performance. “I love the kids, they also add such a fresh approach to the show. They have worked hard to be there, but they also are genuinely to be there as well.” This might present a problem since the Nutcracker is done every year and on the road. Fabrice described this approach as a”melting pot” The best part of performing at a place like the Kennedy Center is you never know who might show up. I asked Fabrice if the President showed up and he said that he honestly didnt know. He did hear that one performance that “Mr. Shue” from GLEE aka Matthew Morrison was in the audience. “I don’t know who is in the audience unless I am told .” he stated to me.
One of the biggest challenges that Fabrice has had to overcome is his size. Face it , at 6’6 , a boy ends up on the Bulls with a million dollar contract in the US. Fabrice not only had to face the rapid growth as a teenager, but deal with it as a budding ballet star. “Paris Opera is very strict, their dancers have to have a certain look., it is very elite.” he admitted. “I just didnt fit in.” He saw the opportunity to perform in the US and moved to New York to study the Balanchine method. To be more precise, the Ballanchine method puts more of an emphasis on speed, and hand and arm movement than traditional European style ballet. This allows the dancer to have more space when they move on stage. Fabrice has two regular challenges when he dances, the one is that he could come across as clumsy with his large stature and also he has the challenge of working with a partner that is considerably smaller than himself. But dancing is indeed a passion he has embraced ever since he waited for his sister in her own dance classes. “I was sitting and waiting any way, and I figured this looks like fun.” he laughed.
I also asked him about his pet project this summer. “Ballet Monsters.” I was so excited because I am always in favor of something that will get kids excited about the arts. Fabrice came up with the idea of Ballet Monsters, a fun way to get kids excited about the arts.. Fabrice has always felt out of place because of his size, so the designs and concept of “Ballet Monsters” was seen by him to be a metaphor of his life as a dancer. Fabrice is the tallest professional ballet dancer in the world which is something in itself. The “Ballet Monsters are whimsical characters that have appeared on posters and t shirts. I had asked Fabrice where the monsters had gone , and he assured me that they will be back.
But whether he is dancing or being a mentor to the kids who he dances with , Fabrice will continue with his love of ballet. Currently he is dancing three parts in this year’s production n Chicago, the Arabian , The Nutcracker, and the Snow King. His full schedule can be viewed at http://www.chicagonow.com/come-dance-with-fabrice-calmels/2013/11/joffrey-ballet-nutcracker-fabrice-calmels-performance-schedule-2/#image/1 . The Joffrey Ballet ‘s Nutcracker can be seen at the historic Roosevelt Auditiorium until December 28.