Company Dancer Jamal Rashann Callender: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Labor Day is just a week away, and that means summer will be officially over. While that may be bad news for those of us who love the beach, it also means that Ballet Hispanico will be kicking off another exciting season full of new works and great performances.

Before we mark the beginning of fall, we have a final installment in our Company dancer summer vacation series! Jamal Rashann Callender shared his great break with us, capped off by his 2012 Princess Grace Award. Enjoy!

Summer Break? It flew by so fast with so many activities. After the company left the stage at Celebrate Brooklyn, I took a week to rest and reflect. Soon after, I was given one of the most amazing opportunities for which I am forever grateful. I was invited to celebrate the 80th Anniversary of Jacob’s Pillow. The Men Dancers: From the Horse’s Mouth was an homage to Ted Shawn (Founder of Jacob’s Pillow) and his men dancers. This performance was unique because it was all improvised, and I never worked with any of the other male dancers. There were 25 male dancers from various backgrounds and styles of dance, including Gus Solomon, Lar Lubovitch, and Arthur Mitchell. Each dancer also told a two minute story about dance, and I choose to talk about how I first learned to dance with my grandmother in Barbados.

I almost forgot to mention, before I actually arrived at Jacobs Pillow I had an emergency tooth extraction of tooth #32 (wisdom tooth). I missed the group bus heading to the Pillow and instead lay in my in bed. On that same day, toothless, in pain, with a numb lip and barely able to open my mouth, I received the wonderful news that I won the 2012 Princess Grace Fellowship award for Dance. I cried, and my mom and dad were so thrilled and proud.

I returned to NYC back at BH preparing for the DRA Fire Island Dance Festival where Vanessa and I premiered Edwaard Liang’s newest creation, A Verme. I had performed in this festival once before, so it was great to return to the same love and warmth of the organization that does a fantastic job fundraising to fight HIV/AIDS. Immediately following our weekend of performances on the Pines (Fire Island), Vanessa and I got on a plane to New Orleans to teach with the New Orleans Ballet Association (NOBA). This was one of the highlights of my summer. I love to give back to a community who, just like me, didn’t have the funds to go away to summer camp or dance program. These students were given a unique opportunity to work with professional dancers, directors and choreographers. Mr. Vilaro even came down and spent some time with the students which was rewarding for them as well. The program culminated with a performance which included a piece I created titled Slate.

Overall I enjoyed my summer break. Some may look and think it wasn’t a break; however, this was more rejuvenation I could ever ask for! I also played with my 11 week old Niece Aubrey who loves to smile. I have already started to stretch her and point her feet just in case…you never know!

Choreographer Profile: Edwaard Liang

This weekend, Ballet Hispanico will be presenting the world premiere of A Verme, a duet by world famous choreographer Edwaard Liang, at Fire Island Dance Festival 18. This work is Mr. Liang’s first piece for Ballet Hispanico, and we could not be more thrilled!

He has been in the studios over the last few months creating and rehearsing the piece with our Company dancers. We caught up with him during lunch to learn about his career, his creative process and this new duet.

A Verme or “Into Me See,” a duet set to the lush music of Ezio Bosso, explores the concept of intimacy and the push and pull of energy that connects two individuals. The piece follows the tension and release of a timeless attraction between two lovers outside of time and space.

When Mr. Liang first came in May, he began choreographing on the spot. He explained that while he may have a concept for a piece in mind, he does not plan the movement ahead of time. Instead, he works with the bodies and contours of the dancers themselves to find inspiration and use their strengths.

Mr. Liang had nothing but kind words about our Ballet Hispanico dancers. “They’re so freaking nice!” he exclaimed at one point. Because of his choreographing style, dancers need to be flexible, open-minded and ready to work. Our dancers met that challenge as they gave their all during the long 6+ hour rehearsal days.

Although Mr. Liang has traveled the world and frequently works internationally, he calls New York his home base. He first moved to the city 22 years ago and still finds it so comforting every time he returns home. He particularly enjoyed his work with Ballet Hispanico because he felt comfortable working from home.

Mr. Liang will be at the Fire Island Dance Festival this weekend, but it won’t be long before he jets off to work in China, Australia, Houston, San Francisco and Germany. With such a busy schedule, we asked him if he ever slept. His response? “I don’t really stop working because I don’t want to.”

If you’re in the area, be sure to check out A Verme at the Fire Island Dance Festival this weekend! For event information and to purchase tickets (proceeds support Dancers Responding to AIDS), visit the DRA’s website. Stay up-to-date with Mr. Liang by checking out his website.

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(c) Josh Preston