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!

Ballet Hispanico and NOBA

Deputy School Director Nicholas Villeneuve and some of the Ballet Hispanico Company members have traveled down to Louisiana to teach at the New Orleans Ballet Association (NOBA) for their summer residency.

Nicholas has been teaching in New Orleans for the past week. He comes back to New York this week, but he will return to NOBA for the final showings of the summer. He has shared his experience so far:

Nestled in a quaint corner on St. Charles Ave. in a spectacular old guest house, I have been here for a week enjoying warm southern hospitality. Ballet Hispanico and the New Orleans Ballet Association have partnered once again to lend some of New York’s strongest tutelage to New Orleans. Later this year, Ballet Hispanico is slated to perform on on NOBA’s bill. The NOBA summer residency consists of two members of Ballet Hispanico’s main company, Vanessa Valecillos and Jamal Callendar, along with myself teaching technique classes and creating works that will be showcased in their final performance at NOCCA on Sunday, August 4th.

Our presenter Jenny Hamilton has arranged quite the schedule as students are rotating on four individual tracks similar to our own intensive in NYC. I have had the pleasure of working with the more advanced student groups. While Richard Chen See, formerly of the Paul Taylor Company (and an Instituto Coreográfico panelist!), is setting an excerpt of Esplanade on the green track, I have created a new work for the purple track titled “Incantations.” The work explores a calling of souls and chanting to new life while paying homage to the deep rooted rituals and spirituality of the south.

Such rich and vast plethora of cultures exists here, you can feel it in the streets as you drive by the stunning mansions, churches and old buildings along every street. I have enjoyed thoroughly my experience this last week and will be returning to NYC this week to revisit our own summer intensive with Director, AnaMaria Correa. Fortunately for me, I will be coming back to NOLA to see my students’ performance on the 4th. This experience is a great opportunity for both the students of NOBA and the organizations. The students in New Orleans are privy to a wide variety of highly trained and accomplished artists and companies. Ballet Hispanico and NOBA bring much knowledge to these young dancers and aid their professional development throughout the four-week dance residency.

Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro has had a long standing relationship with NOBA and pledges to deliver only the best to each community that his company visits. I would say this residency is on its way to success, and I can’t wait to see the final performances. I have handed off my work to the amazing dancers of Ballet Hispanico today. I know when I return it will be terrific.The students have attended all my classes thus far with an eagerness and a fire that inspires me. Each day I am able to see them improve a bit at a time. I enjoy teaching and I am honored to pass on the legacy that was once given to me!

Till next week, NOLA!

Reporting from the beautiful sunny south,

Deputy Director, Nicholas Villeneuve

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