Dance Like Everyone is Watching: Fabrice Calmels to Be Featured at Spring to Dance Festival

Born and raised in France, quadruple threat Fabrice Calmels is a dancer, choreographer, model and actor. Calmels began ballet training when he was 3, then went on to enter the prestigious Paris Opera Ballet School at age 11. Calmels, the world’s tallest ballet dancer at 6’6”, is now based in Chicago with the Joffrey Ballet company. His dancing has been featured on TV several times, and he was a guest judge on the TV show So You Think You Can Dance.

Calmels will perform Arpino’s “Light Rain” during Dance St. Louis’ 10th Annual Emerson Spring to Dance Festival, which is slated for Friday through Sunday, May 26-28, at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

What attracted you to come to the United States from Paris?
Well, in the first place, it’s the larger possibility. When I was in Paris, I did my studies there. After that, when they didn’t accept me into the company because of my height, I had to find people who were open-minded enough. Back then, people were like, “Oh, you’re tall, you can’t dance. Because you are too tall, you are not going to make it.” I needed to follow a person in that company that was open-minded enough to give me that chance. The director of the school back then said, “Go to the States; I have a couple connections there. You might find a new home.” That’s what attracted me to the States. It’s the possibility of getting a chance.

Why is Chicago your favorite city?
It has a great equilibrium. What I mean by that is if you go to New York City, it’s fun, it’s great, but it’s very busy [and] very dirty. You can’t calm down; the city never sleeps. It can get tiring in the end. When you go to the West Coast, it’s the total opposite. It’s just cool and slow and spread out; you’re always in the car.

And Chicago has that balance?
Yeah, it has both. Because I travel so much, it’s just decent. I like this city, also, because it is beautiful — beautiful suburbs, the nightlife, clubs, music. It’s fantastic. It’s also a very affordable city to buy a place. I bought a place; I invested into my own life. Boston or New York, forget it — it’s all too expensive.

Obviously, being tall is a key to your success. You’re 6’6.” Do you love being that tall?
I love it, and I hate it. There’s a love-hate relationship. I love it now because I used to hate it. It was a road block; people thought there were no possibilities. You never see a dancer that tall, but it’s not about height, it’s about your passion. It’s very unique; you’re going to be a very unique dancer. I thank God every day that I was given that shot. Otherwise, I don’t know where I would be. People accept me. It’s so open-minded [and] so visionary. So, I hated it first, being stuck, not being able to dance because of my height. Then, I love it.

You’ve done So You Think You Can Dance. Do you prefer being judged or being a judge?
I’ve never been a competitor on this show; [I’m] just doing some choreography work this year. But judging is something that I really like to do. It’s about coaching for me. What I like [is that] I was bringing something different. That’s been my whole life with a sharp eye for predicting spots and mistakes. I felt like I was a great addition to the judge table. I was able to see things, and I like giving input to help them out. I’m not just saying, “Oh, you’re good. Oh, you’re bad.” Give them points about what’s going on with them, and once you see them exchange for the better, it’s something that I like.

Is this something you would like to do moving forward as far as getting involved? I know you do modeling and have been an actor for commercials, TV and movies. What are some other roles you’d like to take on?
I’ve been with the ballet. I love dancing; it’s something I want to do my whole life. It’s really great, and I’m embracing this right now. What I would love to do is acting. I feel like acting is training your body to do certain things and embracing your character. I feel like this is something I see myself doing in the next few years. I like acting, and I like the performing arts. Getting passionate and emotional about these things — I think that sounds like a good plan.

During the Spring to Dance Festival in St. Louis, you are performing Arpino’s “Light Rain.” Can you tell me about this performance?
“Light Rain” is an Arpino choreographed piece. It’s a very exotic piece. It was created because Arpino wanted certain dancers to perform it. It’s about the passion of dancing [and] the joy of dance. It’s a full, three-segment piece. We’ll be doing the second segment. I really like it because it’s a timeless piece. I like the body movement [and] the technicality of it. It’s a very difficult piece. It starts very slow, but as it builds up toward the end, it becomes more difficult. It’s so hard to describe. I think it’s going to be a great experience.

Are there any upcoming projects we should be on the lookout for?
Not at this time, no. It’s a secret. V

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Lauren Healey

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