A couple of weeks can make all the difference. Right after a well-received March performance of Luna Negra Dance Theater‘s Made in Spain, dancer Nigel Campbell found himself out of work. The company announced the dancers would be put on an extended hiatus effectively making the current dancers at least temporarily unemployed. Little did we know that Campbell was planning to leave at the end of the season and quickly convinced his new boss, GöteborgsOperans Dankompani Artistic Director Adolphe Binder, to let him join the Swedish contemporary company early. “Initially she told me no, because it was pretty much the end of the season” he said. “She wrote me back two days later and said I could come on as a cover and start learning things for next season. I’ll always be indebted to her.” After a quick pit stop home in New York, Campbell moved to Sweden and just danced in his first performance with the company earlier this month as a replacement for dance/choreographer/rehearsal director Fernando Melo who is on paternity leave (yes, they get that!).
RB spoke with Campbell via Skype on a Sunday evening after he got settle in Sweden. Here are excerpts from our conversation:
Alright, I’m recording this shit. Hi! How are you? What time is it there?
12:30. I had kind of an easy day and I have tomorrow off since they had the show today. I just went to see it. It was absolutely incredible. I’ve only been here two weeks. Everything has happened so fast that I haven’t had time to process it. I’m waiting for the moment to hit me. It’s kind of a blessing.
Why that company? How did you get there?
I was going to join the company next season. It wasn’t official yet and I had just spoken to Gustavo [Ramirez Sansano] about it a few days before everything happened, so I hadn’t made it public yet. I had been aware of the company for quite some time and it has a really good reputation and recently has shifted its focus to very contemporary work and creation and lots of risk taking. Of course at Luna we worked with Fernando [Melo] twice. I had a good rapport and relationship with him. The opportunity presented itself for me to be here and I thought it was a really good opportunity and new information, because it’s really different. It’s an institution. It’s an opera house and there are 40 dancers. It’s completely different from the way I was working at Luna. I was very happy, but I’ve always had this idea for my life where I have lots of different experiences and try on lots of different hats and live in different places. What I’ve always liked about dance is that you get to have so many lives. I’m young and I want to try on lots of different hats. This hat presented itself and it was something I needed to take advantage of. I’m still processing everything. It happened so fast.
How is your body?
Ohhhh. My body is in a bit of shock. I had two weeks to get everything in order to move here. There was a move from Chicago to New York and then New York to Sweden. I didn’t really have time to dance during those two weeks and I was lugging around suitcases and boxes and I’m jet lagged. I jumped into rehearsals here and it’s a very physical piece as well and completely different way of moving from what I’ve been focusing on for the past three years. My body is quite in shock. It hurts, but it’s good. We have physical therapy and massage therapy every day. My body is starting to get used to things. Everything is starting to settle, which is nice.
Talk about Mr. Nigel. Where did you grow up? When did you start dancing?
I’m from the Bronx. I started dancing at a studio in Brooklyn, because my mother’s family is from Brooklyn and we went to church in Brooklyn. This school was affiliated with the church that I went to. I was about 12, which is quite late to start dancing. They trained me to get into LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts which is the ‘Fame’ school. The school the movie was based on. That was my introduction to formal training. I was taking ballet every day and the Graham technique. That was when I started to become a bit more serious about my training. I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do, so I really pushed myself. It was dancing all the time and taking four or five classes a day. Also, because I don’t have a natural body for dance. I’m not very flexible. I worked really hard and I graduated from La Guardia and went to Juilliard. That was a very intense experience. I call it the best/worst experience of my life. It’s everything. It’s so full. When people ask, ‘how was it at Juilliard? Was it amazing?’ It was amazing. I cried and I laughed and I met people who are my closest friends in the world. I learned so much, but it’s difficult. They’re pushing you to be incredible. It takes a lot of work and dedication. There are a lot of big fish from small ponds all coming together and you’re all really talented and different. It can be difficult. This is also really beautiful. I went there for four years. It has informed a lot of my choices throughout my life.
And after you graduated?
I graduated in 2008 and moved to Germany. I danced for Marguerite Donlon for two years. That was my first job out of college. Maggie was awesome. I’d lived my entire life in NYC. It’s such a fast pace. I love the energy and fast pace, so when I moved to this small town in Germany, my whole life was flipped upside down in the most amazing way. Everything was new. I didn’t know anyone. I don’t know the culture. I don’t speak the language. I’ve never worked professionally. For the first time, I’m very far away from my family and friends. This was exciting. It was a chance for me to reinvent myself and decide who I was at that moment. At Juilliard, there’s an encouragement to explore Europe. There’s a lot of dancers from the school who are dancing in Europe. I spent all of this time worrying that no one would want me, but taking classes in Europe, I thought I could actually do this. I could be a professional. It was really fresh and new and amazing. Maggie nurtured me and built my confidence. I got to dance a lot when I was there. There were 20 of us. She believed in me. She put me on stage. I grew a lot in those two years. I had to discover my own identity.
What brought you to Chicago?
I heard about Gustavo while I was dancing in Europe. He was already quite famous in Europe. I was on my first summer holiday, my first vacation. I went to visit my friend in Madrid, he was dancing for Nacho Duato. I went to a show. It was a two-billed program. One by Nacho and one by Gustavo. I saw this and immediately fell madly in love with him. I didn’t know him. I didn’t know anything about him. I thought why don’t I know him? This is everything I love about dance and nothing that I hate. I went home to New Yrok and talked to my friend Sarah, who was dancing with Luna Negra under Eduardo Vilaro. She said she thought Gustavo was taking over and in the fall it was announced that he was taking over the company. I didn’t have his email or anything, so I sent him a message on Facebook. I was apprehensive, because it seemed so unorthodox. I told him I’d been following his work and I’d love the opportunity to physicalize his work on my body. I sent him a link to some video clips, but I didn’t expect anything from him. I felt in my spirit that I needed to let him know how I felt. He wrote back quickly. I worked with TitoYaya [Sansano's Project in Spain] for a week. It was really difficult. After the audition in Chicago in April I was 100% down with him and ready to be a part. I finished the season in Germany and moved to Chicago to dance for Gustavo at Luna Negra. He delivered everything that I ever dreamed and expected and wanted him to deliver. He pushed me further that I thought anyone could push me. He demanded a lot of me. It was difficult and frustrating at times. It was scary. It was a different system. I’d never worked professionally in the States. I didn’t understand the complicated health care system. I didn’t understand the lay off system. There was a thing about the way he was working and creating and about his work that felt very much a part of who I am. It was difficult. Gustavo’s body can do these crazy things. My body can’t do that. It was a struggle to get inside of the work in my body. He gave us the freedom to discover his work in your own body. I connected to his physicality, to his musicality, his speed. Some of the actual physical things I had to figure out. There was an intellectual process behind it as well. In looking at his work, there’s something so architectural. It’s so structural and everything fits together. He sees it in his head. You can see it working in his head. I was 23 when I started with him. To work with someone that I really believed in and considered a genius…he opened me. He never allowed me to excuse myself. He would say, ‘I’m not going to let you say that you can’t do it. You have to figure it out. I believe that you are talented and intelligent enough to find out how to make it work.’ It was harsh, but always with a cushion of love and support. In that way, he pushed me further than anyone else ever has.
Is there anything you’d like to say “one the record” about what happened at Luna?
It was rough. I don’t think anyone planned it or wanted it to happen. It wasn’t a great situation for anyone. I don’t have any ill will toward the company. I wish Luna Negra all the best in the future. What I take from it is three years of really incredible work and really incredible people. I think we created something special. I’m honored that I got to be part of something so special. I stand behind Gustavo 100%. I believe in his work and his vision and his artistic direction. That is always where my loyalty and where my conviction has been. I feel that my relationship with him is stronger and I’m thankful that he’s been so supportive of me and that he’s been so understanding. He’s been in my corner this entire time. I will always be part of the Luna Negra family and it will always be a part of my life. I really do wish them the best. I stand by Gustavo. It was time for me to move on and make a change. That was my personal decision. I think I’m a very positive person. I always try to look on the bright side of things. We all falter sometimes and our emotions get the best of us. After some time to think, I’m such a better person, a better dancer, a better artist three years later after having my experience in Chicago with Luna Negra. I’m really grateful for that. My love and loyalty and devotion is with Gustavo. I think he’s brilliant,. I think he’s the voice of a generation. He has the talent and intelligence to move the art form forward. I’m grateful that I got to have that experience. I’m really blessed. All I can do is be thankful for my life.