Joffrey’s Fabrice Calmels on being Othello

Joffrey Ballet's Fabrice Calmels and April Daly in "Othello". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

At 6’6″ and 216 lbs, this 32-year-old Joffrey Ballet dancer stands out on stage…or anywhere. In 2009, landing the lead role in Lar Lubovitch’s Othello solidified him as a star. “It’s the ultimate role,” said Fabrice Calmels*. This week he revises this life-changing role as Joffrey presents the three-act ballet for a two-week run at the Auditorium Theatre before it is retired from the active repertory.

Calmels grew up outside Paris, France and began dancing at age three at a small school in Magnanville. By 10, he was studying at the Paris Opera Ballet School and by 16 things really began to change. “I became very tall and it became an issue,” he told me over tea last week. “They told me I wouldn’t do very well in the company, that I wouldn’t be dancing very much.” He came to the States to study and dance at The Rock School in Philadelphia, then traveled across the country auditioning. After a year dancing with Boston Ballet II, he accepted a spot with Joffrey in 2002. He’s now finishing his 11th season here in Chicago.

Being plagued with a back injury (two bulging discs) for almost a year hasn’t slowed him down much. He’s hard at work preparing for the Othello run, bulking up and building stamina. Calmels spoke with RB about dancing this signature role.

You’re almost a week before opening. What was your schedule like today?

We’ve been very meticulously working on the first act now for a few weeks trying to really get all the dancers to understand Lar Lubovitch’s style. Lar has a very specific style that’s very circular and grounded. When you’re dealing with younger dancers who’ve been training in mostly ballet, they’re up, up, up and he wants down, down, down. To get his style ingrained in your brain and to really feel confident takes a while. When you understand, it becomes easier. The second act came together really quick. Now we’re working on the third act. Today we ran the first and second act…not right away. We ran one, then had notes and then the second act and notes. I think tomorrow we’ll run all three acts and start getting momentum, because we need it.

This role made you a big star here. What are you doing to take it to the next level?

I follow different training. I want my body to be very strong and tense. I need that frame to be really solid, so I don’t hurt myself. I needed to gain weight. In a long run, you tend to lose weight because you’re so tired and overburning. I bulk up to become the character, one, and so I have the structure that I can handle the ballet. I’m working out a lot more. I’m working out my legs more. I run more. I do like ten miles every other day to build stamina in my legs. The last production my upper body was strong, but by the middle of the third act, my legs were burning. In terms of character, I want to completely submerge myself in the character and be able to be the character through the three acts. My goal this time is to stay in character, even though there’s intermissions, and see where it leads to. I want to be able to produce that all the way through. The character and the role is as important as the dancing. Otherwise, you lose the audience very quickly. They want to hear the story, they want to care, they want to hate you, the want to feel emotion. What will make a huge difference is what reads. It’s not a battement. It’s the emotion and the acting.

What does dancing the role of Othello mean to you?

The role Othello is really magic. It’s magic. I saw “Othello” when I was younger. Desmond (Richardson)…he’s a legend. There aren’t many that have done the role. To be asked to do it, at first it was a lot of weight. It’s huge. I feel really fulfilled. Thank you Lar. He’s a master to create such a piece. It’s a difficult role physically. It’s tense. It’s a marathon. You have to be powerful all the way to the end. 

You’re dancing with April Daly again. Do you find you’ve evolve as partners in these roles?

Of course. There’s the experience. The second shot. It’s the big problem in ballet, you get that one first shot. Now we can look back and see that we were able to do it, but the first time, it was a challenge for us. They were big roles for us. I think we were taking it a little bit too tense even though it was a good run. It was a huge risk for the Joffrey and it was a big deal. The second time around, we know we can deliver. We know what to do. We know how people reacted the first time, so we can do better. It can only go up. She knows she can trust me.

Are you nervous? Do you get nervous?

I’m a perfectionist. When I do well, I expect to do better. When I don’t get this, sometimes it really pisses me off. I want consistency. I hate roller coaster seasons. I hate roller coaster performances. I think they are the worst. I want to deliver great and above. That’s my only concern. It’s myself. I want to have always great, better, better.

Joffrey Ballet presents Lar Lubovitch’s Othello at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Wednesday, April 24 – Sunday, May 5. Tickets are $31-$152. Call 800.982.2787 or visit

*Calmels performance schedule:

Wednesday, April 24 at 7:30 pm

Friday, April 26 at 7:30 pm

Saturday, April 27 at 7:30 pm

Saturday, May 4 at 2 pm

Sunday, May 5 at 2 pm

Happy Anniversary to RB!

Last week – September 24th to be exact – Rogue Ballerina turned 3! While there are ups and downs to having a one-person-pony-show dance blog (up: getting to see tons of kick-ass dance, down: burn out, making very little $ – read 0.00), and while I honestly consider scrapping the whole thing about once a week (sometimes daily), I’m still having a helluva good time doing it. I get to meet amazing artists one-on-one (even if it’s via phone) and discuss what they love passionately. I’ve been exposed to genres and styles I never would have come across in my normal “post-dancer/civilian” life and my knowledge base and tastes have evolved exponentially (I am now a full-fledged Forsythe fan!).

Going over some of the posts from the last year, my belief that Chicago is a world-class city for dance has only grown. From the big dogs like Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Joffrey Ballet, to small start-ups like Leopold Group and Elements Contemporary Ballet and everything in between, the Windy City has myriad opportunities to see great dance and a ceaseless artistic creativity that is unmatched.

Someone recently told me they appreciated my enthusiasm. While I’m certain some find it annoying, it was greatly appreciated. I see myself more as a cheerleader for all dance in Chicago as opposed to a critic (although I sure do have my opinions).

On the writing front in the past year, I took over the monthly dance column at Windy City Times, covered the sixth annual Chicago Dancing Festival as one of the official bloggers for the second year in a row and had the pleasure of writing Hubbard Street’s Robyn Mineko Williams’ transition notice for Dance Magazine, as well as my usual gigs as a culture writer for Front Desk Chicago and CS Magazine. Other noteworthy events – and there are way too many to list here – include interviewing Twyla Tharp (terrifying!), singing “Happy Birthday” to Ann Reinking and seeing Batsheva Dance Company, Merce Cunningham Dance Company on the final leg of The Legacy Tour and the American Ballet Theatre (live) and the Paris Opera Ballet perform Giselle live (via simulcast).

Goals for the upcoming year include officially meeting fellow dance lover Mayor Rahm Emanuel (instead of just smiling and nodding in passing at events – an interview would be stellar!) and moving forward with a book project (or two) near and dear to my heart and possibly throwing some advertising up on this mug.

Thanks to everyone who reads RB!

Feeling the love,






Wednesday in the Park with Giselle

Crowd at Pritzker Pavillion for Paris Opéra Ballet's live simulcast of "Giselle". Photo by Robert Carl.

An estimated 14,000 people showed up at Millennium Park Wednesday evening to watch the live simulcast of the Paris Opéra Ballet‘s performance of Giselle.  After a greeting from Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) Commissioner, Michelle T. Boone and a few words from Brigitte Lefèvre, Paris Opéra Ballet’s Director, the audience fixed its collective gaze at a giant screen  set up on the Pritzker Pavilion stage.  The LED screen set up by Staging Solutions was 18′ x 32′ according to the City’s press release or 16.5′ x 32.5′ according to Hedy Weiss in the Chicago Sun Times – it was big!  Hi-tech, LED, surround sound and arguably the most famous ballet company in the world performing my favorite ballet…for free.  I love my city!

Chicagoans have been privy to this ballet before.  Local fave Joffrey Ballet presented Giselle in October 2007 and American Ballet Theatre has performed it here numerous times, most recently in March.  The ballet was created for the Paris Opéra Ballet in 1841, however, the current version was staged by Patrice Bart and Eugene Polyakov in 1991.  The french version is pretty much the same as what we’ve seen before with one notable exception.  The Americanized adaptations throw in more grandiose choreography.   For instance, ABT’s version has Albrecht’s brisé diagonals and grand jumps in Act II, where Paris Opéra has him doing slow changements that grow into a crescendo of entrechat quatré and six (performed with great ballon by Nicolas Le Riche).  Where ABT’s Myrta breezes back and forth across the stage and in and out of the wings in a bourré flurry, Paris Opéra’s Myrta’s doesn’t leave the stage, stopping and balancing in sous-sus before taking off again, an exercise in complete control (danced brilliantly by Nolwenn Daniel – she was scary!).    Clairemarie Osta’s Giselle was a sweet, innocent take on young love, but her mad scene lacked the dramatic prowess of a Julie Kent.  Rounding out Wednesday’s cast was hottie Vincent Chaillet as Hilarion and a stellar corps de ballet.  Those Wilis were on!

Being outside had the effect of enhancing, yet separating you from the performance.  The breeze made you feel like you were in the glen celebrating the wine festival and as the sun set and the sky became darker, you could imagine yourself in a wooded graveyard.  The minimal downside was random fire engine sirens and the weekly fireworks exploding at nearby Navy Pier, but that made the experience uniquely Chicago.  There was a disconnect not being in the theater.  A twice-removed feeling: one, you’re not in the theater and two, you’re watching live dance being filmed on a screen.  Nothing beats a live performance experience, but knowing it was being performed live a few hundred feet away (and below) was pretty cool.  The actual filming was fantastic with close-up shots of the lead dancers, a peak into the orchestra pit, an angled shot that showed a hint of the entrances from one wing.  It gave those of us in the cheap (free) seats a VIP feel.