After nearly 19 years, Joffrey Ballet dancer Fabrice Calmels announced Monday that he'll take his final bow with the company after a performance of Nutcracker on December 29. Born in France, Calmels trained at the Paris Opéra Ballet School before moving to the United States to study at the Rock School, Boston Ballet School and School of American Ballet. In addition to the long list of roles he's danced at the Joffrey, Calmels has worked as a model, and in 2014 won the Guinness World Record as the world's tallest ballet dancer.
We caught up with Calmels to hear about why he's leaving, and what his future after the Joffrey will hold.
What's behind your decision to leave the Joffrey?
I've been with the company now for almost two decades. I was hired by Gerald Arpino, the co-founder of the Joffrey Ballet—I was the last dancer that he really truly hired. He was a fantastic mentor, and taught me so much about integrity and respect. There was such a mentality and work ethic in the company that I grew up with, and things have changed, the company has been through so much. I've done incredible roles, one after the other. But as an artist and a performer I always want to improve and feel like I can get to the next level. Watching new dancers come into the company reminded me of what it was all about, and I think it's my time now. Also the Joffrey is going to be leaving the Auditorium Theater for the Lyric, and my whole career has been at the Auditorium. It's been 18 years, which is the age I was when I came to the United States, so all of these were signs that told me that it was necessary to move on.
But will dancing still be a part of your life?
Absolutely. I think I'm at the top of my game. I'm not retiring, I'm not doing this because of health. And I love teaching and coaching. I've done that since 2003, and I love the kids I train. I've just been doing it when time allows.
You're not only leaving the company, but you're moving from Chicago to Los Angeles. Why California?
First of all, California is warmer, and I need that for a little while. Also California makes sense because a lot of things that I want to do could be movie related. I also feel like it's far away from ballet. There are a few companies out there, but not that many, and I like that challenge. I'm interested to see what California has to offer.
You've been pursuing a modeling career while dancing for the Joffrey. Do you hope to focus more on that in the future?
I've been signed with IMG for the past few years, but it's kind of slowed down because the Joffrey's schedule is so packed. It's really grueling, and we're constantly in production. What I've refused to do though now is really have a set plan. I want to slow down, and not rush into anything.
What part of life with the Joffrey will you miss the most?
What I really love is acting—when I was in France I used to take acting classes. I love being onstage, and performing a full-length story ballet, and doing the due diligence of learning the character. It takes a lot of preparation, which I really love.
What have been some of your favorite roles?
Karenin in Anna Karenina, and Othello. Also Apollo. And working with Sir Anthony Dowell, and Christopher Wheeldon. Chris makes ballet fun, and has been a huge influence in my career. And we have the same hero: Gene Kelly.
Can you tell me a bit about ILYS, the new business that you're working on?
It's still under wraps, but it's about the dance industry. In the American market, dance is so niche, and only a very cultured audience come to the ballet. My biggest passion now is to really change the way that people think about ballet, and make it part of the culture. So I'm not done; actually, I'm just starting.