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Photograph: Eric BandieroCarlos Fittante

Carlos Fittante | Interview

The most multilingual dancer we’ve ever met recounts his journey from ballet to Bali and beyond.


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Ballerinas who also do yoga?! Old news. Classical Spanish dancers who kickbox on the weekends? Unlikely, sure, but not impossible to imagine. A man well-versed in traditional Balinese technique, belly dance and the hottest moves on dance floors in 17th-century Paris?

Yeah, right.

Carlos Fittante knows all of that and more—even though he didn’t start studying dance until he was 18 years old. Catch him onstage on February 24 and 25, when the Haymarket Opera Company’s production of Charpentier’s 1686 opera La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers plays Mayne Stage. After that, he’s gotta run. To a B-boy competition. Probably.

We called Fittante in New York, where, dressed in leather fetish gear and brandishing castanets in both hands, he once danced a solo for a festival as a sexy matador, to live music by a dominatrix violinist.

What came first?
Ballet was my first love. I didn’t know about other styles. I graduated from high school and started dancing. Hideously. I had to make up for lost time and had the good fortune to get into the School of American Ballet and be around very talented dancers and company members. [Ballet teacher] Stanley Williams was still alive, although I didn’t have too much contact with him because I was in the intermediate class. I also got to take [classes] from Richard Rapp and Andrei Kramarevsky. I thought that having a solid ballet background meant that I could do anything. When I became exposed to the demands of these traditional forms from other places in the world, I realized that it’s not an automatic transfer. If you’re good at one, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gonna come easily in another.

What’s the latest?
This Spanish dance I’ve been studying about two, three years now.

Which one?
Mostly Escuela Bolera and early Spanish folk forms. Sevillana, which is like a regional dance. Some light flamenco work. But mostly Escuela Bolera.… I’m half Spanish. My mother was a performer, a singer and I remember hearing folk music and castanets in the house. But I never studied it until now and it’s really hard [laughs] to coordinate all of these rhythms in your feet and hands and fingers. It’s been a really, um, fulfilling and humbling experience.

What’s left?
Oh, God, I want to try everything! [Laughs] I studied mixed martial arts at a Tiger Schulmann dojo in my neighborhood, as a personal challenge, to try that sort of bombastic movement, from about 2003 to 2006. Kickboxing, basically, and grappling. The competition, fighting with someone… That was not second nature to me. I loved it. I mean, I kept getting beaten up, but I loved it. We would spar and I would hit someone and then apologize immediately. [Laughs] I’d touch them and be like, “Oh, sorry!” [Laughs] “Are you okay?”

Do you teach?
Yeah, I just got hired at Queens College and I’m teaching intro to dance, for non-dancers, which is great. I’m working with the accounting majors, the biology majors, the finance majors, and, uh, they’re very honest. They have nothing invested, no expectations or respect or admiration. They’re free to criticize. I think back to when I was at [the School of American Ballet] and I was so in love with [New York City Ballet’s] stars. If you put something on a pedestal, that’s gonna influence how you see it. If you’re not invested at all, then you can just experience your immediate responses.

You were once a member of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the drag ballet troupe, correct?
[Laughs] Yes, I did one season as a male partner. They had this star who was amazing, Bart de Block, who I’ll never forget. He’d been in the Berlin State Opera and was about my height and, uh, even more muscular. Formidable like, I don’t know, Martine van Hamel. [Laughs] I was so scared at first. I thought, No, this is impossible. It was a fun project.

Did you perform any of the company’s “female” roles?
I did not. I didn’t aspire to that and I… I don’t think I could get up en pointe. It’s very hard.

About the dances you will perform for La Descente: How do we know what French dances looked like 300 years ago?
There are books in a Baroque dance notation called Beauchamp-Feuillet. I have, I don’t know, maybe 100 notated dances. What I’ll do often is look at notations for… For example: In the [Marin] Marais suite [which Haymarket presents as a prelude to La Descente, danced by Fittante and Robin Gilbert], there’s a sarabande, so I looked at different sarabandes. Now, you can’t just copy and paste, take a sarabande written by a different composer for a different context and just insert that. But you can remind yourself of the constitutive elements of a sarabande, what the steps are, what the feeling is. I use those as a springboard to create my own [Baroque] choreography, trying to keep it musical and serve the character and the intent. And also the audience: I hope to grab them and engage them and open up the space of the opera. You won’t be bored, don’t worry. [Laughs]

Do you have a favorite 300-year-old French dance?
Anything I’m working on is my favorite thing, but the Entrée d’Apollon is incredible, and the Chaconne de Phaeton. The Phaeton is a young man who wants to drive Dad’s car, the chariot, and crashes and it’s tragic. The other is the power of the sun and a more mature man, a grown-up man in full possession of his authority and power.

Could you ever be monogamous? Settle down with just one kind of dance?
[Laughs] There are some dancers who really just want to do their one thing to the ultimate perfection. I totally admire and respect that. Now, I didn’t know this about myself when I was at [the School of American Ballet], I just kept wondering why I didn’t really fit in anywhere in the dance world. Now, in 20/20 hindsight, I can see my curiosity about things, about history. And I’ll just tell you: I feel that all movement has a deep spiritual component. That was one of the things about Balinese [dance] that really grabbed me, actually. Here was a culture using dance to affirm the theories in their rituals and stuff. It wasn’t exclusive to how well you were trained or how successful you were in your career. Always at the heart of it, [Balinese dance] is a form of… It’s an offering, is the word: an offering to yourself, to the community, to your ancestors, whatever. I loved the idea of this invisible world being made present and, you know, so much of dance is like that.

Fittante performs with Robin Gilbert and the Haymarket Opera Company on Friday 24 and Saturday 25. Due to demand and limited seating, tickets are also available for a 2pm dress rehearsal on Thursday 23 ($20, students $10).


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