New York-based world-renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater were on stage Wednesday night at the Belk Theater for the second night of a two-night run. The modern dance company is Charlottean Constance Stamatiou. She has performed at the White House and has been a guest artist on the “Today Show”, “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars”.
In her early years, Stamatiou performed with the Charlotte Ballet and she graduated from Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte. WFAE’s “All Things Considered” host Gwendolyn Glenn spoke to her just before rehearsals Wednesday about how her training at Northwest has helped shape her career.
Constance Stamatiou: Northwest definitely prepared me. It’s a visual performing arts school and the dance department offered so many techniques. I was not only open to ballet. They also taught me modern and jazz. It was a very complete dance department and I had so many wonderful teachers. And, you know, they were the ones who inspired me to become the professional dancer that I am today. In fact, a few of them are coming for the performance (Wednesday).
Gwendolyn Glenn: I understand that you started very early to learn dance, various types of dance – around (age) 5. Was this audition with the Charlotte Ballet your first audition? And I understand that you weren’t too happy at the time?
Stamatiou: The Charlotte Ballet was called the North Carolina Dance Theater, and I was playing outside as a kid. And my mom pulled me aside and said, “Get in the car, we’re going to an audition.” I was like, “I don’t want to go to an audition. I want to play.” So I auditioned for “The Nutcracker” from the North Carolina Dance Theater. And all I know is that the director of the dance company called my mother and said, “Who is Constance Stamatiou’s mother? And they offered me a full scholarship to train me in their school.
Glenn: And you were in “The Nutcracker” that year?
Stamatiou: Yes, I played in “The Nutcracker”.
Glenn: So what has changed for you? Go from not really wanting to do this to falling in love with it?
Stamatiou: I think it’s just something I’ve always loved to do. But honestly, until I hit high school and one of my dance teachers at Northwest School of the Arts, Susan Thorsland, she asked me one day, she said, “Come on. do you go to school for gymnastics or do you go to school for dance? ”because back then i was a competitive gymnast and i don’t think i ever thought of that. “There I decided I wanted to be a dancer. I want to be a professional dancer. So she helped me put on a solo to audition. I had auditioned for the Ailey School program, Fordham BFA. I auditioned for SUNY Purchase, Juilliard I ended up going to SUNY Purchase.
Glenn: And it’s in New York?
Stamatiou: Yes. And actually, one of my SUNY teachers, she asked me if I knew what I was doing that summer. And I probably told him, “You know, follow my friends and go to the Dance Theater of Harlem.” She said, “No, I want you to come with me and watch the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.” And once I went there for the summer, I fell in love. And I was like, “Mum, dad – I don’t think I’ll go back to Purchase. I think my place is here.” And I have stayed ever since.
Glenn: What attracted you about Alvin Ailey School of Dance? What really attracted you?
Stamatiou: Culture. You know, I’ve never seen so many dancers from all over the world come to this one place to study. And so many dancers who looked like me, and who then see all the power and the heart that they put in the performance. It was just intoxicating.
Glenn: So when you were in Charlotte and before Alvin Ailey dance school then the company, were you normally the only person of color?
Stamatiou: Yes, for the most part. I always had the impression of being this symbolic child. You know, it was just me or maybe another colored dancer or gymnast on the team.
Glenn: So you play Wednesday night and you play Tuesday night in front of a sold-out audience. Tell us about the roles you’ll dance in with the Alvin Ailey Dance troupe here in Charlotte.
Stamatiou: Well, (Wednesday) I’m honored to have performed Mr. Ailey’s masterpiece, “Cry”. “Cry” is a roughly 60 minute solo that he choreographed (with) legendary Judith Jamison, who was the director when she hired me in ’07. And it’s a solo that he gave his mother as a birthday present and dedicated it to women of color around the world, especially our mothers. And so it’s very special for me (Wednesday night) that I can play it in my hometown, in front of my mother, in front of my daughter. And my daughter will actually be the one presenting me with flowers when I say hello tonight, so it’s really, really special.