By Debra Danese for The Dance Journal | photo credit Alexander Iziliaev
It was an emotional hour for BalletX on the Wednesday evening of July 22, 2020. Dancers, choreographers, friends, and family, gathered via ZOOM to pay tribute to Caili Quan as she retires from the company after 7 years. Memories and anecdotes of Quan’s time with BalletX were shared as 171 viewers watched from home.
Christine Cox, BalletX Artistic/Executive Director, and Co-Founder opened the event with an emotional and heartfelt introduction describing Quan’s contribution in shaping the company. Quan then joined her online from NYC where she has been busy creating new work from her living room. The two discussed Quan’s start in dance at an early age in her homeland of Guam. In 2005, she applied by VHS audition and was accepted to Ballet Academy East for her senior year of high school. She moved in with her older sister who was already living in New York. In a phone interview I had with Quan, she remembered how it felt to cut short the celebratory moments of her last year in high school to take what she hoped was “an opportunity to better prepare for a career in dance.”
Cox and Quan talked about Quan’s start with BalletX which consisted of two audition attempts before being called back to take a class with Cox. Quan told me that she vividly remembers the details of the phone conversation. “I was in a library with a tutor studying Chemistry.” She excused herself to take the call, in which Cox said they were looking to replace a female dancer who was retiring. Quan was invited to take a class with Cox at UArts, where Cox was on faculty at the time. Two weeks later, she was officially offered a contract with BalletX.
Matthew Neenan, BalletX Co-Founder, and Choreographer said during the ZOOM event that he still “wasn’t sure” about Quan at that time but was willing to take a chance on her. The chance paid off as Quan went on to perform in over 30 World Premieres with the company. Her first role was in Nicolo Fonte’s Beautiful Decay and she considers this a turning point in her career. “Nicolo always has his finger on the pulse of a rehearsal room.” He and Neenan are choreographers Quan says most influenced her as she moves forward to further pursue her own choreographic voice. “Matthew allowed me to be so open and free. He sees the heart and soul of the dancer in front of him.”
As part of the celebration, a montage of photos and recorded congratulations captured just how well respected and loved Quan is by her colleagues. The company dancers added a surprise element by logging on live to share their favorite “Caili Quan Story.” From silly to sentimental, it was obvious what a treasured part of the organization she has been.
Quan’s retirement means moving full-speed ahead with choreography projects. She is currently working via ZOOM with Ballet X dancers on her “love letter to Guam.” The piece is being formatted for film and will be presented as part of the recently announced virtual series, BalletX Beyond.