As an adolescent, Jamal Story, 33, participated in a small summer musical theater workshop that included dance, he had no idea that it would play a major role in his life. Story was trained under the tutelage of the renowned Lula Washington founder of the famed Los Angeles based dance company which bears her name. He danced with Madonna’s Drowned World Tour, Cher’s Living Proof: The Farewell Tour and with his mentor Donald Byrd in The Color Purple on Broadway. And now Ladies and Gentleman here’s more of his – story.
PRIDEINDEX: I understand that you were a member of the original Broadway ensemble cast of The Color Purple, what was that like, tell us about the audition process.
Jamal: My hire as an ensemble member in Purple was a matter of divine intervention. When Donald Byrd was up for consideration for the show, I dropped by his rehearsal one his dancers wasn’t able to do it. Cher was ill at the time, so our three days off in New York extended to six and that’s when my involvement began. When Donald got the job, the Cher Tour was ending and he asked me to come in to work out some movement to run the dance call for the Purple workshop. Because Equity guidelines restrict the number of assistants, two of us had to “audition” to officially be in the room for the creative process. It was a technicality we agreed to with no expectations to actually be in the show on Broadway should it get picked up. Meanwhile, I had no intention of actually doing the show. I had a contract with Los Angeles Opera that conflicted with the rehearsal process. But after much urging and a wealth of support from the creative team and cast, I relented. It meant three days in New York and four days in Los Angeles every week for about a month, but it was absolutely worth it.
PRIDEINDEX:Tell us about your current projects.
Jamal: Aside from working on Cher’s show in Vegas, I’m putting a lot of energy into re-mounting a show I wrote, directed and choreographed called “The Soul in My Purse.” It’s a spoken word dance production that picks up the choreopoem genre created by Shange with “For Colored Girls,” except that “Purse” uses trained dancers who can speak vs. actresses who move. We did a workshop two years ago that was very successful so now I’m trying to shop it. I’m also working on selling my current book “12:34” and writing a new one.
PRIDEINDEX:Describe your artistic style
Jamal: I wish I could! Since I’m so invested artistically in dance and writing it’s hard to pinpoint something that I consider stylistically definitive. If I had to encapsulate though, I’d say that I strive to be fully integrated when it comes to my art, incorporating everything that is authentic about me to inform whatever it is I’m creating.
PRIDEINDEX: Where did you study professionally?
Jamal: My dance training began sort of backwards. I worked with the Lula Washington Dance Theatre, which gave me a sense of performance understanding and a paradigm for working in a professional environment. I took classes here and there in Los Angeles, but the serious training happened at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
PRIDEINDEX:Name 3 people who have influenced your artistic style.
Jamal: Ralph Glenmore and Desmond Richardson, dancers from two different generations of The Ailey Company have had large impact. Ralph is a mentor and I danced in Desmond’s company “Complexions” years ago. Tamica Washington has also had a tremendous artistic influence on me. Creatively though, Donald Byrd is my biggest influence.
PRIDEINDEX:I’ve read that you commute between NYC and Las Vegas to perform with Cher, what is she like to work with?
Jamal: Cher is fantastic to work for. She’s unpretentious and very human. It’s clear to me that her longevity is attributable to her willingness to be who she is all the time, and it’s amazing to work for a legend this accessible.
PRIDEINDEX:Tell us about your book, and where did you find the time to it write?
Jamal: One of the beautiful things about touring with Cher is that she seldom does more than four shows a week. When we were in smaller cities on tour, it meant lots of free time. I used mine to resurrect this idea I had in college about connected short stories forming a bigger work of fiction, which is what “12:34” became. It takes a look at causality and the consequences of our actions in the universe as they relate to these 18 scenarios played out in different points of view, narratives, tones. I wasn’t satisfied with the book when I finished it in 2004, so I put it away with the intention of revisiting the material after the Cher Tour ended. “The Color Purple” was all-consuming though, and when I made it to Vegas for work with Cher again, I had new perspective (and more honed skills) for re-write attack. The book is very much like the movie “Crash” as far as connectivity is concerned except that my characters don’t generally show up again.
PRIDEINDEX:Are you currently dating? In a relationship or have children, if so how do you balance your professional life and personal life?
Jamal: Yikes. The ironic thing is that I swore up and down I wouldn’t date anybody because balancing a love life with the kind of professional demands I’ve signed on for is near impossible. But I am definitely in a relationship right now trying this out. It’s a learning and growing process. No kids, but as an only child I have to say that there is a handful of kids I call my own.
PRIDEINDEX:What’s playing in your CD player?
Jamal: Well there are two CDs in my carousel in New York – a jazz compilation and a house mix. And on the MP3 it’s Erykah Badu.
PRIDEINDEX:What 2 books and CDs should everyone own?
Jamal: Just two book? Wow that’s hard. [laughing] I’m going to go with “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and The Bible. Two CDs – even harder. I have to think about it and get back to you.
What is your favorite style of dance? Ballet, Modern?
Jamal: I love dancing in modern techniques and contemporary styles that rely heavily on ballet technique. But as an audience member I could watch the best of any of it and be happy. It’s hard to narrow these things down because my career requires me to remain ready to do any of it from hip hop to Horton depending on the gig.
Have you ever considered starting your own dance company? Why not?
Jamal: For maybe ten minutes I considered it but the answer is always NO! Having danced in the concert dance world for years I’ve had opportunities to help grass roots companies deal with the challenges of being non-profit, raising money, providing livable contracts for dancers. It’s painstaking and difficult and the skill set is not related to dance talent/ability. It’s a whole other set of muscles. I’m much more interested in creating work for these companies, or perhaps (as is the case with “Purse”) a vehicle for concert dancers to be featured in a mainstream way without having to lose all artistic integrity. I also have allegiances to some of these companies I love and with monies so scares, I’d rather help my people get to it than create more competition for it.
PRIDEINDEX:Where do you see your self in the future?
Jamal: I see myself in a more financially comfortable position able to exact substantial change in the dance community.
PRIDEINDEX:Shameless promotion, when and where can we see you in action?
Jamal: Aside from with Cher over the next six weeks at Caesar’s Palace and in Kathy Chamberlain’s Nutcracker in Dallas around Thanksgiving, I’m not really sure. There is a memorial for beloved Denise Jefferson, whose daughter (Francesca) and I are close friends, and colleagues and I’ve made myself available to dance for this in early November. I have a lot of vacation time coming up in December so I guess I’ll spend it promoting the book. I spent a wonderful weekend in Houston doing exactly that and it was wonderful. After that, I don’t plan on turning down any invitations to do book signings.
For more information visit www.jamalstory.com covers it all.