Myself, Carld and Alice Ann Wilson enjoying an American Ballet Theatre cast party. Tokyo, 1992 © Peter Lentz
Carld Jorel Jonassaint
Carld joined American Ballet Theatre towards the end of my first year with the company, in 1987, and he remained at ABT until 1993. He’d previously danced for seven years with The Dance Theater of Harlem, training under and dancing for the eagle-eyed and elegant Mr. Arthur Mitchell. Carld was a striking visual presence, a body sculpted in pronounced, powerful, strong muscles. He was very handsome and had a twinkle in his eyes that was often mischievous. His smile came easily, unless he was focused on his work, and his laughter flowed endlessly and always boisterously. Tobi Tobias reviewed him with DTH in 1984, “Carld Jonassaint—beautifully built, sensuous in modern roles, neat and airy in classical work.” And again in 1988, after joining ABT, when Mark Morris cast him in the premiere of Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes, Tobias wrote approvingly, “the company has used Carld Jonassaint for the weighty authority of his presence instead of treating him like just another capable fellow from the corps.”
Born in Port-de-Paix in 1962, Carld had a strong Haitian accent. His “r’s’ were often missing a bit, making his exaggerated pronunciation of his signature phrase all the funnier to me. “Swirl position” was Carld’s name for the solution to that moment when a full company rehearsal ends, and you just can’t begin to think of where in the studio your dance bag is located—and the clock is ticking on your one-hour lunch break. His ingenious solution was to tuck his bag just inside the door frame of the studio, behind the piano. His strategic exit strategy was rather brilliant; rehearsal over, he was always first, ‘swirling’ out the door!
As our friendship developed, so did a summer tour to Europe with ABT. We decided that after the tour we would travel together to about 3 or 5 European cities. Carld exclaimed that we’d be a visual sensation—my virtual glow in the dark albino complexion against his beautiful, rich, dark skin. He seemed to revel in the visual of us strolling down cobblestone streets and holding court in multiple cafes! Sadly, my first big injury curtailed those plans, and I did not go on the tour. Carld did, and he went on our vacation solo. To cheer me up, in every city I was missing, he sent me a beautiful postcard.
Misha clearly admired Martha Graham greatly. In my first year I recall a fundraiser where part of her school danced sharing a performance along with us at ABT. I watched Ms. Graham in the front wing watching, from her wheelchair. Soon after we learned that there would be Master Class with her. It was held in Studio 1 at 890 Broadway. I remember three things about that experience. I was a fish out of water. Misha looked incredibly happy and animated sitting next to Ms. Graham, front and center. And lastly, when we did big jumps across the floor on the diagonal, it was Carld’s soaring, suspended jumps that caught her eye, and were, “Right!”
I once invited Carld over to my studio apartment on West 76th St to make dinner together. We decided on making omelettes. I was never known for my cooking skills, but had recently purchased the popular 80’s cookbook, The Silver Palate. He arrived, and as we chit-chatted I set up everything and then put the cookbook out to get started. Carld took one look at it and simply roared with laughter—“You don’t need a cookbook to make an omelette!!” (He didn’t, but I did!) He got a lot of milage, for a long time, teasing me about that evening.
I was terrified to go, and I vividly recall stalling nervously outside on West 14th St in front of the Redden Funeral Home where Carld lay inside, in an exposed, open coffin. It was winter, 1997. My good friends Chris and Laura Martin emerged and stopped to talk to me. Chris told me that the hardest part was seeing Carld completely still. Carld’s was a body in constant motion and laughter with creativity flowing in every direction. In his short life he’d been a dancer, costume designer, poet, choreographer, composer and photographer. Chris was right. When I went in at last, and joined many of Carld’s friends, we cried together as we remembered a strong and beautiful man. AIDS has robbed so, so many dancers of their lives. Far too many gone. Carld was the first personal friend that I lost to AIDS, but not the last. When I look back, now in my 50’s, I am completely stunned that he died at age 35. He had so much more ahead of him, so much to live for. I am grateful to have known him.