Christian Paris Blue (BFA ’20) danced in the historic production of “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” for the Metropolitan Opera this past fall.
The production was the first-ever Black directed main stage performance by choreographer Camille A. Brown and the first performance of an opera by a Black composer, Terence Blanchard, an adaptation of Charles M. Blow’s memoir.
“The thought of all of the Black and Brown people who got to see a piece of themselves on that stage, whether in the theatre or on the screen, gives me chills,” Blue wrote in an Instagram post.
“REPRESENTATION MATTERS! Seeing other people who look like you get the opportunity to express themselves MATTERS! This show was so much bigger than any one person’s story. It was all of our stories. It was all of us.”
Following “Fire,” Blue performed in “Eurydice” for the Met Opera last November. Like all Met Opera shows, performances were seen live on stage in New York City, but then were shown in selected cinemas nationwide. In December, Blue presented choreography with friend Daniel Kersh at The Shed, a new cultural center in Hudson Yards, Manhattan.
Christian Paris Blue is on fire
Blue graduated from the School of Dance in May of 2020 and, with no prospects lined up, he moved to New York City in July.
Well, actually New Jersey, where he stayed with friends at a farmhouse, checking audition listings every day. Very early on he applied for and landed a virtual apprenticeship with the David Parsons Dance Company. Very early on in that apprenticeship, Blue was brought into the company.
“I got a call after like the first day from the manager and he was like, ‘Okay, so we think that we want to bring you into the company. Are you able to move to New York full time or what’s your situation?’ And I was like, well, I’m on a farm in New Jersey. I can catch a train if I need to.”
The company began doing five-to-six week residencies in different cities with two-week breaks between locations. For six months, Blue was functioning as a company member, learning all the repertory and going to all the shows.
“It was a great experience to a certain degree, but I was like, ‘Okay, I’m not getting paid and I don’t have any time to have a job now because I’m doing basically full-time work for free.”
So he kept on applying.
“I applied just randomly for this audition at the Metropolitan Opera. It was with a choreographer, Camille A. Brown, who I had always wanted to work with.”
The audition notice said, ‘Learn this 45 seconds of choreography and send us back a video of you doing it, and then we’ll talk.’
“I was like, ‘Okay, well, I don’t expect anything, but I’m just gonna send it in.’ And they sent me back a contract and were like, okay, this works. And so, I was like, oh my gosh!”
>> WATCH: “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” trailer
So, right before the biggest life-changing experience of his brief career, Blue tested positive for COVID and spent two weeks in isolation while he recovered.
“It kind of felt like a blessing in disguise, because it really allowed me two full weeks of silence and rest, which was hard to find.”
Fully recovered, he embarked on an impactful three months of rehearsals for the new production.
“The group that I was able to work with are all working around the world basically, but they all have really strong roots in New York City in a really big community here that they’ve built. They all welcomed me with open arms, which was amazing.”
The cast of 16 Black men were aged 28 to 40. Blue, just 23, was the newbie and his castmates were very supportive.
“During that three-month period of building the show and performing, they were bringing me to shows and introducing me to this director and that director, and basically just being like, ‘Wherever we go, Christian, you need to go with us.’ It was amazing.
“Rehearsals were intense, but like some of the most fun I’ve ever had in the rehearsal room. We had Black male presenting dancers all in room together led by Camille A. Brown, who is like an idol of mine. The room itself … I had never been in that experience. Even at the University of Arizona, there was three or four Black students in the program at the School of Dance at any given time. And it was great, but just to have that much like blackness in a room and then build a show about blackness and how it’s celebrated was insane. I feel like not only did my dancing change there, but the way that I hold myself in a room, it was like, I was able to see all these grown men carry themselves in a way that exuded confidence and pride, but never arrogance.
“I think it was good for me to be in that room at this point in my life and my career and be able to watch these men and be like, ‘Oh, that’s possible. I can do that.’ I can walk into a room and be myself and not have to shrink in order to fit what I think is necessary.”
It was a band of brothers and Blue was the little brother.
The Metropolitan Opera was founded in 1883. The current venue is located on Broadway on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The Met is the centerpiece of the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts. The lobby features two Marc Chagall murals, sculptures and 11 crystal chandeliers. The opulent 3,800-seat opera house is iconic.
“The first time we went to the stage, there was a lot of tears. We all were like, ‘Oh my goodness. Oh, my goodness.’ Just the space, it was just so grand. There was gold and detailing and all these things that felt like I was in like a castle. The moment I stepped onto the stage I was, of course, overwhelmed, but also I was like, ‘Okay, this makes sense. What’s next?’ I’ve been here now and we’re doing this here and this is amazing, but now it’s my job to push it further.”
The opera is based on the memoir of the same name by Charles M. Blow, a New York Times columnist, about his traumatic Louisiana upbringing. One of the showstopping moments in the show is a 10-minute step number that opens the third act.
“I didn’t know how to step at all. I’ve never stepped. I came from suburban Arizona and I went to University of Arizona, not like an HBC or anything. So, I had to learn really quick how to step slash how to like fake step. Everyone was always like, ‘Come on, Christian, here we go. Here we go. We’re just gonna throw you into it.’”
“We all believed in the show so much. It was our job to make this as real as can be. Let’s actually dig into the work. And I really liked that because I felt like our group could come in and really start building this world, but then the reaction from the audience was so mixed and there was a lot of anger.”
A social media post of the step scene by the Met Opera brought a lot of views, but also hateful comments. Cast members received death threats. Some of the pushback came from the Black fraternity community who felt the step scene was disrespectful.
A Life Changing Experience
“The sense of community was what it sticks with me. We still talk to this day, at least once a week in our little group chat. It was just constantly joke and laughing and sharing food and sharing music and workouts.”
These were all opportunities that helped Blue see a pathway for a sustainable career.
Up next, Blue will be part of the remount of “Fire” at Chicago’s Lyric Opera House, March 24-April 8. He’s working with a group called the Dancing Society and they are putting a piece together for a festival in Belgium this summer. Working on a couple films. And so much more.
And the galas gave Blue an opportunity to up his wardrobe game.
“It’s been really fun going to the galas because I feel like I’m finally able to dress like how I want to and how I’ve always wanted to, because these are galas for my show. That has allowed me to explore my presentation, the presentation of myself, and that’s tapped into how I want to express my gender. Just being fluid with clothing and different textiles. Like it might just be a black suit and tie, but I’m wearing like a skirt or heels. I mean, honestly, frankly, how badass is it to go to your own gala in a pair of heels and be like, Hey, what’s up?”