St. Clair Shores boy dances to the Opera House
DETROIT — When “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” opens May 14 at the Detroit Opera House, the boy who takes the stage as young Malcolm will be no stranger to some in the audience.
It will be performed by 12-year-old Charles Dennis of Warren, a competitive dancer at Rhythm-n-Jump Dance Academy in St. Clair Shores.
“I just like being on stage and being in front of a lot of people,” said Charles, who is in sixth grade at Jefferson Middle School in St. Clair Shores.
He has been with the Rhythm-n-Jump dance company for five years, competing and performing in ballet, jazz, lyrical, contemporary and hip-hop. It was during a competition earlier this year that someone from production spotted him and contacted the owner of the dance studio, asking Charles to come and audition.
The Detroit Opera’s production of “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Anthony Davis is directed by Robert O’Hara and conducted by Kazem Abdullah. In addition to May 14, the opera will be performed on May 19 and 22. Current Detroit Opera Artist-in-Residence Davóne Tines will play Malcolm X.
Charles didn’t know much about Malcolm X before joining the production, which details the life, transformation, and ultimate assassination of Malcolm X, from his childhood in Lansing, Michigan, to his first run-ins with the law; his conversion to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam; his own ministry and breaking with Elijah; his pilgrimage to Mecca; and the end of his life.
“I wanted to know more now that I saw the story,” Charles said. “It’s also a very interesting opera. There’s a lot going on at the same time, so there’s also a lot to watch.
He said he was impressed by the talent of his actors.
“It’s quite fun to work with everyone and be able to dance. I really dance and sing and I feel uplifted,” he said. “I like how good it is to sing and how good the singers are. It’s not opera all the time.
His mother, Crystal Dennis, said performing on stage was new to Charles.
“No one ever knew he could sing, and of course he does the dancing part,” she said.
The production rehearses six days a week, and Dennis said Charles was there every afternoon for the first two weeks.
“The director, at the end of the day, once the rehearsals are over for that day, he decides who he wants to work with. It’s a full opera house with probably 20 opera singers, dancers, a full orchestra,” she said. Charles’ role as young Malcolm X is in all of Act 1 and part of Act 2, so as rehearsals progressed through the production, his obligations became more sporadic.
“It’s been very hectic,” she added. “He’s a straight student, so he was able to balance everything out, which I’m very proud (of which). I don’t need to go behind him or check.
Aside from missing dance class when he has rehearsals for the opera, Charles said he balances it all out.
“I do it. I don’t know how, but I do it,” he said.
Dennis said she’s only seen one other opera, but appreciates that “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” breaks with tradition.
“This one sings, dances, plays. (There is) always something going on,” she said.
Charles said he wasn’t sure if it was something he would want to pursue as a career, but he enjoys the experience and works with actors from across the country.
“He really has no idea how big this thing is. He’s just like, ‘Oh, I can dance,’” Dennis said. “My very first rehearsal, I watched a little bit of it. makes the hairs on my arms stand on end (because of) the quality of people.
“Everyone is so nice. Everyone is so nice and kind. These are people who travel all over the world singing. It made the first experience in this type of setting very welcoming and comfortable.”
Dennis said she is incredibly proud of the work Charles does on stage and appreciates their time together.
“You can tell it’s going to be something big,” she said.
Charles has friends and fans from his dance studio come to see him, and Dennis said she thinks it would be a good learning experience for all of the students.
“Reading the booklet…I learned about Malcolm X in school, but there were things I didn’t know,” she said. “The pieces of his story that they pulled out to piece together are very defining and interesting.”