Joined Ballet West in 2010
First “question” … Guess what the first question is.
Ummm … What age did you start dancing?
Good. Correct. That is the first question.
Great … Would you like me to answer that question?
What age did you start dancing?
Well, I started dancing when I was six years old. My parents took me to see The Nutcracker when I was five. After the show, we came home and I had a cassette tape of [Peter Ilyich] Tchaikovsky music. One side had The Nutcracker and the other side had Swan Lake. I just played The Nutcracker side of the tape over and over again. And then spring rolled around, and I told my parents that they should come to school on Friday to see the talent show. They were like, “Why? Are you gonna sing? What are you gonna do?” And I said, “No, I’m gonna dance.” And they said, “Really?” They were very surprised. So, my Mom rented a video camera, and they left work early and came to my talent show. As a first grader at Westridge Elementary I performed my own choreography to the Russian dance [from The Nutcracker] in front of [grades] K through five. Afterwards my parents came up to me and said, “Well, do you want to be a dancer?” And I was like, “Yes.” So, it was my covert way of telling them that I wanted to dance.
After that I started taking classes at a local studio. I took ballet, tap, jazz and tumbling, but the predominant dance of that studio was clogging. So, from six to thirteen I was really into clogging. When I was thirteen I clogged in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York. I had always been in The Nutcracker in Omaha … This is a terribly long answer. I started taking a ballet class there at my old studio, and it was the hardest class of my week, without a doubt. I just became so much stronger from taking one ballet class that at the end of that year I decided to quit going to the regular studio and go full time at a ballet studio. The old studio’s way of teaching was to allow girls who graduated the year before suddenly teach the next class. So, when I was very young I was always in very high levels and there would be girls from my class from the previous year teaching me how to dance in the current year. I left my old studio because I wasn’t learning anything new. At the ballet studio I was always learning something new. I was never the best student and it was always hard, so I started doing that full time from there on out.
Did you truly know that you wanted to be a professional dancer when you were six years old?
Yes. I didn’t really know what it meant to be a professional, but I knew that I wanted to take dance class all day, everyday, and not do anything else.
At what age did you realize what being a professional really meant?
I think I probably knew when I would perform in The Nutcracker in Omaha. I knew that the dancers dancing big parts were professionals, but I didn’t understand that it is a job. So, it was probably when I went away to PNB (Pacific Northwest Ballet) for the first summer when I was sixteen, which allowed me to see a very large and established company. I saw that it was a job for these people, and I saw that it was work. I think that was when I realized what I really wanted was just, to dance.
Did seeing PNB change your perception of what a professional dance career entails?
I think it just made me realize that it was possible. There were thirty other boys in my class [at PNB], and it was always just me in my studio. The added element of competition really took my dancing to a completely different level. I got a lot stronger and more confident in my dancing. I realized it could be a viable option as a career, not just something to think and dream about.
You were sixteen when you left home and went to PNB for the first time. How long were you in Seattle?
Well, when I was sixteen I went to PNB for the summer. When I was seventeen I did the summer at SAB (School of American Ballet), and then the last two weeks of PNB’s program. PNB asked me to stay at that point, but I was seventeen and not done with high school. So, there was some talk about doing correspondence work to finish high school. At the end of it, my parents actually wouldn’t let me go, which in hindsight I’m very grateful for, because I needed to be home. I wasn’t ready to live two thousand miles away from family yet, but back then I would have told you that I was [ready]. When I was in Omaha, for my senior year of high school, I was pretty much a full time apprentice with the Omaha Theater Ballet. So, I would take one class at school in the morning, and then I would drive downtown and dance for a full day at work. When I graduated with my class, people didn’t know that I was still living in Omaha. After high school I went to PNB for a year to study in their professional division. Then I got a job with OBT (Oregon Ballet Theater) and danced there for four years. Then I came to Ballet West, and this is my second season here.
Speaking of Ballet West, what is your favorite thing about being with the company?
I would say that I really love working and performing in the same building. That’s a really great luxury. When we move to the stage, all of our stuff is already there. There’s not a big exodus to the theater. So, that makes things feel really comfortable. I also like the amount of performances we have here. We perform more here than when I was at Oregon Ballet Theater. So, it’s nice to have more time on stage.
What is your favorite and least favorite thing about being a professional dancer?
I just like the work. I just really like to work. I like that we’re creators. I like that we get to create things together. And I like being tuned in with my body. I enjoy the physical aspect of knowing when something hurts or when something is different about my body, but then through dance it will be able to almost heal itself. There are times when certain parts of my body will be aching, and if I keep taking class or keep rehearsing for whatever reason it will just kind of flow out. I really like the healing quality that dance can have in a physical way as well as what dance does for an audience. I like what it does for a community of people because I think it can heal the observers as well as the participants.
I suppose my least favorite thing would be the shortness of it (the career). As I get older I desire to find creative ways to continue to be a dancer, because I feel like the time when the body stops reacting and responding to dance is the time when the artistic level is honed in a really great way. So, I guess my desire as I grow as a dancer would be to have that growth artistically continue even if the physical aspect of it stops or is different. I don’t know; I love it so much that I don’t want it to ever be gone. I think there are some people that can just kind of hang it up and leave and are ok with that. I guess my hope is that there will be ways to still have movement in my life even when it’s not to the full extent of my professional career as it is today.
Do you fear your body not responding to dance or do you think you’ll embrace “hanging up your ballet shoes?”
I think I’ll embrace it. I don’t have fear about it, more anticipation about it. I feel like that’s a question that I’m often asked, like, “How long are you gonna do this?” Future planning in this career is very difficult to do, because it’s kind of on a day-by-day basis where it’s like, what hurts and what doesn’t hurt? And can I still do it? So, it’s not so much fear. Just in my career, thus far, the way that things have unfolded has pleasantly surprised me. I’m hoping when my career is at that [ending] point, there will be something waiting that will be also surprising in a great and pleasant way.
I’m glad you talked about how you have to evaluate this career day-to-day, because I’m not sure outsiders realize what struggles dancers go through with their bodies. Waking up everyday is like a new …
Right. What’s your favorite role you’ve performed with Ballet West?
Of course I really like Phlegmatic (The Four Temperaments – Balanchine). That was the first role I danced at OBT when I was nineteen, and it was the first role that I performed with Ballet West, so it’s a very special piece that I feel like I’ve grown up with in a lot of ways. I think I’ve done that role four or five times in six years. And I like Sinfonietta (Jiri Kylian). I’ve done it across the country with Ballet West, and it’s great music, and has steps that I really enjoy doing. This is kind of small, but I really enjoyed doing Stars and Stripes (Balanchine) for the Gala (2010). It was just really fun. In Innovations I really liked doing Avichai Scher’s White Noise. I got to do the first pas de deux with Emily Adams. I really did like that part, and I feel like it was a good way to end a first season.
Are there any roles that you’ve always wanted to perform?
Yeah … I’m nerdy so I have a lot.
You’re going to get “bun head” on me?
Yeah … I’ve been thinking about this before the interview, like, “I can’t forget that one.”
Ok, then you have to give them to me in order by priority.
Priority? I can’t do that.
I’m just gonna give them to you, ok? Ulysses Dove’s Red Angels …
What number would that one be on your priority list?
They aren’t really priorities, I mean …
Ok, each role you say, let’s give a one to ten. Ten being a role that you have to do before you retire, one being …
Well, I feel that way about all of these. The bottom line is that …
They’re all ten’s?
I don’t know what that means. I don’t feel like I have to do any of these roles to be honest, this is more sort of like hoop dreams.
I’m just gonna say them, ok? Because your system is kind of stressing me out: Red Angels; Ummm, a Romeo of some capacity, preferably the Jean-Christophe Maillot version; [Jiri] Kylian’s Sarabande; a lot of Balanchine stuff, like, Brahms Schoenberg Quartet, Diamonds, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, AGON, I’ve never done AGON; Ummm, Duo Concertante; maybe Symphony in Three Movements.
Is that all?
Ummm, I’ve been in two Nicolo Fonte ballets, and I’ve really enjoyed those experiences, so I would like to do that more. I like being a part of any new work.
Do you have a favorite Ballet West moment?
Probably when we went to Vegas, and we did Sinfonietta (Jiri Kylian). I exited on the wrong side of the stage in the first movement of the ballet. It’s not a very positive memory and I was pretty freaked out about it, but I kind of got that out of my system, so now I can just dance and not have to be like, “Oh, I’m gonna mess up now,” because I kind of did the general mess up already. So, it’s like it’s out of the way.
So, that’s your favorite moment?
I mean, it’s memorable. It’s not my favorite, like, “I really love this moment,” but it’s definitely quite memorable. And then I have a compilation of strange moments. In between mundane moments, like, waiting in the wings before going on [stage], or, waiting for my last entrance in Sinfonietta (Jiri Kylian) and seeing those five guys doing their choreography and counting the six sixes before Easton [Smith] and I enter. I love that moment, the look that somebody will give me while we’re on stage. Just really small things, like non-verbal things as artists and dancers that we get to share together. Those are the moments that I really, really love. That’s of course what I’ll miss the most when it’s all said and done.
What do you do when you’re not dancing?
I just started taking college classes, so I’m up at the U twice a week. I love riding my bike. I’m a big fan of commuting on my bike, and I’m just a happier person when I ride my bike. I like to make food. I like to rest. I enjoy cross training by running, and lifting weights, and swimming, and more biking. I went mountain biking a couple times this summer … enjoyed that. I think all of my activities when I’m not dancing, when we’re working pretty heavily, are all about resting and enjoying. Enjoyment is very important.
If a movie were to be made of your life, who would play you?
What if you were busy during the filming, dancing in Dubai?
Seriously? Do I have to come up with a different answer? Does it need to be somebody that looks like me or somebody that can dance?
It’s up to you. You do the casting.
Well, I just gave you my answer.
No, you’re busy in Dubai, remember?
(laugh) There’s too many rules … Ummm, how bout that Billy Elliot guy? He can kinda dance or something can’t he? He’s Irish looking. Jamie Bell? Or if we’re playing the doppelgänger game then I guess Prince Harry … if he’s available. Or Paul Bettany; I’ve been told I look like him. I don’t know, ‘cause they all have accents, so I don’t know if they could perfect the pure midwest diction that I have. I would like you to just say me.
If someone were to write a biography on your life, what would the title be?
(pause for about a minute) I really don’t know (another minute) I’m sorry I don’t have any creative juices left to create an answer right now. Do you have any suggestions?
Let me think of one … “Gracefully Dipping into the Fry Sauce” … How’s that?
I mean, it’s kind of up for debate.
Well, you have the “graceful,” to represent your dancing. You have the “dipping,” which represents going into the life of “the fry sauce,” Adrian Fry in Utah. I thought it was pretty clever.
It could be a work in progress. I mean, that could be the title of the book if you want, “Work In Progress.”
Thank you for walking me through that.
(whispered) I just summoned your genius.