Interviewed by Maryan Aiken
Profession: Professional ballet dancer · Role at AB: Atlanta Ballet Company dancer for 22 seasons · Projects on AB: Performances this season include Nutcracker, Carmina Burana, Firebird, and Camino Real.
MA : What is it like being a veteran with AB?
I'm proud and grateful to have had such a long and happy career. I've worked with an outstanding list of choreographers and artists who have informed and inspired my own artistic voice. It is eye opening to be with the same organization, but to have your perspective change as you get older. Besides dancing, I've also choreographed and taught for the company. You learn a lot seeing things from the other side. Even though I've been in the dance world my whole life, I continue to be in awe of what we do for a living.
MA: Go back to the first time when you were notified that you were selected to be a dancer for AB and when The Nutcracker was first offered?
Tara Lee: John McFall hired me when I was nineteen after seeing me dance in New York with Joffrey II. It was a mixture of excitement and uncertainty, since I didn't know much about Atlanta. The start of that first season held an electric energy because John himself was a new director coming in with fresh ideas for the company's direction. He was bringing in a brand new production of Nutcracker for Atlanta, complete with original sets and costumes. It was an honor to be part of that creative birth.
MA: The most memorable after 21 season and why?
Tara Lee: I remember when my piece, 'the authors' premiered at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre a couple years ago. It was the middle piece between Alexei Ramantsky's “Seven Sonatas” and Ohad Naharin's “Secus.” I was dancing in both of the other works and running out to the audience to see mine in between. It was both overwhelming and thrilling to be pushed to my full capacity mentally, physically, energetically.. and also an honor to be on a program with 2 brilliant choreographers.
MA: Who was your mentor?
Tara Lee: Donna Bonasera of Connecticut Dance Theatre was my first ballet teacher, and had a profound influence on how I dance. She was and is an incredible artist who taught me how to care about the details, the musicality... and how the transition been steps is as important as the steps themselves. She also has a wonderful sense of theatricality, which helped me in approaching dramatic roles. ·
MA: What kind of preparations do you undergo for The Nutcracker?
Tara Lee: The preparation is pretty consistent for any of our productions. Every day starts with an hour and a half company ballet class, followed by several hours of rehearsal. There's an intense rehearsal period for a few weeks before each different production, and the dancers are responsible for keeping themselves in top physical condition. Dance at its most elite levels demands more mental strength than anything else. It's the mind that drives the physical machine.
MA: How many different roles| character have you played for the Nutcracker, what was your first character and what is your favorite one?
Tara Lee: I've performed almost every female role in Nutcracker, haha! We perform several roles each year, so everything from Snowflake and Meissen Doll (even a sheep my first year!) to Sugar Plum Fairy, Snow Queen and Dewdrop. Arabian is the one I still dance the most, which I love.. there's a mysterious quality to the music and choreography which is distinctive from anything else in the ballet.
MA: What can we expect with this year’s presentation?
Some tradition and some new energy! We are performing our well-known production of John McFall's Nutcracker, which Atlanta audiences love, and adding some fresh dancers and energy from our new director, Gennadi Nedvigin. It's a good recipe: The Fox Theatre, our Atlanta Ballet orchestra, Tchaikovsky's sweeping music, and bright and beautiful dancing...
All photos by Charlie McCullers.
The Nutcracker Season is going on now through December 24, 2016 at the fabulous Fox Theatre.