New Ballet Arkansas Artistic Director Michael Fothergill and his wife, Associate Artistic Director Catherine Garratt Fothergill, are settling into their roles and adjusting to life in Arkansas after relocating this summer from Alabama. The duo is anticipating all the highlights of the revamped season, which includes holiday favorite "The Nutcracker" at the Robinson Center on Dec. 8-10.
What have you found most interesting or unique about Arkansas since moving here?
CGF: Arkansas is a unique place, and Arkansans are some of the most welcoming people that we’ve encountered. That is a huge part of the appeal for us in moving to Little Rock. Coming from Alabama, we see similarities in the natural resources and the importance of family and community connection. In many ways the two states are similar, making our transition to Arkansas an easy one.
What really stands out for each of you as you look at the upcoming schedule?
CGF: We have so many exciting changes taking place at Ballet Arkansas that it is difficult to choose only one. I do feel, however, that the founding of the Ballet Arkansas Children’s Series, a series of programs designed specifically for younger viewers, helps the organization to accomplish one of its paramount goals — to be more accessible and to impact a greater audience.
MF: In tripling the amount of public performances in a broader selection of venues, Ballet Arkansas is becoming more accessible. It is my primary interest for the organization to reach more people and to do more good. The creation of the Ballet Arkansas Live Stream is an exciting component of this vision. This gives Ballet Arkansas the ability to be present to audiences near and far, young and old. I am very proud of the organization for taking this step to expand our reach artistically and technologically.
What do you think would surprise most people about the life of a dancer?
MF: Many people think dancers simply dance for fun, and dancing professionally is not a full time job. They are dead wrong. Similar to musicians or actors, dancers work long hours and put in painstaking effort to bring forth the quality performances that they do. We work Monday through Friday just like anyone else does, and we earn a salary for our work. While the “starving artist” stereotype is not far off, there are many dancers that earn a sizable income for what they do. With that said, as with any artist, we are not in this business for the money.
What is a must-have item for a dancer while traveling?
CGF: I think most dancers would say that while traveling they are going to want to have snacks and have an itinerary. Most dancers are Type A individuals and like to have a plan. With any tour or engagement out of town, most dancers do not like fluctuation in the schedule without advance notice. I’d also say of material goods, most dancers would want something to keep them warm. As we are physical athletes, it is important that we keep our muscles warm before performances. You never know what sort of drafts or insulation a stage will have until you set foot on it. Most dancers travel with layers for this purpose.
What has been the most exciting experience you have each had in the world of dance?
MF: It was a great thrill for me to dance one of the leads in Agnes de Mille’s final work “The Other.” The ballet has only been performed a few times since it was created on American Ballet Theatre in 1992. Upon its premiere, the ballet received mixed reviews, but was really the only work Agnes choreographed that turned the creative lens on herself. I am honored to bring a part of this ballet to Arkansas audiences this spring within our Ballet Arkansas in Concert performances at The Rep.
CGF: Dancing the title roles of Giselle and Juliet were milestones for me, however, I was also blessed to be able to dance the work of choreographer Jirí Kylián. His works are sought after internationally, and to be selected to dance his pieces is a great honor to any dancer. We hope to bring this level of work to Ballet Arkansas so our audiences can experience the joy of these ballets, and our dancers can take their artistic growth the next level.
What do you do for relaxation or enjoyment when not working?
MF: Honestly, we are never not working. The two of us do everything together and that is really how it has always been. We enjoy walks together, being outside in nature, reading, watching movies, spending time with our friends and family and, of course, taking orders from our cat Audie.