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Q&A: Jared Matthews of American Ballet Theatre

by Danielle Georgiou 20 Jan 2012 9:37 AM

TITAS brings The American Ballet Theatre to town this weekend, and guest blogger Danielle Georgiou gets a preview – and some thoughts on coming home to Texas – from soloist Jared Matthews.


Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is the artistic director and choreographer of DGDG: Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. She also serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble.

Jared Matthews. Courtesy: American Ballet Theatre

Opening a new year of dance in Dallas, TITAS brought back one of the city’s favorites, the American Ballet Theatre. Considered one of the greatest ballet companies in the world today, ABT will be presenting four pieces from its repertoire: “Company D,” “Duets,” “Seven Sonatas,” and “Tchaikovsky Pas de Daux.”

While waiting for his plane to Dallas, soloist Jared Matthews took the time to speak with me about returning to Dallas—he was here in April as part of TITAS’ Command Performance—and to his home state—Matthews called Houston, Texas his home until his sophomore year in high school when he joined ABT at the age of 17.

Danielle Georgiou: How has your experience been with ABT? You practically grew up in the company; they must be like your family now.

Jared Matthews: Oh yes. And I think, now this is my personal opinion, I think it’s (ABT) one of the top classical ballet companies in America. With the range of dancers from all over the world, and the type of repertoire that we do, it really makes us one of the premiere companies in the world. For me, my draw to ABT was it’s strong classical background.

DG: Will we see that classical background this weekend?

JM: It won’t necessarily be shown as much because we’re bringing more repertory pieces, and that’s exciting, because it shows how diverse the company is. But the classical part is where I think the strength of the company lies, and you’ll see it underneath everything that we do. It’s very strong throughout the whole rank…if you were to watch company class, the level of talent of principal soloists and the corps de ballet is extremely high. The standard of dancing is very high.

DG: When you moved to New York and joined ABT, were you a student of the school first?

JM: No, I joined the Studio Company for a year. At that point the Studio Company wasn’t a part of the school, it was a separate entity. Basically, that was the gateway into the Company for young dancers. They were never going to take a 17-year-old into the company right away. Usually they wanted to groom you first. But you were paid and it was performance-based. We usually did 5 new creations a year.

DG: So when did you first start dancing?

JM: When I was 11. Well actually, I started tap dancing when I was eight, and I took my first ballet class when I was 11.

DG: And that was it? You just feel in love with it?

JM: Kind of. I slowly started to make the transition. But when I saw Mikhail Baryshnikov, I said, ‘This is something really amazing.’ And that was my other draw to ABT: Baryshnikov’s relationship with the Company. I grew up watching him and studying him.

DG: That’s when I fell in love with dance too! Watching Baryshnikov do “The Nutcracker.”

JM: (laughing) Yes! You can’t help it! Even to this day, the standard of dancing he did in the ‘70s, it still holds up.

DG: This weekend, you’ll be performing “Seven Sonatas” and “Duets.”

JM: Yes.

DG: Could you talk a little bit about those pieces?

JM: ‘Duets’ is my first Merce Cunningham piece, and the Company hasn’t done a Cunningham work in quite awhile. It’s really a great piece; it’s very Merce in a way: the music doesn’t necessarily affect the movement because the music changes every night, but that somehow leaves room for spontaneity in the performance.  Certain aspects of the piece are pulled out more, because the music that night is going in that direction. And the energy is something else!

The process of learning the piece was also really wonderful. It was kind of like an intense lesson in Cunningham technique, philosophy, and his life, all at once. It was more than just learning a piece of dance. It was learning a piece of history. And coupled with the fact that his own company just did their last performance this past New Year’s Eve, this performance is so special. We get to carry on his legacy.

‘Seven Sonatas” is really a very good piece too. When you watch it, you really see the craftsmanship in the work. The detail. And for me, I was there in the beginning of the process and was working with Alexei (Ratmansky, the choreographer) on it. To be able to continue to work on it for the past three years has been excellent, because the piece lends itself to always growing and allows for the dancers to grow themselves. And that’s very important; it’s not just easy in that you learn the steps and you’re done, you have to keep working and working. You want to keep challenging yourself to do the piece justice.

And the piece is very intimate. The music, the Domenico Scarlatti sonatas, are really beautiful, and I think people will really get into it.

American Ballet Theatre will be at the Winspear Opera House Friday and Saturday as part of the TITAS 2011-2012 season.  More details here.