Myles Thatcher's skills and growing reputation as a promising choreographer have been recognized and honored by the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. Last month, Myles was awarded a grant and the opportunity to mentor with world renowned choreographer Alexei Ratmansky during the 2014-15 cycle. Since 2010, Myles has been a member of San Francisco Ballet's distinguished Corps de Ballet. He is one of seven dancers to receive the award, each will work with a separate choreographer. The applications came in from all over the world.
"It was an extensive process," said Myles.
They start with a committee that nominates people to apply. I got an e-mail in late August saying I had been nominated for this program. Then I started researching it and saw that previous mentors included Jiří Kylián and William Forsythe. So, right off the bat that was exciting. They sent me the application and I had a few weeks to get all the materials together. It was pretty extensive. We had to send in three pieces of work we've done, answer questions, put together press materials, photos and send in a video introducing ourselves and saying why we would fit this program.
Myles' work as a choreographer reached a new audience in January 2012 when San Francisco Symphony presented Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien, a multi-media production of a miracle play by Gabriele d'Annunzio with incidental music for solo voices, chorus and orchestra by Claude Debussy. The concert was given three performances and featured Frederica von Stade as the Narrator, soprano Karina Gauvin and mezzo-sopranos Sasha Cooke and Leah Wool. Myles created choreography for the music that deals with Sebastian's death and entrance into Heaven. Damian Smith (recently retired Principal Soloist with SF Ballet) appeared as the legendary martyr. The dance had been previously videoed, then edited portions were projected onto custom-made screens hanging above the Symphony Hall stage. The moment was glamorous and Heaven-sent.
The research was so interesting. But, it's always like this in art -- once you grow and then look back -- you wish you had done some things differently. I looked at a lot of paintings of St. Sebastian. That spoke to me the most. They are so specifically expressive. Damian is a great artist. It was nice to work with somebody who is so comfortable, but still respectful and humble. This was my first outside project -- outside of the school and studio setting -- made for theatre. It is really important to collaborate, especially in this day and age. It enriches any artistic experience, but most important it keeps ballet accessible and fresh.
Myles Thatcher is blest with a commanding presence on stage. The eye goes right to him. In addition to his work with the corps, Myles has appeared in key supporting positions such as "Benjamin" in Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella, "Gamache" in the Tomasson/Possokhov Don Quixote, "Oswald" in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House, "Lensky" in John Cranko's Onegin and finished this season in a strategic pairing with fellow corps member Wei Wang in the world premiere of Liam Scarlett's Hummingbird. Its layered choreography reflects the complexities of the score -- the Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra by Philip Glass. Myles and Wei danced across the middle area of the stage in an aggressive exchange of give and take that was totally captivating. Even though the ballet is not driven by a plot, I asked Myles what the choreographer may have advised them about motivations behind the movement.
That was one of my best experiences. What I love about Liam Scarlett is that he has a way of getting what he needs from us without sharing too much -- which gives us a lot of freedom. Even with two separate casts you can see that. We weren't told anything, we were shown steps. Liam will guide you in various places, but the steps are so expressive that it just becomes what it has to be. Instead of him trying to make the steps into something, that's just what the steps are. Wei and I did a lot of work on our own -- which was great. I think we both just kind-of knew what had to happen, we didn't have to express it.
San Francisco Ballet has an impressive roster of principal male soloists. I asked Myles if he has the dream and the drive to rise to that position.
"I would love too," he responded.
That's what I'm working towards. And I don't plan to stop dancing because of where I'm going with choreography. It's revitalizing to have both sides of it. But there is only so much you can control and I think there's only so much you can grow on your own. I feel like I have something to say in those roles. I know that I'm a dancer who people really understand or don't. I know that about myself. I know that I'm not everybody's dancer. It really just depends.
Following his year's mentorship with Alexei Ratmansky, Myles has been commissioned by San Francisco Ballet to create a work for the 2015 Season. Myles believes he is ready to work with classical music and is hoping to do a Bach arrangement. He knows that Russian-born Alexei Ratmansky is a virtual encyclopedia of Classical Ballet. Following his graduation from the Bolshoi Ballet School, Ratmansky worked as a principal dancer with the Ukrainian National Ballet and also with the Royal Danish Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet. He is currently the Artist in Residence with American Ballet Theatre. This season San Francisco Ballet scored another triumph with the premiere of his Shostakovich Trilogy. At the moment, Alexei and Myles are co-ordinating their schedules.
We've gone through our calendars to find the best times for me to shadow him as he is choreographing or going over notations from the past, etc. I'll be doing a lot of traveling, probably spending time in New York and hopefully in Munich. He is one of those people that has no ego about the art form. He has a love and care for the art form and is really pure, open and genuine about it. I'm less history-based in that sense, but I'm still discovering who I am. I have a kind-of pieced together training and his is very solid. I'm hoping to learn a lot about these things -- how Ballet has come to be. Not just facts, but heart and style. That's where he really excels. He understands what it was, what it was trying to communicate, the fantasy and why it was so alluring to people. I feel like this is what I need now -- and maybe not the year before, because I don't know that I would have been able to process it the same way. I feel like I'm at the point where I've done the work in the studio and, for now, I know my artistic values and strengths and what I have to work on. Now it's nice to get another perspective on it as well. I'm looking forward to the growth.