Interview with the Artistic Director of American Repertory Ballet, Douglas Martin
Posted on 04/14/2019
Douglas Martin, Artistic Director of American Repertory Ballet, joins us to chat about the upcoming ballet Beauty and the Beast, which will be at The State on May 10. Martin has been a dancer for the Joffrey Ballet, the Cleveland Ballet, and American Repertory Ballet (ARB). Through his years with ARB, he has choreographed productions such as Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Pride and Prejudice, and Nutcracker.
You have been a principal dancer for the Joffrey Ballet, the Cleveland Ballet, and the American Repertory Ballet. How did each of these companies differ in their teaching style?
All three of these companies had both American Ballet Theater and Joffrey Ballet directors in common in the dancers training. I felt very at home with the styles especially since I danced such a large range of styles during my career at the Joffrey Ballet. The main difference in every company is the directors themselves and what they choose to trainee the dancers in class and in rehearsals and also the repertory that the company performs.
Dimitri Romanoff and Robert Joffrey are among the people that you have trained and worked with. What advice did they give you that helped you along your journey? What is something that you were able to take away from these people that has influenced your dancing technique and style, as well as teaching style?
Mr. Romanoff and Mr. Joffrey both shared a love of the history of ballet and respect for classical technique. They both taught me to be a student of dance my entire career and that carries through to today. Never stop learning your craft and continue the study of the language of dance. Through the Joffrey Ballet, Mr. Joffrey developed the most eclectic repertory in dance and established a model for American Dance companies that is now the norm across the country.
Mikhail Baryshnikov selected you to be one of six dancers to study in the newly-formed American Ballet Theatre School. What was that experience like?
We were exposed to the greatest dancers in the world, (ABT company dancers) whom we watched intently through the windows of the rehearsal studios daily. This allowed us to aspire to that greatness while spending six hours a day with an amazing group of faculty and coaches, who pushed us to our physical and artistic limits in every class. It was extremely intense and right from the beginning we learned what it would take to have a professional dance career. All six male dancers from that class when on to performed with major American dance companies including; the Joffrey Ballet, New York City Ballet, Houston Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, and Pittsburgh Ballet.
You spent most of your career working under Robert Joffrey. Were you two close? Did he share any important tips with you that have stayed with you—relating to dancing or life in general.
Mr. Joffrey loved dance and loved to see his dancers perform well. He expected the world from you and worked very hard to build one of the greatest repertories for his company. He was both warm and giving and also he maintained his position. He was definitely the director and everyone called him Mr. Joffrey. When a dancer received a contract you knew Mr. Joffrey had selected you for the company and when you remained in the company it was because he wanted you there. Our rehearsal and performance schedule as extremely rigorous, teaching you both the respect for your instrument and mental toughness to combat fatigue. The education Mr. Joffrey gave us through our amazing repertory and the skills to survive it are the most important lessons.
American Repertory Ballet invited you to join them as a lead dancer and ballet master. Were these dream jobs of yours? Had you previously wanted or tried to join ARB before you were invited?
The Joffrey Ballet and ARB had a number of former dancers, directors and ballet masters in common. I first learned about ARB in the 1980's when Dermot Burke would visit the Joffrey Ballet on ARB recruiting expeditions, looking for dancers from Joffrey's junior company (Joffrey II). When I left the Cleveland Ballet a former mentor and colleague, Philip Jerry from the Joffrey was a ballet master here at ARB. He introduce me to Septime Webre who had just become Artistic Director and Webre invited me to join the company. The dance world is small and networking is one of the most important aspects in getting performance opportunities.
For people who do not know, can you explain the difference between principal dancer, leading dancer, and ballet master? Is there any role that you prefer?
Principal dancer is a company ranking designation, lowest being Corps de ballet, then Soloist, then Principal. Many companies don't rank the dancer instead the dancers are referred to as Company Dancer. These companies use the term leading dancer to either connotes a hierarchy within the company determined by years in the company or leading roles performed by the artist.
Ballet Master is the title of the leading rehearsal directors connoting their ability to stage and rehearse the companies repertory.
Rehearsal directors run rehearsals but do not have the responsibility to coach the dancers.
I love the role of Ballet Master. Bringing the artistic qualities out of the dancers and preserving the artistic integrity of the choreography is paramount to good Ballet Mastering.
You have worked on productions such as Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Pride and Prejudice, and iNutcracker.Which production was your favorite one to work on and why?
Each ballet brings its own joys and challenges. I love to do narratives ballets because I want the story to be clear and I want the audience to connect with that narrative. I also love when a ballet can get the audience to understand dance as a language. Using the dancers’ movement to convey a story line while alighting the stage with fabulous movement is an amazing feat.
In 2010, you became Artistic Director of American Repertory Ballet. Was that something you saw coming, or were you shocked to receive the offer?
I had been a finalist for the Artistic Directorship nine years earlier so it wasn't shocking be asked. As well, I had been working closely with the previous two directors staging ballet, teaching and rehearsing the dancers a running the junior school company for many years. It was a very natural progression for me.
Beauty and the Beast is an iconic story that has been recreated over the years. How does your production stand out from the rest?
Every choreography finds their own individual story to tell when they undertake a project like this. Kirk Peterson has been thinking about doing Beauty and the Beast for about 18 years. What makes it unique is the way the story is told through both the narrative and the movement. Mr. Peterson has created over 50 ballets and has developed his personal style of movement and vision over the past 40 years while working with some of the greatest dancers and companies in the world. The production and costumes are original to Mr. Peterson's design so the look of the stage will be the first dramatic element of presentation. The characterization and dance elements will tell us the story through his artistic imagination.
Apart from Beauty and the Beast, are there any other productions you are working on or plan to work in the near future?
We will be announcing our 2019-20 season in early May. The next major production is will be the ARB's move into the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center in August where we will be the resident ballet company at NBPAC. Princeton Ballet School will be opening our new studios in the Arts Center as well and we are so excited for the opening of this spectacular new center for the arts.
Questions by Darasia Bratton