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Line On Ballet’s Ballets
An Interview with LINES’s Arturo Fernandez
by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin
Saturday, 7 August 2004
We met LINES balletmaster Arturo Fernandez “under the clock”
at the beautiful St. Francis hotel on Union Square in San Francisco on
a clear, crisp and sunny blue day for a fascinating conversation.
DS & FT: Thanks very much for meeting with us. We like people
to initially talk about their first forays into the dance and ballet world
in their own words, as it makes each unique story fresh and more interesting.
Please tell us how you got started in ballet.
AF: I started at 17. I had been previously involved with acting and theater
and was in my first year of study at United States International University
in San Diego. My life changed in one night. The dance department put on
a performance of "Giselle" with Deborah Hadley in the title
role and her then-husband as Albrecht. It turns out Debbie was six-months
pregnant at the time, but what a performance! I went to Elaine Thomas
who was at my advising table and told her and them that I wanted to be
a ballet major. She conferred with others at the table and they said okay.
I’ve been dancing ever since, and I really hungered after it and
What about your first classes? How did your dream compare with
the reality of the demands of the craft?
The reality is that I came back to where I’m from, Oakland, during
summer break and took as many classes as I could at the Oakland Ballet.
I also did the same at San Diego Ballet. I found the changes were immediate.
I had never been a really “physical” person, and this changed
the way I saw myself and the world.
The program at USIU is a degree program? Did you go back and finish?
Yes, it’s a four-year degree program and I went back and completed
two years. As I said, I hungered so much for dance, that I began auditioning
around and got a position at San Diego Ballet and worked with them for
two years. This led to other jobs around the country. In 1980 I moved
back to Oakland and joined the Oakland Ballet and also free-lanced. A
year later in 1981, I joined ODC where I stayed for 11 years.
Tell us more about ODC...
It was originally known as the Oberlin Dance Collective and featured the
work of four choreographers: KT Nelson; Brenda Way; Kimi Okada; and Pam
Quinn. This was a whole new way of moving for me. I became the rehearsal
assistant to Brenda Way when she became the director.
Learning dances and parts takes a special talent... I seem to have a facility
for learning everyone’s roles! I learned quickly. Some of it is
muscle memory too. I try to get up and “dance” everyone’s
I took class with Alonzo King in 1982 and this was again a life-changing
experience for me. I immediately connected with his way of seeing, learning,
and feeling about dance. We became good friends and I then started teaching
and filling in for him on occasion. Eventually I took over his 6 p.m.
class and became balletmaster in 1992.
Early on, I wasn’t that familiar with Alonzo’s choreography
and his concepts behind it and was constantly trying for a unison look
of the corps, which is not necessarily his aesthetic! For his work, the
dancers put as much as themselves into it as possible, to create the art.
I had to re-organize rehearsals to have the dancers establish more of
the correct qualities - more than just doing steps. I was initially interested
in form, while Alonzo was more interested in feeling. I think this is
why we work so well together.
How do you remember all these ballets? Do you learn each part
Yes, I learn all the parts with the dancers as Alonzo is constructing
the piece. It’s interesting to note that in Mr. King’s creative
process, 90 percent of the time the dance comes first, followed by the
music. And when we work with composers (which is very exciting) on commissioned
scores, they compose to the movement, rather than the other way around.
Both of us are very interested in the process (of creating).
I’ve not yet seen Mr. King’s work and am looking forward
to seeing it when the company tours later in 2005 to Seattle. What can
you tell me about his preferences for production values ?
He is very interested in lighting, which makes such a huge difference.
He seldom uses sets and likes to think of the dance itself as sculpture.
We are very fortunate to have Axel Morgenthaler, the great Canadian lighting
designer, work for us; he will do "Before the Blues" for example,
but also collaborated on "People of the Forest" with the Company.
Our Associate AD, Robert Rosenwasser, is our primary costume designer,
("People of the Forest") who has worked with Colleen Quinn is
a couturier designer.
How big is the company and what does the future hold?
We are generally about 12 dancers. We will be touring for 8 weeks during
the 2004-05 season and are excited to be able to go to, in order: White
Oak for three weeks; back to the West Coast to Santa Barbara; Lyon, France;
Neuss, Germany; Dartmouth, New York (Skirball - NYU); Bermuda; back on
this side of the water to Minneapolis/St. Paul; Detroit, Stockton, California;
Scottsdale, Seattle, SUNY - Oswego, Albany. And then we also have our
two San Francisco seasons - one in November and the other in April at
the Yerba Buena.
You are very busy, and yet I understand you have many other dance-related
I really like teaching and my guest teaching schedule takes me all over
the country. I also choreograph and am setting a new "Dracula"
for Inland Pacific Ballet (Claremont, CA) directed by Vicky Koenig. I
also stage Mr. King’s works around the country. These are some of
the highlights of my career!
What are some of your personal interests? What’s the latest
book you’re reading? Any hobbies?
We have a wonderful golden Cocker Spaniel whose name is Buddy. Buddy is
in Chicago right now, as my partner often works there four days a week.
I miss Buddy!
I’m currently reading "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim"
by David Sedaris, which is a riot, everyone should read it! I love growing
Edited by Jeff.
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