New York City Ballet Soloist Tom Gold at Oregon Ballet Theatre
by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin
August 20, 2007
We sat down with Tom Gold while he was on break from creating and setting a new choreographic work on Oregon Ballet Theatre’s advanced students and company apprentices during their “OBT Exposed!” week in downtown Portland.
Please tell us about your background – where you are from and how you got started in ballet.
I’m originally from Chicago and started dancing at the age of six at the Ruth Page Foundation. She used me as her demonstrator when she gave lectures and presentations. She was a character. She’d take class with us and instead of doing pliés, she would stand on her head! A true eccentric original. I was lucky to have been in the right place at the right time.
I went to a high school for performing arts, and then went to SAB [the School of American Ballet] when I was 17. I was accepted into New York City Ballet after only 8 months in the school. All of my tenure there has been under Peter Martins – and I got to work with Jerome Robbins for 10 years.
What have been some of your career highlights?
Being so fortunate to have worked with so many different choreographers and talents – Robbins plus Twyla Tharp, David Parsons, Peter [Martins]. Peter is always bringing in new people so allareas of ballet are represented. We get about two to three new works each year, which is great.
Susan Stroman made a new ballet for me, “Double Feature,” which was based on silent films. It’s coming back this year – and I get to perform all of the shows, which I’m excited about.
I’ve also been lucky not to have been type cast. I do Oberon in “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Valse Fantaisie,” “Four Temperaments,” “Variations pour une porte et un soupir”, which is a Balanchine work that’s quite different from the rest of his ballets and isn’t done too often. I’ve also done Robbins’ “Fancy Free,” “The Concert,” and “Interplay” plus lots of Forsythe ballets, especially the neoclassical works.
You are here making a new ballet. How did you get started in choreography?
I’ve always been fascinated by choreography. I took dance composition, theory, and history in high school, so some of this has come naturally. I started dabbling again after several years of being away from thinking about making dances. I was accepted to the New York Choreographic Institute. I also have my own group that I make dances for, so my choreographic career is starting to build momentum.
How do you get your ideas? What’s your working process?
The music tells me what to do – I see the movement in the music; all of the patterns, shapes, steps. I like directing and visualizing my ideas. I usually choreograph in my living room on myself, but then try to adapt it so it is comfortable for the dancers.
Tell us about your work here for OBT...
I’ve known Christopher for years and knew he wanted to give OBT Exposed! something different – a choreographic institute. I like working with the American composer, Jon Zorn, who is a MacArthur Fellow. He’s made a wide range of compositions that I find very rhythmical and which make me want to dance.
In thinking about the West Coast, water and beaches came to mind, and the piece of Zorn’s that I’m using impresses me as “beach music,” so that’s the one I chose. I listened to all of the tracks on his “The Gift” CD. Sometimes, I’ll change the order of the movements of a composer’s work if I feel that flow and naturally fluidity of the piece are better served.
Dances need to have a beginning, a middle, and an end – not just a stopping place. There’s always at least a covert story.
My piece for OBT has three sections and is for 9 women and 4 men. Here, the dancers are all different shapes and sizes – which is great – and I’ve adapted the material for what’s been in front of me. You have to do this, particularly if you want your dances to stay fresh.Look at Mr. Balanchine and how his ballets evolved over time, with there sometimes being as many as three, four, or even five versions. Jerome Robbins is the same. Toward the end of his life, he couldn’t always see or hear as well and some things became mannered or exaggerated. Dancers want to feel understood and to be presented well.
The dancers are great and it’s been a fun process, as they are ready to be moulded and ready to work.
I want the dancers and the audience to have a good time, and strongly feel that entertainment should be a consideration in making something that is going to be on stage before an audience.Selfish art appeals to nobody. I believe we can be accessible and educational at the same time – we don’t have to force it down people’s throats.
What’s on the horizon for you?
Dance-wise, I’ve done just about everything I want to do. Choreographically, I do the Macy’s Parade, school recitals, plus the work with my group. I’m doing five ballets this year: one for BalletMet; the one here; one for Manhattan School Opera; and two for my own group.
Have you tried your hand at teaching?
Teaching is not really my thing – I don’t have enough patience!
What words of wisdom might you have for future dancers and choreographers?
Dancers need to know more about where dances come from, and who the predecessors in their parts are. If you have an idea and a vision – try it! It’s better to muster courage and go for it.
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