By Tom Mattingly, Ballet West Dancer

I grew up in Ridgecrest, CA.  It’s a small town that the billboard on highway 395 states is “the gateway to Death Valley.” It was mostly sand and tumbleweeds.  The tallest building in town was around three stories high.  My father was a teacher and my mother an artist. From an early age I loved dancing to music. Fred Astaire and Kurt Browning were my idols (Michelle Kwan too). At four years old I was a regular at dance school. Sierra Academy of Dance was a small studio, usually hovering around 55 students total, with just one boy – me. 

Joffrey Nutcracker tour to California.
Photo by Mark Goldweber

When I was eight or nine I learned about the Joffrey Ballet and what it meant to be a professional dancer. I had no idea that dance could be a career until then, and I knew instantly that that was what I wanted to do. When I was 11 I auditioned for the Joffrey’s tour of “The Nutcracker” at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. I made the cuts and became “Party Boy 4.” We had to learn the choreography quickly, stay in line and hope that our props (mine was a wheeled toy bear on a string) had no snafus. A man named Mark Goldweber was my rehearsal master and another (very tall) man named Adam Sklute was my Drosselmeyer. Move ahead 10 years and I’ve been offered a corps de ballet job with Ballet West by artistic director Adam Sklute and ballet master Mark Goldweber. When I told Mark that I was a Party Boy years ago his eyes lit up, and he excitedly said “I remember you! You had a little bowl cut and just learned how to shimmy!” The next day he came to work with a photo to prove it. It was me without any doubt. 

I’ve been to Chicago with Ballet West once before. We were performing Jiri Kylian’s “Sinfonietta” as a part of the Chicago Dancing Festival. I was the traveling understudy. While it was great to visit Chicago with a light schedule, I was sad to not be dancing with the rest of the company. Adam promised me that next time we came to Chicago I’d be on stage. He made true on his promise and I am going to be one busy guy this week! I’ll be dancing both casts of Prince Floristan in “Sleeping Beauty”. It’s a classical pas de trois with an incredibly demanding “Speedy Gonzales” type variation in the middle. Mark choreographed this on me when we premiered “Sleeping Beauty” in Salt Lake in 2011.  In the Gala performance I’ll be featured in Nicolo Fonte’s “Presto” and Val Caniparoli’s “The Lottery.” Fellow BW dancer Katie Critchlow and worked with Val to create the solo in “The Lottery” last fall. Neither of us has pulled the lot yet but I’m dying (pun) to choose the marked ballot this weekend. “Presto” is not only a Chicago premiere but a world premiere that Nicolo made in August. I’m in the unique position of exclusively performing choreography that has been made especially for me – it almost puts me in a comfort zone. 
Performing at the Auditorium Theatre is special for another reason as well. In May I had surgery to remove four bone spurs and a mass of scar tissue from my right ankle. These performances in Chicago will be my first with Ballet West since April. A tour of this nature might seem like an awful lot of pressure, but I couldn’t be happier. I came from a small desert town and now I’m living my childhood dream and even getting paid to do it.  I’m dancing roles made especially for me by choreographers that I love and admire. I can’t wait to take on this challenge and to have a few thousand people loudly smack their hands together when I’m done. 
Hopefully Mark will look down and smack his hands too. 

For tickets and information please click HERE.