Choreographer Spotlight: Tom Mattingly


Choreographer Tom Mattingly [PC: Cheryl Mann]

This Saturday, Charlottesville Ballet will premiere “Anonym,” a new work by choreographer Tom Mattingly. Tom was most recently a Principal with Ballet West in Salt Lake City, Utah, and now freelance dances and choreographs in Chicago, Illinois. Co-Director Emily Hartka commissioned Tom to create a new piece for Charlottesville Ballet as part of its commitment to present new and eclectic works to Charlottesville audiences. Tom set his piece “Anonym” on the company in September 2015, and he’s back this week to put the finishing touches on it before its PVCC premiere this Saturday, March 12. While in town Tom is also setting his piece “Butterfly Lovers” on the Trainees for their performance at the Emerging Young Artist Showcase in May. We caught up with Tom in between his rehearsals to ask him just a few questions!

1. What was the inspiration for “Anonym?”

The inspiration for “Anonym” originated with a desire to show faceless dancers on stage.  I was intrigued by olympic fencers, and how they wear these obscure masks but can move so easily.  The concept of anonymity seemed to be the best way to support this vision.

To me, anonymity is more of a concept than a reality. It’s largely impossible for anyone to truly be anonymous these days. For that reason, the idea of anonymity can be extremely alluring. It can be an escape from reality that can yield a sense of safety, not being judged, or even collectively being part of a “whole.” 

There’s no set story line for this piece but I did have specific themes in mind when I created it. I feel that the nature of art is to be interpreted, and I wanted to leave it open to the audience’s personal interpretation. I believe that there are more right answers than wrong ones in dance, especially as an audience member.  Audiences can often feel pressured to “get it” or they think that their opinion is wrong because they might not be a dance insider.  Whether you like something or not, you’re right.  If the person next to you disagrees, they’re probably right too.  My hope is that people watching the performance allow themselves to be open and affected naturally by what they see. 


Dancers in rehearsal for “Anonym”

2. What’s it like setting a ballet and then returning to it months later?

It’s awesome coming back! This is actually the first time in a while that I get to see a piece of my choreography in on stage, in costume, under lights.  So often I visit a company to create but there is no room in the budget to bring me back for the actual performance. It’s been wonderful to have time to tweak and change things to make “Anonym” as strong as possible. It was also comforting that the piece didn’t have to be perfectly set when I left in September. I knew I could trust the CB staff to rehearse it, and I would have one on one time with the dancers again before the premiere. That knowledge took a huge load of the stress of the creative process away, and the piece was created extremely quickly. I think I created and set the whole ballet in four days! 

Tom working with the Company after a four month absence

3. What was the inspiration for “Butterfly Lovers”

I first heard the music when I was about ten years old.  I was a big figure skating fan and one of my favorite skaters performed to the music at the Nagano Olympics. I loved it then and it always stayed with me. The ballet’s narrative correlates with the song’s inspiration from the Chinese folktale, “Butterfly Lovers,” which chronicles doomed lovers who come back as butterflies to be together for eternity. I first set the ballet on the Richmond Ballet trainees in 2007, right before Charlottesville Ballet was founded. In fact CB co-director Emily Mott was my original leading lady!  With this new group of dancers I’ve made some changes that I think have really elevated the piece.  After all, I was 19 years old when I first made it, so having 9 more years of experience have only helped!

Tom working with the dancers on “Butterfly Lovers”


4. Do you pick the music or pick an idea for a piece before choreographing?

It really depends on the piece. For “Anonym,” I had the idea first and then searched for the music. For “Butterfly Lovers” the music struck a chord with me first and I knew I would choreograph to it.


Tom, striking a more contemporary pose

5. Next project for Charlottesville Ballet?

I would love to come back and do a larger work for the company! It usually takes about one week to set a 10 minute work, and two weeks to set something in the 20-25 minute range. I know that creating in a time crunch is one of my strengths but having a little more time is a luxury I could never turn down.  Making a bigger ballet in the future would be great, presuming there’s room in the budget! I have benefited from sponsorship programs with other companies before in order to bring my work and I think they’re a great thing! It’s important for patrons to feel that they have a personal investment in what they see on stage. If something resonates with you, tell the organization! Find out how you can help!


Tom in Don Quixote with Ballet West! He won’t be Basilio in our “Don Quixote,” but he’ll be watching from the audience instead cheering on the dancers! [PC: Luke Isley]
Be sure to catch the premiere of “Anonym” at PVCC this Saturday as part of Don Quixote + New Works!  If you want to see more of Tom Mattingly’s or any of the “New Works” choreographers’ pieces, feel free to e-mail Charlottesville Ballet Co-Director Emily Hartka at [email protected]

You can find out more about Tom and his work at:


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