Changing Scenes

Jonathan Dummar in "The Nutcracker". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

“I’ll be home for Christmas this year,” said a happy Jonathan David Dummar over coffee this past summer.  After dancing with the Joffrey Ballet for six seasons, Dummar, 27, decided it was time for a change of scenery and moved to San Francisco in August to dance with Smuin Ballet.  He’s currently performing in their annual show The Christmas Ballet.  No  Nutcracker?  “I’m so thankful for that,” he laughs.  “Don’t get me wrong, I love Tchaikovsky…and, by the way Joffrey’s is the best!  Bob (Joffrey) and Jerry (Arpino) really knew what they were doing. I’m so proud to be a part of the legacy of the Joffrey.”

From Reno, Nevada, Dummar began taking dance classes after being invited into his sister’s class by her teacher.  She had seen him watching from the window and trying to do the moves.  The physical child, who participated in gymnastic, swimming and diving, was hooked.  To avoid competition, his mom enrolled the children in different dance schools.  His very first teacher, Ava Kerr, basically changed his life.  “She was so fundamental,” he says.  “She taught me so much.  She had me partnering within two weeks.”  From there he participated in dance competitions, spent summers in LA at the Edge Performing Arts Center on scholarship, Pacific Northwest Ballet‘s (PNB) summer program and on to The Harrid Conservatory to finish high school.  “The training at Harrid is rigorous.  It’s boarding/ballet school.  They really helped me hone a lot of things and gave me a good base.  I’m a completely different dancer now.”  After graduating valedictorian, Dummar danced with PNB’s professional division until an ankle injury ended in surgery.  After healing, he danced two years with Ballet Memphis, where he met choreographer Trey McIntyre and became a founding member of the Trey McIntyre Project.  Feeling that he wasn’t utilizing his ballet technique fully, he auditioned for the Joffrey and joined the company in 2005.

At the Joffrey A Starry Night party after the final show of the season, I approached Dummar having just found out at the performance that it would be his last with the troupe.  “You should interview me,” he said.  A few weeks later, we sat down to discuss his career.

So, why did you decide to leave Joffrey now?

I’ve been here for six years.  The company is skewing younger and more classical all the time and I’m going in the opposite direction.  I’m really thankful for the opportunities that I got.  My values are changing and they aren’t necessarily aligned with where Ashley is taking the company.  Ashley taught me a lot.  He gave me a lot of opportunities.  I’m really appreciative and grateful.  I feel really glad about what I did, but I can’t wait to start this next chapter.  There’s a lot of personal reasons too.   I’m from the West Coast.  I’ve been away from home for 11 years.  I’m ready to be closer to family.  San Francisco is like the promise land of the new age.  There’s organic produce on every corner, the yoga there is amazing, they compost, they have clean energy…I was so impressed with all of that.  It finally feels like I’m finally making a decision for me as a whole person.  It’s kind of selfish, but all of the things I’ve done to grow and learn and do what I wanted to do.  Now I can take it and share it with my family.

Well, I ‘m going to miss watching you dance.  What have been some of your favorite pieces at Joffrey?

“Round of Angels” has been one of my favorite things I’ve ever performed.  The Arpino rep is really fun.  You watch it and it’s easy to be critical, but when you do it, it’s so fun…fast and hard.  It’s part of dance history.  “Crossed” by Jessica Lang.  I really liked “Bells” (Yuri Possokhov).  When I first joined, Fabrice (Calmels), Val (Robin) and I did Kylían’s “Return To a Strange Land”.  We did the pas de trois.  It was a very emotional piece.  It was a fantastic opportunity.

Tell me about Smuin Ballet. 

Michael Smuin is the former Artistic Director of San Francisco Ballet.  He wanted some more artistic freedom and wanted to do some things the board wasn’t in to, so he left and started his own company.  He was a Broadway choreographer before he did ballet, so all of his works are more showy, more dancy.  He died about three years ago. It was horrifically tragic for the company.  He was very much the lifeblood.  He died in the studio teaching class of a heart attack.  Everyone talks about him with so much reverance.  The company is going in a new direction.  We’re doing Trey McIntyre, some Kylían, lots of premieres, and a few by Michael Smuin.  It’s a smaller company.  I know I’ll be more valuable.  Some of the ballerinas there deserve a really strong, attentive partner.  I have some friends in the company. It was just an overall feeling.  I went and auditioned and thought this is where I need to be.  It was perfect timing with the Joffrey lock out.

What’s in your future?

I want to direct.  I know that’s in my future.  I know there’s an intellectual side that I’ll need to cultivate, but I think you can do that with dance.  Absolutely.  I’ve been to some modern shows and the ideas they present are incredible.  Ballet doesn’t even come close to presenting these ideas and I think they can.  I think further integration of these disparate kinds of dance is completely possible.  I’d love to work with Alonzo (King) at some point.


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