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    San Francisco Ballet’s Myles Thatcher: Out and Proud

    By David Landis–

    I’ve been a fan of the San Francisco Ballet for years. Great dancers have come and gone, but one stands out, especially for our community: Myles Thatcher. At 31, he’s already a world-famous choreographer and dancer—even better, he’s shattering the ceiling for LGBTQ ballet dancers in new and innovative ways. And proud of it.

    I had the privilege of interviewing Myles recently in advance of his upcoming Swan Lake performances with the Ballet. Here’s what he had to say.

    David Landis: Give us some background on your work with SF Ballet, your experience as a dancer, and how you got into dance.  

    Myles Thatcher: This is my 13th season, which is insane to think about. Let’s see how I got into dance. I can give you the Twitter version. I was in musical theater as a kid. And I was doing an audition for one of the plays. Basically, the dance audition teacher saw something in me and told my mom to put me in dance. And I really didn’t want to because I thought it was, like, embarrassing. You know, no other boys did it. My mom told me that if I didn’t like it after three times, I didn’t have to go back, but I had to try it. Then I stayed and I’m still here. Doing this. I was about eight or nine years old. And that teacher is still like my dance mom. She’s kind of the one who ushered me into the dance world. Then I left home when I was 15 for the HARID Conservatory, a ballet boarding school. Afterwards, I trained with Edward Ellison in New York and then came out here at 17 for the San Francisco Ballet School Trainee program. That’s like the last year of finishing school. That’s how I got my foot in the door with the company and how I started choreographing. I’ve been choreographing for the organization as long as I’ve been dancing, which is pretty awesome. I feel fortunate to have been able to start young because it really has been foundational for me.

    David Landis: Obviously, there are many LGBTQ identifying dancers in ballet and the arts. Do you feel like you had to present and perform in a gender conforming way? Tell us about that personal journey.

    Myles Thatcher: The majority of my experiences have been performing in a gender conforming way in the ballet world. I think any of the roles that have felt explicitly queer have been kind of only at the butt of the joke of a queer character. As I’m playing those characters, I’m trying to navigate how to perform a queer coded space. It’s like a trope that just has been in media for a hundred years. I took my first voguing class a few years ago and it was all about expressing femininity. I think that was the very first time I’ve ever been in a dance setting, deliberately asked to be more femme. And there was something really groundbreaking for that—and for me, too. And of course, there are a lot of non-narrative dance ballets that will do that. I think I can bring more of myself into roles that also feel very heteronormative. As queer people, we were asked to kind of decode media in that way anyway. So, all of us have been watching the Disney movies and putting our own stories in there and having to reframe them in how they relate to us. But it’s just so rare that we get the opportunity to see ourselves expressed on stage. That’s something that I really try to bring into my choreography, whether it’s explicit or not in the subtext of the work. I think it’s not only important for me but also for audiences and for dancers. I think there’s the front of the house in the back of the house value to it. I’ve slipped into that world because there’s a space and a need for it in the ballet world. I’m really proud to be doing some of that work and bringing people along with me there, whether the ballet world is ready for it or not.

    David Landis: Your ballet Otherness brought a large focus on gender expression and gender nonconformity. It sounds like this was on your mind when you when you were creating this ballet.

    Myles Thatcher: When I created Otherness, that was probably in 2017. I remember that was when our president was trying to ban trans people from serving in the military. This was the beginning of this attack on the LGBTQ community politically. Or the beginning of the pendulum swinging back specifically against trans and gender nonconforming people. We’re still seeing an influx today with state legislatures trying to ban conversations about gender in classrooms, which is ridiculous because we’re already talking about heteronormative and cisgender stories in classrooms. There’s no way to escape that and no one will recognize that. That’s also a conversation about sexuality and gender. Banning trans athletes who are kids from playing in sports. People using bathrooms. It was the beginning of that movement. I really wanted to speak about it on stage. There was a lot that I was able to discover and ask questions like, what is the point you mean and how does that represent womanhood? Does it present feminine? Does it not present? That we can apply that to our craft was really interesting for me—as well as to see and hear the audience reaction, the critical review, who was ready for the conversation, who related to it, and who didn’t. It definitely started a lot of conversations, which I’m really proud of. I realized that there was a lot of work that had to be done.

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    David Landis: Tell us about Colorforms—a favorite of mine—a film ballet that you choreographed in partnership with SF Ballet and SFMOMA. I’ve heard that this is part of the SF Ballet’s April Arts and Education Month.

    Myles Thatcher: First of all, thank you, David. I also really like that that was the silver lining of my pandemic experience or my shelter in place experience. Because it was supposed to be just a regular stage performance for our next Rep’s season. But, of course, the pandemic happened. I had chosen music, but I didn’t really do much more work on it. Although I had this idea of kinetic mobile structure as an inspiration, which is kind of perfect. And then I got a call from Helgi (Tómasson, SF Ballet’s Artistic Director). He said we’re going to transition this into a film and reached out to our director and our costume designer. The first thing I asked was, does anybody know anybody at SFMOMA? Because I knew that they were closed. I thought it could be a really good opportunity for arts organizations to band together and make the best of a bad situation. And I really feel like we did that. The red tape was extreme, of course, with health protocols and our artists licenses and all of that complicated stuff. But all of the art was so effortless. We had been out of the studios for months at that point and we were just getting back in. Everybody was hungry to create; we were getting back in the groove of things. So, it felt great. And I’m really happy that we were able to bring something joyous and bright and colorful and inspired to our audiences. Making a dance film with this company is something I’ve been wanting to do forever.

    David Landis: What is a typical day like as a dancer?

    Myles Thatcher: For rehearsal mode, we wake up and take company class, which is a ballet conditioning class in the morning and then we’ll have a regular rehearsal day. So, we’ll rehearse probably about 6 hours. We’ll go until 6:30 pm, so we’ll be working 10 am to 6:30 pm. When we’re performing, our programs are Tuesday to Sunday. Throughout the week, we rehearse the programs that are going next while in the evening we perform our running program. It can get brutal. But it’s also the best time of the season because we’re performing and that’s really what we’re all here to do. It’s this really intense, beautiful moment where everybody’s exhausted and in a pressure cooker, but everybody is with each other all the time. And that’s when we really bond and get close to each other.

    David Landis: Are you dancing in the upcoming Swan Lake? What roles are you dancing?

    Myles Thatcher: Yes. I dance the role of the aristocrats and some of the divertissement. I think Swan Lake is absolutely more focused on the Swans. Our core group of women are so amazing and they have to put in so much work and humility to all dance as a group. But honestly, it’s the best part of the ballet, in my opinion. It’s very powerful. And the music is amazing.

    David Landis: What does it mean to be a soloist with the company? And is it challenging for you to switch between being a company member and a choreographer?

    Myles Thatcher: That’s been my whole experience. I’ve always been choreographing alongside of dancing. When I was younger, on my days off with the school I would be creating work for them. It’s a different life now. I’m more in a situation where I’ll leave for three weeks and go choreograph somewhere else and then come back and have to do my homework to make sure I’m still able to come in and know my stuff as a dancer or am taking time here to choreograph. It’s fully two different frames of mind that I have to be in. As a dancer, you have to be internalized and focusing on physicality. And when you’re a choreographer, you’re more focused on everybody else and you’re focused on making sure the energy in the room is right. It’s a cerebral and emotional thing that isn’t so physical, but you have to tap into creativity in a different way. I love them both.

    David Landis: Who are your some of your favorite choreographers with whom you’ve worked?

    Myles Thatcher: Well, Helgi, of course. And Yuri Possokhov, because he’s our in-house guy. I love Anabelle Lopez Ochoa. Danny Roe, another Bay Area choreographer, is one of my favorites. I love William Forsythe, of course. It’s cool we have both Dwight Rhoden and Christopher Wheeldon here right now. Some of my more prominent roles I’ve danced were in Chris Wilson’s work, like Benjamin and Cinderella. There’s a lot of inspiration I get from him and how he also was dancing and choreographing at the same time.

    David Landis: You’ve choreographed for this company, for New York City Ballet, and Joffrey. What motivated you to accomplish so much so quickly in your three plus decades on this planet?

    Myles Thatcher: I’ve just always been somebody who needed to be creating things. Whether that’s in the dance world or not. I find a lot of comfort in my Zen moments while creating, whether that’s ballet or sewing or knitting. I feel grateful and really fortunate to be in a position as young as I was to start all of that work, because I know that’s rare. Of course, I’ve worked really hard to do it, but I also know that I was in front of the right eyes, the timing worked out, and I was seen by the right people. I also think, for me, it’s trying to make the most of the opportunities given to me. I do believe in trying to stay authentic and also push audiences to give them something that you really think that they’re going to enjoy. That’s like a constant form of discovery.

    David Landis: How do you approach the choreographic process?

    Myles Thatcher: I like to come in with a plan for the structure. I’ll know my music inside and out. I’ll have a general sense of what I want to say, even if it’s more of an emotional feeling that’s not yet articulated into words. The beauty about dance is it circumnavigates language. So, to articulate something into language and then put it back into dance doesn’t always work for me. I know a lot of people really enjoy working that way, but I am less successful when I do that. I think it’s more about living in the space of emotional intention and then seeing it, then articulating what it is, and then honing it from there. My biggest inspiration is always my dancers. If I know what dancers I have going in, I can kind of craft something around them. If I don’t know, then I’ll leave something a little bit more open so I can figure out what their strengths are and what they can contribute as well. The beauty of this art form is it is collaborative.

    David Landis: What was it like growing up as a gay person for you and was it hard coming out? Did your family accept you?

    Myles Thatcher: I am super fortunate to have a very accepting family. But I grew up in Pennsylvania in the nineties when it wasn’t a great experience—especially middle school was really tough for me. Ballet gave me a way to be with likeminded people and to escape. It was my ticket out of that world. I went to a performing arts high school my first year of high school, which (was lucky) because I had a really bad sixth through eighth grade. That was the only thing that got me through. I was bullied a lot as a kid. I didn’t tell anybody I danced, because I knew I couldn’t. I feel like it came out. I knew I was gay when I was 12 and I didn’t come out until I was 15, but that was a great experience. Then, I never I never looked back.

    David Landis: As a gay person, who in the LGBTQ community has inspired you?

    Myles Thatcher: Oh, that’s a big question. I find a lot of inspiration through drag culture and drag queens. I think it’s delivered in a package that can be so many things. It can be beautiful, it can be stupid, it can be political, it can be fashionable. It also can be none of those things. And I think there’s something super nuanced about all of that work. Super inspirational are Marsha Johnson (one of the prominent figures in the Stonewall uprising) and, of course, Harvey Milk.

    David Landis: Tell me about your drag calendar, Second Cast, and what it raises money for. Is this an annual project and are you producing one this year?

    Myles Thatcher: Yes, we are. Second Cast is a project I started with my friend Christopher Ouellette, who is a former ballet dancer with the drag ballet company Ballet Trocadero. He’s now company manager for Access Dance Company in Oakland. The two of us got together and started transforming dancers in the Bay Area into drag and working with Alex Olson to photograph them and putting a calendar together that raises money, in the past, for Larkin Street Youth Services and LYRIC, which both work with queer homeless youth. There’s nothing like putting on a wig and heels to have a different experience. Even if you’re a heterosexual cisgendered woman.

    David Landis: Who’s your favorite this year on RuPaul’s Drag Race?

    Myles Thatcher: Can we get a lady in the house? Lady Camden is amazing: the ballet world meets the Bay Area world. She’s been the dark horse throughout the competition. She’s really proving her worth showing what a star she is to everybody. I did a video love letter to ballet with her we called “I Don’t Need a Reason.” Luke Willis, a former SF Ballet dancer, directed it. It was our way to bring Drag Race fans into our dance world and just allow them to see our art in a different way.

    David Landis: Do you live in San Francisco? Are you single?

    Myles Thatcher: I live in the Castro. It’s so nice to be in the Castro because it’s sunny down there. I just feel like I’m like in my Gayborhood. And it changes so much depending on what day it is or what time of the day it is. It can be like neighborhoody and friendly, or rowdy, or quiet. Or sunny. It’s all of the things. So, I love it here. And yes, I’m single.

    David Landis: When you’re not dancing or choreographing, what do you like to do?

    Myles Thatcher: I’ve been getting into sewing lately, which is really fun. It’s fun because we have some amazing people in our wardrobe department who have also been role models for me. I also like camping and hiking. Nature is awesome.

    David Landis: What are some your favorite restaurants in town or favorite bars or neighborhood joints?

    Myles Thatcher: I really love Takara, a small sushi place on 18th. It’s delicious. I make a lot of cocktails at home. I have people over and we’ll do cocktail parties. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to explore the food and drink scene, but it’s coming.

    David Landis: What’s your favorite thing about San Francisco?

    Myles Thatcher: I like the energy of it. I think there’s something really kind of easygoing and neighborhoody for a big city. Part of that is the weather here and people being able to take advantage of everything. And then there’s the food and drink. And, of course, I very much like feeling safe to be who I am in the city. I think especially living in the Castro feels really important to me.

    David Landis: What’s next for you? Obviously, closing the SF Ballet season with Swan Lake.

    Myles Thatcher: Yes. Then, I’m going to go visit my new nephew in upstate New York. I have some career gigs that I’m excited for. We have our big summer break coming up, so I’m going to take some time away from ballet. And do something: I don’t know, Dolores Park shenanigans or something.

    San Francisco Ballet: www.sfballet.org

    Myles Thatcher’s Second Cast drag calendar: https://tinyurl.com/ycy25zr8

    Myles Thatcher’s “I Don’t Need a Reason” with Lady Camden: https://tinyurl.com/5dcwvx8r

    David Landis is a longtime fan of the San Francisco Ballet, a member of the Honorary Board of ODC (San Francisco’s modern dance company), and in a former life produced The Joffrey Ballet in San Francisco.

    Published on April 21, 2022