BWW Interviews: Nashville Ballet's Damian Drake, This Dancer's Life

July 20
3:21 PM 2011


For Damian Drake, one of Nashville Ballet's versatile and accomplished company members,  "a fantastic quality about dance as an art form is how it encompasses other artists to create together as a community," exemplifying the collaborative nature of dance, whether classic or contemporary. As an integral member of the company, Drake has been featured in numerous works with the company since first joining the creative collective that has made Music City's homegrown ballet company one of the nation's artistic leaders - and one of the Nashville's best-attended performing arts groups.

Damian took time from his summer schedule to give us a glimpse into what makes him tick, what makes him dance and what he loves about Nashville - and Nashville Ballet - by inviting us into "This Dancer's Life." Read and enjoy...

What was your first introduction to dance as an art form?

My first introduction to dance as an art form was participating in the Nutcracker with Ballet Omaha as a kid. My sister, who was getting seriously into ballet, had told me the company needed boys for the show.

What was your first real job as a dancer?

My first real job as a dancer was with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, when I was 20. Prior to that I was hired for a few shows at Pacific Northwest Ballet, Opera Omaha and other dance shows in Nebraska.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in dance?

I knew I wanted to pursue a career in dance when I was training and performing intensively in high school. The more experience I had on stage, the more I was convinced to keep training. I traveled away to study at schools in New York City, Philadelphia and Seattle. I was thrilled that I was taking classes from new teachers and with the professional dancers in these cities. Seeing awesome dance shows in New York City and Seattle kept me motivated.

Who is your dancing idol?

I do not have one dancing idol that I look up to. I admire the dancing of Julio Bocca, Baryshnikov, Fernando Bujones and Peter Martins. Paris Opera Ballet toured to Nebraska when I was about 14; they were incredible to watch, I wanted to dance like them.


Why do you pursue your art in Nashville? What are the best parts of working here?

I pursue my art in Nashville because this ballet company has a diverse repertory and many chances to dance a lot. We have big studios to rehearse in and two great theatres. The artistic staff is very knowledgable and help the dancers improve their skills.

What is your dream role as a dancer? If you could dance any role...what would it be and why?

My dream role as a dancer would be Basilio in Don Quixote because of the Spanish style and the music is powerful. More importantly I want to dance in a modern ballet by William Forsythe; his work is often athletic and very interesting.

What is the brightest spot on your resume...what role/work is your most favorite?

The most favorite work I have danced in thus far is probably Sarah Slipper's Postcards from the Boys or James Kudelka's Almost Mozart. Both were unique contemporary ballets that challenged my stamina and capabilities, but I felt comfortable performing them.

What's the biggest misconception people have about dancers?

The biggest misconception people have about dancers could be that ballet dancing is not a strenuous or full-time job--like other professional athletes' jobs.

What's your favorite work created for dancers to perform?

My favorite work created for dancers to perform: Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.

If you could have dinner with any three figures (living or dead, real or fictional) who are a part of

the world of dance, who would you choose and why?

If I could, I would like to have dinner with Ohad Naharin, Jiri Kylian, and Nacho Duato. I'd like to ask them how they created their works, where their ideas originate and why they feel compelled to make certain ballets.

Imagine a young person seeing you onstage or seeing a production in which you played a major role coming up to you and asking you for advice in pursuing their own dream...what would you say?

If a young person, after seeing a ballet I was in, came up to me asking for advice in pursuing his/her own dream--I'd tell him/her that anything is possible with fortitude, faith, hope and persistence.


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About the Author

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors - the history of which can be traced to 1989 and the first presentation of The First Night Awards - which honor outstanding theater artisans from Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and also includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors recognition. Midwinter's First Night honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. An accomplished director, Ellis helmed productions of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, all in their Nashville premieres, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show. Ellis was recognized by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror. In 2015, he directed William Inge's Picnic for Circle Players and Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years for VWA Theatricals, with The Larry Keeton Theatre's production of Beth Henley's The Miss Firecracker Contest set for spring 2016.

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