Ballet Careers
Nadia Mara (second from left) with Atlanta Ballet patrons. J. Clemmons, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet.

Ballet companies cannot survive without the financial support of their patrons and donors. In addition to underwriting new buildings and world premieres, and contributing to endowments, individual patrons and corporate donors often sit on the company's board. Many even sponsor the salaries of dancers, or support their side projects.

Yet your ballet training does not prepare you for the formal, sometimes awkward socializing you are asked to do with these VIPs at galas, backstage champagne toasts and other events. Atlanta Ballet dancer Nadia Mara remembers feeling uncomfortable at patron events her first year as a professional. "My English wasn't great," says Mara, who grew up in Uruguay, "and I was unsure of what to do, how to act." Yet she found that as she gained more experience speaking with patrons about where she had come from and her interests, the awkwardness melted away. "We have so much in common. We are passionate about the same things: ballet, art, fitness, culture."

Cultivating strong relationships with donors and patrons often means stepping outside your comfort zone. "Our livelihood depends on them," says Sona Kharatian, a dancer with The Washington Ballet. "It is important that we make them feel included and let them know we know they are doing this for the greater good of culture in their city." Read on for some tips on how to initiate conversation and make some new, supportive friends.

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 Mara rehearsing Camino Real with Christian Clark. Photo by Charlie McCullers, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet.

This weekend, Atlanta Ballet presents the world premiere of Helen Pickett's Camino Real. Inspired by the Tennessee Williams play of the same name, it tells the story of an unlikely cast of characters trapped in a dusty, dead end town. Not only is it Pickett's first full-length ballet, but the five main characters also have speaking roles. For Pointe's bi-weekly newsletter, we spoke with Atlanta Ballet dancer Nadia Mara before opening night.

You're playing Marguerite, who is based off the character in The Lady of the Camellias. What is she like?

She's a very elegant, effortless and delicate character. But at the same time, she goes through so many emotions, like anger, desperation, betrayal. That's when her movement starts getting a little more aggressive. At one point I even dance barefoot.


How would you describe the choreography?

It's very sensual and emotional. Helen Pickett does a really good job connecting the emotional state of the character to the movement. She'll say, "In this part, you feel anxiety," and does a movement. But she also gives me the freedom of creating. For a dancer, the best thing you can do is create with a choreographer and make a role your own.

 

What's it like working with Pickett?

She challenges me, and that's what I love about her. She knows she can give me anything, like speaking onstage, and I'll try to make it work. Of course, I'm from Uruguay, I have an accent and my English is not perfect. But she trusts me.

 

How is the speaking woven into the choreography?

It's pretty amazing--they happen together. I'm in the middle of a solo, and I have to scream and say things and express my feelings through movement. We have a lot of rehearsals where we ask, "Where exactly are we going to breathe?" I have a jumping solo and a microphone, so I can't inhale loudly before I'm going to say something. Everything is about timing.

 

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