Friday, December 13 at 7 p.m.
Saturday, December 14 at 1 and 6 p.m.
Sunday, December 15 at 2 p.m.
Mandel Hall on the University of Chicago campus
1131 E. 57th Street
August Tye, founding artistic director of Hyde Park School of Dance, danced with Kalamazoo Ballet Company in Michigan, where, at age 15, she was awarded Best Young Choreographer through Regional Dance America and later went on to become a two-time recipient of the Monticello Choreographers Award. After coming to Chicago as an instructor in 1991, she danced with the Joel Hall Dancers, Salt Creek Ballet, Second City Ballet, and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, an organization for which Tye has frequently choreographed and, since 2005, served as Ballet Mistress.
In 1993 Tye became the founding artistic director of Hyde Park School of Ballet, renamed Hyde Park School of Dance in 2006, which presents a production of The Nutcracker, featuring more than 175 dancers from age seven through adult, every year. Here, August Tye (AT) talks with Pictuer this Post (PTP) about her origins, this year’s Nutcracker and more below.
(PTP) When did you move from dancing to teaching as your primary focus?
(AT) When I was 14 years old, I joined a Teacher’s Training program at my dance school. Since then, I’ve always enjoyed teaching as well as dancing simultaneously. We offer a similar program at HPSD to train young dancers to teach.
What inspired you to found Hyde Park School of Dance 26 years ago?
I moved to Chicago in 1992 to teach at the School of Chicago Ballet, which was directed by Maria Tallchief. I began teaching at her studio on Franklin and Erie that summer and was asked back for the Fall season. We ended up losing that space due to rent increases. The Administrative Manager and a Board Member had connections to the First Unitarian Church in Hyde Park, so we ended up moving the entire operation into the church. After about a year, Ms. Tallchief decided to retire,and the school was left under my direction.
Eventually, in order to form our own identity and get a fresh start as an organization, we decided to start a new school called Hyde Park School of Ballet. The school was renamed in 2006 as Hyde Park School of Dance in order to acknowledge all the dance forms we offer.
How have the students you’ve worked with changed through the years?
I would say the biggest change I’ve seen in students throughout the years is an increase in academic workload and expectations. Our studio company program for pre-professionals was once a 15-hour-a-week program. There came a time when the dancers were missing so many dance classes to catch up on homework that I decided to scale back the pre-professional program to the bare minimum of 10 hours per week.
Even with these changes, the dancers seem to get the important parts of dance training: discipline, confidence, and a sense of teamwork. They aren’t always as physically strong as the dancers from the earlier generations.
How do students come to be part of your program?
We have students attending from more than 35 ZIP codes, so,yes, they are from all over Chicago and even Indiana. Currently we have a brother and sister from Merrillville, Indiana in our pre-professional training program. Often, they will spend the weekend at my house or other dancers’ homes to help with the commute.
Dancers audition for the pre-professional program in May each year. Currently we have 65 dancers in that program broken into four levels. Dancers who want to join the school just to take classes do not need to audition. They come and take a placement class, and we find the best fit for them to start their training.
Can you tell Picture this Post readers about your alumni?
We have more than 50 alumni who stay in touch with HPSD and follow our program and development.
Some alumni are still involved with dance, either as professionals or teachers, or they have started their own dance companies. Many have gone on to further their academic education; we even have a few PhD students on our alumni roster!
Today, we have 10 alumni actively working for Hyde Park School of Dance as teaching faculty or support staff. I am very proud that so many have decided HPSD is a place they want to be a part of past their time as students. They are also innately committed to supporting the mission of our school, which is to provide opportunities for students of all ages to study, perform, and create classical and contemporary dance at the highest levels of discipline and artistry. We welcome dancers of any race, religion, body type, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and family income. We cultivate a love of dance and strength of body, mind, and character that will benefit our students throughout their lives.
When you add staff to your school, what is most important to you?
When adding to the HPSD staff, the main things I look for include the belief in our mission, ability to inspire young dancers through their teaching, and, of course, the ability to work with our syllabus and provide high-quality professional training.
What inspired you to add hip hop dancing to The Nutcracker?
Our Break Dance instructor, Jonathan St. Clair, has been on faculty on and off for more than 10 years.We tell all the students no matter what they study at HPSD that they can all audition for The Nutcracker. As his classes began to grow in size, we had more and more of a group that was skilled in breaking. We wanted to find a way to feature them. So together we thought why not mix up the Battle Scene into a Breaking Battle? It actually took us a couple years to implement the idea because we had to find a way to blend it into the traditional ballet and score. Jonathan was able to mix elements of the Tchaikovsky score into a breaking beat and we took the leap!
This will be our fourth year with a Breaking Battle instead of a traditional sword and gun battle. We love the idea of teaching dancers that you do not have to solve your problems through violence, but through using your skills as a dancer.
How do you determine your programming each year?
Having plenty of performance opportunities is one of our training program goals.Nutcracker has been a staple of the school’s programming. We have a tradition of offering several other story ballets throughout our seasons. We have in our repertoire: Alice in Wonderland, Carnival of the Animals, The Nightingale, Wild Things (based on Where the Wild Things Are) as well as our newest addition, Amira – A Chicago Cinderella Story.
Amira premiered in 2016/17 as a fresh, modern take on Cinderella.The lead character Amira is an immigrant from a faraway and very different culture.She lands in Chicago and is plopped into a Chicago high school where she experiences culture shock and mean girls but makes some new friends.We are so excited to revive this work March 27–29, 2020 at the University of Chicago’s Mandel Hall.
How do you adapt your programs to the students in the school and their skill levels?
We adapt all choreography to suit the dances we are working with.Through performance I want them to develop a high sense of self-esteem and personal confidence and teamwork. Often, we will change elements of the ballet completely to suit the dancers we have as we did with the Battle Scene in The Nutcracker.
What do you most hope audiences will take away from a Hyde Park School of Dance performance?
As audience members I want them to enjoy the performance and see how confident each of our dancers are from ages seven all the way to adults. I hope that,somehow, they gain an understanding that art and dance are important vehicles for the young and old to express themselves and hone their skills through hard work, discipline, and teamwork.
Please tell Picture this Post readers about your collaborations with the Lyric Opera?
I started my career at the Lyric Opera as a dancer in the ’92/93 season. Like everyone else, I had to make it through the audition process. In ’93/94 I was asked back as a dancer in Candide choreographed by Pat Birch.
After about five seasons as a dancer, I moved on to focusing on HPSD and eventually starting a family with my husband. In 2003, Pat Birch came back to choreograph another Lyric Opera production, Robert Altman’s A Wedding. She asked me to be her assistant, which got my foot back in the door at Lyric Opera. Since then I have served as the primary Ballet Mistress and House Choreographer. My latest work is on the current production of Don Giovanni, for which I choreographed the movement for the chorus and principal singers.
How is choreographing for an opera different?
It is different in the sense that you do not select the music or the performers. Those things are all pre-determined by casting. You have to be good at finding the strengths and showcasing those strengths.
What are some of your other recent theater chorography projects?
Recently I collaborated on The Flower of Hawaii for Chicago Folks Operetta. We had three choreographers involved in order to accomplish the task of keeping the movement culturally correct for the Hawaiian scenes and the ballroom scenes classical for the tradition of the work. There were also several scenes that demanded fantastic musical theater-style choreography. It was a great pleasure and luxury to collaborate with so many fantastic choreographers.
How has your work at the school enriched your ability to work with Lyric and other companies and vice versa?
My work at the opera enhances my work at HPSD because I get to work with world-class choreographers, directors, costume designers, and arts professionals. My perspective is broadened and inspired by the people I work with every day. I do love working with our students just as much and they inspire me by showing what is possible. Recently, seeing the successes of the HPSD alumni has made me realize all the work is worth it. Teaching is one of the most energy-consuming occupations one can choose, and, although the work is constant and exhausting, being a part of someone else’s success is the most rewarding experience.
Are you currently mentoring any choreographers in Chicago?
I have three young people I mentor on a regular basis. Two are choreographers that have started their own dance companies, and one is a female entrepreneur who is starting her own school. It is a lot of fun watching them grow and seeing how much energy and love they have for the work. It reminds me of me when our school was just starting out. I try to help them with their challenges by sharing my experiences and also by letting them know it’s not all going to go perfectly, and mistakes will be made no matter what. People will challenge you. You ultimately have to trust your best instincts and your personal knowledge of the art form. The important thing is that they love what they are doing enough to persevere. I hope that my shared experiences can save them from some of the bumps in the road I have experienced.
I truly believe that Chicago is an excellent place to launch a career and make a career for yourself. There are so many great teachers and performance opportunities in Chicago. The vibrant dance scene is open and inviting with many opportunities for choreographers who are just getting their feet wet to the seasoned professional. All you must do is work hard and hone your skills. I have spent some time in other big cities, and I definitely feel like Chicago is where I was meant to be.
General admission tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors (65+), $10 for children ages 5 to 18 and students with ID and free for children 5 and younger (but must reserve).
Tickets and more information are available at Hyde Park School of Dance website or call 773-493-8498.
Photos courtesy of Hyde Park School of Dance