Ask A Ballerina...

Meet Peggy Dolkas....

My first interview is with former Soloist with Ballet West, and former Ballet Mistress of Nevada Ballet Theatre, Peggy Dolkas, who has recently been appointed as Associate Director of Ballet West II. We sat down and chatted for a while on Tuesday July 28, 2015.

J.  Hi Peggy! Welcome back to Salt Lake! 

P.  Thanks Jane! I'm very happy to be back. 

J.  Peggy, please give us a little background on where you trained?

P. Well, my early ballet training was with Sheila Humphreys, former Soloist with the Royal Ballet, and Ballet Mistress of the Joffrey Ballet and Ballet Met.  It was a small school in my hometown in Auburn, California, but she had a wealth of knowledge and I owe her so much for my career!

J.  What was it about her training that you feel made you the dancer you became?

​P.  She always taught me to push beyond my limits.....her motto was that you can always go that little bit more!  She added humor and humilityevery day on top the rigorous training she knew it would take to make it!    

J.  How old were you when you started training with Sheila?

P.  Apparently, I was begging my Mom to start training when I was my mom starting doing the research, as she always does being a teacher herself,, to find a good teacher....and when she discovered Sheila's school, Sheila told her to come back in 3 years, and so I did just that, and trained with her five times week, 4 hrs a day for six years!  I was then accepted into the National Ballet School of Canada at the age of 14 and I trained there for 4 years, and then I joined National Ballet of Canada.  

J. First off, when you look back at your training, what was it about Sheila's  technical training that stands out to you now, as a teacher and choreographer?

P.  Oddly enough, I choreographed my first work, as a professional, entitled, Yes, But How Did You Get There?  for the Ballet West Innovations program, which was initially inspired by Sheila's emphasis on giving attention to the "in between steps" in dance---in other words, not losing the integrity of the seemingly unimportant transition dance movements.  As the art form of ballet progresses, to a more athletic genre, and specifically, America loves to be wowed by the "X Factor", she taught me never to forget the beauty in the basics.  

J.  How do you try and maintain that idea in your work with dancers?

P.  As a teacher, I try to do my best to pass on what I've learned and teach the students that it's not just about the tricks, how good their feet are, how many pirouettes they can do, or how high their legs are, or even how perfectly proportionate their body is....but that we should all strive for the same thing;  musicality, quality and feeling.

J.  With such a great wealth of knowledge of ballet technique, what is you inspiration and style when you choreograph?  I have seen some of your works and i see a contemporary flair, holding true to grounded technique...but your style def. has a newness about it---for example, you received "Best Choreography" award at YAGP in Denver in 2010.  Where do you take your inspiration from.....

P.  When I first started choreographing, I thought music and the emotion it brings out of a person could be the only inspiration.  But as I choreograph more, I find my voice to be less about me, and more about a collaboration with the dancers, and their interpretation of an idea I have come up with.

J.  I've been in some of your rehearsals and I love that you put the dancers in a place where they have to think----you have made them reverse choreography, turn a phrase of choreography into partnering, or make the dancers make the arms the legs, or the legs the arms!   A great collaboration----

P.  It is actually done often in modern dance as an exercise, and I took Donald Byrd's Spectrum Dance Theatre workshop in Seattle, and I learned that by manipulating choreography you are given as a dancer, you are participating in the process and therefore joining in creating dance that may be foreign to your technique.

J.  So, looking back at your training at NBS, what did you take away from that experience?

P. I learned that there's not only one "school" of thought.  It's necessary to broaden your training to become more adaptable in a company situation.  NBS gave me exposure to many different styles of dance, teachers and choreographers.  

J.  So now, looking at your responsibility as Associate Director of Ballet West II, what are a few of your goals?


P.  Well, when you retire from the stage, the art form never leaves you, and I feel that I've been given this great chance to keep the art form alive!  Ballet West II is a company of 6 young men and 6 young women, hand selected by Ballet West Artistic Director Adam Sklute, some of whom have come directly from the Ballet West Academy and others from around the world.  Along with Director of Ballet West II, Calvin Kitten, our goal is to prepare these dancers for a career in the ballet world.  To teach them what it takes to be a director's first choice.


J.  They are so lucky to have you----I know from working with you that you are a very caring person, so I know they will be in great hands!