BWW Interviews: Amy Fote talks her Ballet Career, Houston Ballet, What's Next & Offers Advice
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by David Clarke
The night before Amy Fote and dancers of the Houston Ballet celebrated her impressive career in Houston with JUBILEE OF DANCE, the charming and convivial Amy Fote took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to talk with me. With her retirement from the company drawing near, we took the opportunity to talk about how she got involved in dance, her career, and what she plans to do next.
Me: How did you get involved in dance?
Amy Fote: Well, my sister, who is four years older than I am, Lily, she was taking dance. She would come home and practice her steps, and I was intrigued by this. I would kind of emulate her a little bit. And so when I turned four, my mother had enrolled me as well, and all of a sudden, you know, one thing led to another and it just became a part of me. [Laughs] I kept dancing around the living room. So, it started when I was four years old because I had an older sister that was dancing.
Me: What was your first professional role?
Amy: My first professional role? Oh my goodness. I think I was in the corps de ballet in SWAN LAKE with Milwaukee Ballet.
Me: How did you become involved with Houston Ballet? Was it a transfer.
Amy: Yes, actually. I was dancing with Milwaukee Ballet at the time. During one of the seasons I was there, the Royal New Zealand Ballet needed a guest artist to perform the lead in Stanton Welch’s MADAME BUTTERFLY. So, in heading over to New Zealand I met the Ballet Master for Houston Ballet, whose name is Steven Woodgate. When our time was coming to an end he just said something to me like, “I hope I see you again.” That stuck with me. He was very sincere. Upon returning back to Milwaukee I realized, “you know what, I think I would love to spread my wings and try something else.” So, I ventured down to Houston. I auditioned, and I was offered a First Soloist position. I was promoted the following year to Principal. It was one of the best decisions I had ever made. I was hesitant because I was a Principal at Milwaukee [Ballet], but I honesty have not looked back and have danced so many beautiful works since I have been here. I have grown so much, not only as an artist but technically. I think it just happens as the years go by that you realize what your fortes are. I love the fact that I chose to come to Houston.
Me: What was your first role with Houston Ballet?
Amy: I danced the lead role in ONEGIN, Tatiana. That was the first time I was introduced to the Houston audience. It’s a fabulous [John] Cranko work. It’s very dramatic, definitely a true classic. I love the story ballets.
Me: What has your favorite role with Houston Ballet been?
Amy: Oh goodness. Well, that [Tatiana in ONEGIN] was very special to me because, of course, that was the first time that not only the company had seen me, but the audience. I felt very accepted straightaway because after doing a run-through in the studio with the company they were so complementary and they applauded and made me feel very much a part of the group. It felt like a rarity in that situation. I knew in the moment that that was happening it was special. I also loved MADAME BUTTERFLY because that is something that is completely a reason why I ended up here in Houston. So that also has a lot of special sentiments attached to it. Furthermore, I enjoyed Kate in [THE] TAMING OF THE SHREW. I thought that was very fun. Gosh! I always loved doing Juliet in ROMEO AND JULIET. I have actually been Juliet in four different productions. So, that is a part—and a story—that I really love. It speaks to me. It’s almost whatever my favorite role is kind of seems to be whatever I’m working on in the moment. You just get really invested in whatever you are doing. And right now, for the gala, I’m performing excerpts from Stanton [Walsh]’s ballet MARIE, which is based on Marie Antoinette’s life, so that is something that I am enjoying as well as MERRY WIDOW, where I’m playing Hanna, and also MANON, where I am Manon. I actually really loved MANON. That was a fabulous work too. Oh my goodness. That was a [Sir Kenneth] MacMillian ballet. But these are all incredible works that the company has in their repertoire here.
Me: How does it feel to have a tribute show in honor of you?
Amy: Oh my goodness. [Laughs] You know, in thinking about it sometimes I get overwhelmed. I believe one of the most special gifts anyone could receive is to be honored in such a way. It’s really quite touching. So I’m trying not to think about it, but in reality it is happening and it’s a lovely way to be celebrated.
Me: Did you get to help cast the tribute show or was there any special input they came to you for since it is your tribute and your night?
Amy: You know, I know that Stanton [Welch] shows work, so I will get to dance with many of the partners I danced with throughout the years, and that is very special. So, it will be very bittersweet, and it's a time for an audience to—I don’t want to say “say goodbye,” but in a way that is what it is, as well as me saying goodbye and a way for my fellow dancers to say goodbye, as we share the stage for one of the last times together. That is something. I know that they put together a video and they asked for a lot of pictures from when I was growing up. That’s really special, and I think that people will feel like they know me a little better after having watched something like that. It kind of explains how I did get started with ballet, the schools that I had attended, performing arts high school through my upbringing and having been at Milwaukee Ballet and now Houston Ballet, and some of the in-betweens and highlights of my career.
Me: You got to dance the Sugar Plum Fairy one last time with Houston Ballet in THE NUTCRACKER. What was that performance like?
Amy: Oh goodness. Well, I have my final show on the 29th of December, so we’re still in the midst of those. Sugar Plum Fairy has been a role that has been special. Even though you think it will be easier year after year, there is just something about it. It’s just stamina. It’s the wearing a tutu where everything has to be pristine and precise. And there’s something that is just really rewarding about performing a ballet like that. I also love [THE] NUTCRACKER because it’s often someone’s first experience in the theatre, whether it be a child or sometimes often an adult. That’s a great introductory ballet. It’s very easy to follow. Stunning sets and costumes and music that we hear even in the malls and commercials. I mean, the Tchaikovsky score stands alone. It’s amazing. I think it's a really special ballet to perform. And, on top of that, I love that it's a festive time of year. It’s such a tradition. And just to be involved with the company and going through this final push together before everyone goes on a little break, I just think it’s beautiful timing. I started dancing in [THE] NUTCRACKER when I was eight years old as a Bon-Bon, and have been in it every year since. So, for me, its kind of tying that little bow and everything about it just feels right.
Me: You’re still young, so what is next for you?
Amy: Right! I mean there are a lot of things I want to explore, which lead me to this decision. I am interested in nutrition and fashion and design. I have thoughts of maybe doing a cookbook. You know, if I’m here in Houston, being involved in the Houston Ballet Organization. It’s very close to me heart. There were some opportunities that I know we have spoken about. And, I also have most recently thought about maybe becoming a part of a foundation here in Houston that gives away money to the arts. That might be a nice fit. But I do feel very close to Houston Ballet, and if I were to be in this area I could easily see myself doing some of that sort of work or still being involved in the studio, whether it would be maybe teaching or whatnot. Or, you know, in another part of the country. Ballet is something that I know. I know so well. I know it will always be a part of my life, but there are other things that I am wanting to explore as well. So, I’m going to give myself a little bit of time to see what speaks loudly to me and try to have a few things happen, and kind of spread my wings. [Laughs] I don’t have a definite answer. I wish. You know, and I’ll probably be taking some college classes as well. Maybe something even with communications. I kind of have a lot of interests, so just trying to narrow some things down, and I think once, you know, once dance is quiet for me—when I’m not in the studio—I’ll be able to explore some of these other worlds and hope to keep ballet close as well. Like I said, I love the Houston Ballet Foundation here, and I think it’s a great organization.
Me: Thinking back on your career with ballet. What has probably been the best moment for you?
Amy: Oh my goodness. Wow! You’re the first person to have asked me that! [Laughs] Gosh. [Pauses] That is really, really tricky. I mean, there are lots of things. A lot of special shows I remember and some performances that really stand out. And I even loved some of the times in the studio, where you feel like, you know, “today I have really done my job well.” Gosh. I think something that I really loved was performing MADAME BUTTERFLY. I don’t know, I think maybe it was just being a guest over with Royal New Zealand Ballet. Just that whole experience was definitely a highlight in my career. Not to dismiss, you know...[Pauses] I remember being promoted here, on stage. That was an amazing moment! And there are some ballets too that I have danced here, you know, they felt extra special that night. I’m really having a hard time saying what the moment was. Sorry, I’m not answering your question. [Laughs]
Me: You know, it’s okay to have more than one moment.
Amy: Yeah. Gosh. And I guess as well, going back, for some reason, you know, sometimes you want to bottle a feeling. That one for me would be after having done my run-through of ONEGIN, when I first joined the company, and hearing my fellow dancers be so appreciative of my work with their applause and with the things that they had said to me. It just really felt like a wonderful moment, and that was something in the studio shared with an intimate group. And sometimes that’s when it is most difficult to perform for people who know what you do so well. To perform for an audience, they know whether they like things or not. There’s a dancer’s dancer and there’s an audience’s dancer. And it’s very different, and you want to be able to go to both. You want your technique to be just right and then you want to be able to reach past and have your emotion and feeling be something that is felt as well. So, it is much more complex. As is now changing jobs. You know, like, once you retire from dance, it’s not just like changing jobs in the real world. It is very complex. So, I’m wondering how the transition will be. [Laughs]
Me: I can understand how that would be daunting and kind of scary.
Amy: Yeah. It’s both. It’s exciting. It’s also scary. There are a lot of unknowns, and there is something thrilling about that. I chose to retire, and it felt right. You know, I feel like I have given what I can to this art form. I really do feel fulfilled. Of course, there are times that I feel, “Oh, I’d really love to do this ballet again,” but it feels like it is time to move on. It was a tough choice to make. It really was because I still love, love, love what I do. I don’t know. Something about it settles.
Me: You probably get asked this question all the time, but what advice do you offer to young artists trying to break into the industry?
Amy: Okay. This is probably a favorite question because it is something that I discovered about my self not that long ago. And it goes like this: You cannot be anything you want to be, but you can be a whole lot more of who you are meant to be.
Now, for me, that means some people, of course, in this profession they’re going to have legs higher, they’re going to jump higher, they’re going to turn more, and if I am always striving to be that, I do push myself and continue to want to improve on all of those things, but when you find what your forte is, and what your special gift is—what your talent is—and if you can let that shine and really speak, that is going to set you apart. That is going to be what becomes part of your identity. You don’t need to compare yourself to others. Now, that happens. But everyone has a different gift. It would be so boring if we all had the same thing. So embrace what make you unique. And you just really need to push yourself every single day and sometimes, often through that, because it is so difficult, that is when the rewards become really great. When you believe in yourself, you’ll stand a little differently.
If you missed your chance to bid Amy Fote a fond farewell at November 30th’s JUBILEE OF DANCE, you can see her play the Sugar Plum Fairy one last time on December 29, 2012. For tickets and more information abut this performance lease visit http://houstonballet.org/ or call (713) 227 – 2787.
Headshot of Amy Fote by PatRick Dean. Publicity Stills by Amitava Sarkar. All images courtesy of Houston Ballet.