Beloved Ballet Master and Dancer Looks Back on 12 Years with AMB
Last Saturday’s Orpheum Theater performance of Swing, Swing, Swing! marked more than the successful conclusion of American Midwest Ballet’s twelfth season of professional dance.
It also was the final curtain call for a company member who had been there since the beginning: Matthew Lovegood, who has filled key roles as a performer, choreographer, and ballet master ever since the company made its formal debut in 2010 – appropriately enough, also at the Orpheum and also with Swing, Swing, Swing!
“I’m so happy that I was able to to be here and to be a part of all of it. And hopefully I have helped steer the ship in a good direction.”
– Matthew on his twelve years with AMB
A versatile talent
Erika Overturff, AMB’s founder, artistic director, and CEO, notes that Matthew had essentially retired from the stage shortly before she recruited him into her then-new company in 2010.
“I’m proud to take credit for luring Matthew back in,” she said. “We all got another 12 years of fantastic dancing – you’re welcome, everyone!”
“Matthew is the best. What he has given as a performer and as a leader in shaping this company is immeasurable, and we love him very much!”
– Erika Overturff
A quick look back
With Season 12 now a wrap, Matthew’s days are busy preparing to move with his family to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where his spouse, Luke, will begin what Matthew describes as his dream job this fall in the music department at Coe College. Matthew took a few moments to look back at some of the high spots of his career as a dancer, teacher, choreographer, and ballet master at AMB:
AMB: First, in case any of our readers are wondering: What is a ballet master, anyway?
ML: A ballet master is in charge of rehearsing the dancers and coaching them in various roles, occasionally staging works, and also working with the dancers in their daily company class. My role here with AMB has expanded to include some other things, but generally that’s the kernel of what a ballet master does.
Also, I help plan the daily rehearsal schedule, which can be very intricate depending on what production we’re doing… if we’re doing six different ballets and they all have a ton of dancers in them, we have to coordinate who can rehearse where, when.
I also do a lot around auditions season, which is just after the holidays through springtime for people that are wanting to audition for the professional company.
“It just sort of happened…”
AMB: You’ve been doing this for twelve seasons, along with performing, choreographing, and staging ballets. How did it all start?
ML: I like to joke with Erika about this, but it’s true… it just sort of happened.
She called me before the new company [Ballet Nebraska, the company which later became AMB] started and asked me if I would be in the first performance – which was, incidentally, Swing, Swing, Swing! – and I said, yes, I would. I was thinking it was sort of a one shot deal.
Then she asked me if I would teach a company class, help with the rehearsal, do this and that, and it just sort of snowballed. I didn’t know that this was happening until we were already in the thick of it, and then I was like: Oh, I guess I’m the ballet master. And here we are 12 years later!
“We felt like we rose to the challenge and beyond…”
AMB: Can you name something that was especially memorable from those early years?
ML: Definitely. When we did Giselle in Season Five, that was a big deal. There’s a certain level of standards that ballet companies are held to in order to be able to pull off a production such as Giselle or Swan Lake. It was a big undertaking – but it was exciting that we felt like we rose to the challenge and beyond. It was an excellent show, so that was definitely a high point.
“It was a surprise to me…”
AMB: Let’s talk about how you came to choreograph AMB’s production of Swan Lake, from Season Seven.
ML: I don’t know how that landed on our our docket, so to speak. I just got a phone call from Erika one day, and she said, “Hey, I really want to do Swan Lake. And how do you feel about you doing it?”
I was excited, but it was a surprise to me when I first heard it. I tend to be pretty obsessive with my organization and planning, so in short order I got my plans and my thoughts together. That’s how I’ve always worked as a choreographer. I am not one to go into the studio and just experiment for periods of time to see what’s going to happen. I have everything kind of planned out in my head, and then when I get to the studio, we just make it happen.
AMB: Different companies have different ways of ending the story in Swan Lake. How did you come up with yours?
ML: It’s somewhat of a sad story, and I don’t think you can deviate from that too much because of the score. Tchaikovsky’s score has, we’ll call it, a sorrow built into it. But I didn’t want people jumping off cliffs and killing themselves. The kernel of the whole thing to me was about love, and that relationship between the two main characters. So I thought, why not end it on that note?
ML: By the way, Erin and I were perched precariously on a tiny little stool that was not anchored to the ground when we appeared through the scrim at the very end, up in love, up in the heavens, or however you want to interpret that. We were sweating bullets… it was so wobbly that I grabbed the edge of her tutu bodice and just pulled her in so she didn’t fall forward!
“I think she’s going to be fantastic…”
AMB: Speaking of Erin Alarcón, your onstage partner in so many ballets: She will be taking over as ballet master this fall. How do you think she’ll do?
ML: I think she’s going to be fantastic. You definitely have to have attention to detail – which she does.
I also think that, while sometimes it can be tricky to be both a dancer and a staff member, there also are many advantages to it. You can really relate to how the dancers are feeling and what they need, because you’re one of them. Erin is going to continue to dance. I think that’s going to be one of her strengths, because she can be such a good liaison between the dancers and staff.
“I’m always going to be a dancer at heart…”
AMB: Are you still going to be involved in the dance field?
ML: I am not, at least not for the time being. There’s no professional dance in Cedar Rapids. And because I have such a young family, teaching dance is not something I want to do right now because it would necessitate that I’m not home in the evening, which is the time that I get to spend with my kids. Someday I’ll go back to teaching – but right now, no.
But, you know, I’m always going to be a dancer at heart. You can’t go this long – it’s almost my entire life – being immersed in dance, and then not have it be a part of you.
“It’s been an honor. I feel like I have done my best to set the company on a good path for the future. So I wouldn’t change a thing.”