Arthur Leeth: Celebrating 40 years with Boston Ballet

Written by Boston Ballet Staff

Arthur Leeth and Elizabeth Olds in Marius Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty

Arthur Leeth and Elizabeth Olds in Marius Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty

Photo Credit: Angela Sterling

MAKING BOSTON BALLET A HOME

From washing laundry in wardrobe to dancing on stage, Arthur Leeth has done it all. Here are excerpts from our conversation with Leeth discussing his accomplishments since joining the organization in 1976.

Arthur Leeth and Leigh Spencer in George Balanchine's The Four Temperaments © The George Balanchine Trust.

Photo credit: Richard M. Grabbert

Arthur Leeth

Photo credit: Liza Voll Photography

Arthur Leeth and Leigh Spencer in George Balanchine's The Four Temperaments © The George Balanchine Trust.

Photo credit: Richard M. Grabbert

Arthur Leeth

Photo credit: Liza Voll Photography

Boston Ballet: We are so happy to celebrate your 40-year tenure. You’ve accomplished so much here!
Arthur Leeth: Wow, 40 years! It has been a long time. In some aspects, it seems like yesterday… I’ve seen a lot of changes to the Company: the audience base has grown, the Company has grown—everything has grown. It’s all moving forward in a better direction.

What led you to Boston Ballet in 1976?
I knew two of the principal dancers here, Elaine Bauer and David Brown; we went to the same university in Indiana. I was in New York—I had spent three years at American Ballet Theatre School in their trainee program and I was ready for a job. I auditioned everywhere, for every company in the world… When I auditioned for [Boston Ballet's Founder E. Virginia Williams] she said, “I’ll give you a chance,” and I said, “That’s all I need.” So that was 40 years ago, and I’m still here.

How have your various positions evolved over the past 40 years?
Well, I started as, of course, an apprentice with the Company, then was promoted. When I retired from “white tights” dancing, I spent about a year working in administration for Boston Ballet School. I worked with the Summer Dance Program, and was also a rehearsal assistant with the Company. Then one of our dance masters became ill and I started taking over more responsibility from him and became a full-time-ballet master with the Company. I did that until 1993.

I then moved up into the music department. I had been trained as a musician as a kid—I didn’t start dancing until I went to university. So I returned to my roots in the music department and became the music librarian and assistant to Jonathan McPhee, then added personnel manager to that, and then orchestra contractor. I am still doing all of those things, and teaching in the School. So that’s been my whole history through the Company. I even had a stint of working in the wardrobe department one season.  A little bit of everything.

Why have you decided to dedicate your career to this one organization?
When I left ballet school, one of my teachers looked at me and said, “You’ve got a couple of options.” She continued, “You can go to Europe or stay in America. In Europe, you will dance a lot longer, get paid more money, but not dance very often. Stay in America, and you’ll dance a lot, maybe not make so much money, and the career won’t be as long.” So I chose to stay in America, and then she said, “Then you’ve got two options. You can change companies every couple of years… Or you can stay in a company, and make it a home.” I tend to be a nester so that’s why I chose to stay and make it a home—and Boston Ballet has been my home for 40 years.

What is your favorite role that you danced with the Company?
There are a lot of them. I loved being in Balanchine ballets… I loved to partner, so I felt always very secure making the woman look better… I think dancing in the Balanchine ballets is so fulfilling because they’re so musical and so correct. You very rarely have to cheat in a Balanchine ballet.

Are Balanchine ballets also your favorite to watch?
Not always. I love Giselle. I was always the Duke in Giselle… I love Swan Lake, I love The Sleeping Beauty. I’ve been lots of things in The Sleeping Beauty—the King, mostly. I’ve been Rothbart in Swan Lake… You know, the classics, neoclassical works.

How long have you been performing character roles in classical and narrative ballets?
I was doing the character roles while I was dancing… Those things came naturally to me. While I was in school, I had a very good teacher for pantomime and acting. He would make you think about it and work on it… So you’d get very good at being natural with hand speaking with no verbal. So I was always doing a lot of the character parts and I enjoyed them. There’s nothing more fun [when performing a character role] than being the mean guy. I loved being the mean guy.

After your retirement from the stage in 1987 why did you decide to start teaching?
I actually taught in Boston Ballet School in 1980—I wish I had taught more and paid more attention to it because to teach you have to figure out a lot of things to tell your students. Had I really been paying attention to what I was saying and what I was teaching, I think I would have been a far better dancer ultimately at the end than I was. So I encourage dancers who are still performing to try to teach while they’re still dancing to formulate ideas, and figure out things for themselves.

Right now you are teaching in Boston Ballet School’s Adult Dance Program.
I love my adults! They’re a great group of people to teach. You have to give them credit. On a Saturday morning, they could be at home having a latte and reading the newspaper, but they're here at 9 o’clock in the morning they’re in a ballet class working physically. How much more devoted could you possibly be, and how could you not appreciate that? The same thing in the evening when I teach at the nighttime classes: they’ve done something all day long, either a lawyer, or a mother, or a doctor, or who knows what, and then they come in at 7 o’clock in the evening to for a ballet class. It’s phenomenal.

Why is teaching in this program particularly important to you?
My theory about teaching adults is to make them a better and more appreciative audience. I give them things in class that maybe technically they should not be doing, but I want to expose them to it so that they can go to the theater and see the Company dancers do the same step they had just been given in class… They know the technique behind the step, they know the premise of doing it, and then they get to see what it really, stupendously looks like when the Company dancers do it… They’re never going to go on stage and do the stuff, but that’s not why they are here. They’ve either danced when they were kids, or in college—and they’ve come back to it, or they're trying it for the first time—for absolute enjoyment because they do love the art form. How can you not love somebody who loves what you do? It’s incredible.

Arthur Leeth and Vadim Strukov in Don Quixote

Arthur Leeth (Don Quixote on his horse), Vadim Struckov (Gamache), and Alexandre Kedrov (Sancho Panza) in Rudolf Nureyev's Don Quixote

Photo credit: Jaye R. Phillips

Why are you passionate about dance?
It’s one of the art forms that I really love. I wanted to learn how to do it, so therefore I did, and I stuck with it. It is such an incredible experience to be in control of your body, make your body do what you tell it to. You know, you’ve got the shape, you see the shape, you make the shape… It is a beautiful art form—exciting, beautiful, moving, compelling, poignant. I mean, it combines all of the art forms—scenery, music, movement… I look at the dancers now and I think, “Oh my god, aren’t they phenomenal! I could never have done that.” It’s that whole evolution that continues on—it’s great to see.

What do you think makes Boston Ballet special?
The dancers are very special; they are some of the best dancers going at the moment. It’s special because it’s been my home; I’ve made it my home, so it’s special to me in that aspect. It has a nice familial feeling… it’s my home, and you always feel some pull to your home. Regardless of how far away you go, you’re always harkened back to your home, and that’s Boston Ballet.
 

The illusion we create is intended to deepen your understanding of reality.

Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director
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