School of Nashville Ballet alumnus returns as a company member

Nashville Ballet ensemble on stage

Nashville Ballet in Sechs Tanze by Jiří Kylián; Owen Thorne fourth from left. Photographer: ©Heather Thorne

As Dorothy says, “there’s no place like home.” These words ring true for Nashville Ballet company member, Owen Thorne, who after previously working with Houston Ballet, Scottish Ballet, and as a freelance artist nationally and internationally is returning to Nashville Ballet where he took classes growing up. Although originally from New Orleans, Owen moved to Nashville with his family at a young age and starting taking classes at the School of Nashville Ballet. We sat down with Owen to discuss his return to Music City and the incredible 2018-19 season in store for everyone…

How did you first become interested in ballet?

Owen: I was seven years old and I picked out a movie from the local library called White Nights starring one of the great Russian ballet dancers, Mikhail Baryshnikov. I was transfixed by his athleticism and what I later learned was called “artistry.” I watched it and re-watched it, and quickly realized that I was a dancer before I even learned first position.

Did the schools you attended growing up incorporate arts into their curriculum? If so, what impact did that have on you as a child?

Owen: Yes, and I found it to be an invaluable supplement to a solid academic education. Along with art and dance classes, I started playing the trumpet in 5th grade and continued at Harding Academy and Hume Fogg Academic Magnet where I played in the orchestra and jazz band. Like ballet, I found music to be an incredible outlet. I loved to listen to Miles Davis and the living legend Wynton Marsalis and spent my lunches in the band room practicing.

Why is arts education important to you?

Owen Thorne and Kayla Rowser dancing

Owen Thorne and Kayla Rowser perform “The Ben Folds Project: Concerto”. Photographer: ©Heather Thorne

Owen: Art frees my soul and gives me a voice. Art both helps me find my center and opens me up to the world. It can help you to understand the beauty and pain of the human condition that cannot be learned in the pages of a history textbook. Arts education is vital to developing the creative and independent thought needed to be a well-rounded person. An arts education can give a student the tools to help understand what it is to be alive.

When did you first perform with Nashville Ballet?

Owen: As a School of Nashville Ballet alum, I had the opportunity to perform alongside the company in the Nutcracker as many kids are still able to do today. I was eleven years old and I played Fritz. I remember buzzing with excitement at the chance to share the stage with my idols. Embarrassing fact: I still have the program signed by the full cast.

How does it feel returning to Nashville Ballet? What made you want to return?

Owen: It certainly feels like coming full circle. I’m honored to perform with Nashville Ballet and proud to bring the experiences and knowledge I’ve gained since I was a student with the school. I remember the impact the professional dancers had on me as a student and I feel grateful for the opportunity to pay it forward for the next generation of dancers.

What are you most excited for in the upcoming season?

Owen: That’s a tough one. We’ve got another big season. I’m looking forward to Swan Lake in September, but especially for a new world premiere in February in collaboration with Grammy Award-winning composer Rhiannon Giddens, the brilliant mind of poet and author Caroline Randall Williams and Paul Vasterling titled Lucy Negro Redux. It brings the audience to Elizabethan England and Shakespeare (played by your truly), where we see a powerful story about a woman named Lucy Negro embroiled in a passionate love triangle on her way to discovering her own power and self-worth.

Owen Thorne and Kayla Rowser dancing

Owen Thorne and Kayla Rowser perform “Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project” choreographed by Stephen Mills. Photographer: ©Heather Thorne

What was it like having the opportunity to travel around the world for your career?

Owen: Wonderful; dance is a universal language (even though ballet is taught with French terminology) and it allowed me to work and perform in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. I enjoyed being part of cultural exchanges with Russia and China, though a particular highlight for me was working with the U.S. State Department to put on the first International Ballet Stars Gala in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which brought ballet to the country for the first time.

What advice would you give to kids who want to become a dancer but lack the courage and confidence?

Owen: Dance is an art form that is not exclusive to those who wish to become professional dancers. If you enjoy moving to music, it’s healthy activity both physically and mentally. My advice is to follow your passion with conviction and dedication. If you lack confidence, remember that there is no substitute for good training or discipline. If you’re passionate about dancing, the courage and confidence will come over time through hard work and commitment.


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