Tom Mattingly (center), Ballet Des Moines’ new artistic director, leads a group of dancers at the Richmond Ballet.
Writer: Christine Riccelli
For Tom Mattingly, who will become Ballet Des Moines’ new artistic director Nov. 1, the “possibilities are endless” for how the company and its dancers can grow.
Mattingly, who’s been Ballet Madison’s ballet master since 2019, admits he knew little about Ballet Des Moines before he started talking to Executive Director Blaire Massa about the job. But “the more I learned … the more it became clear to me that this company is in a perfect position to take a giant leap forward,” he said last week in an interview from Richmond, Virginia, where he choreographed a new ballet for the Richmond Ballet that’s premiering tonight. “Ballet Des Moines is perfectly situated to build on its already strong base and move forward in an exciting new direction.”
Filling the role previously held by Ballet Des Moines founder Serkan Usta—who left the company earlier this year—Mattingly has created choreography for companies across the country, such as Ballet Arkansas, Charlottesville Ballet and the acclaimed Richmond Ballet. His wide-ranging experience also has included being a dancer with the Richmond company, the Cincinnati Ballet, and the contemporary ensemble Visceral Dance Chicago, among others. In addition, he has performed in the touring production of “An American in Paris.”
Mattingly says he’s excited to present new works to the community and to further enrich audiences’ understanding and appreciation of ballet. “Many people think of ballet as only ‘Swan Lake’ or ‘The Nutcracker.’ These grand classical works are fantastic, but dance is the perfect vehicle for storytelling beyond the classics. Any concept, feeling, or story can be conveyed through dance.”
That storytelling happens through both the athleticism and artistry of ballet. “I see dancers as artistic athletes,” he says. “There’s a balance between artistry and athleticism, and you can amp up one or the other, depending on the work. The more our audience has an opportunity to experience that display, the more the community will embrace the art form.”
Mattingly, a Montana native who grew up in California, also is looking forward to collaborating with other local arts organizations, including music groups, theater companies and more. “The community is more enriched when there’s collaboration across [artistic] disciplines, and I’m excited to explore that in Des Moines,” he says. “The more we work together, the more we can thrive.”
Mattingly encourages everyone to see Ballet Des Moines’ performance of “kiss” at 7 p.m. Friday at the Des Moines Civic Center. Created by renowned award-winning choreographer Stephanie Martinez, the show will also feature dancers from her Chicago-based contemporary dance ensemble, Para.Mar. Tickets range from $44.50 to $81.50.
“Ballet is for everyone,” Mattingly says, noting relationships the company has started with Oakridge Neighborhood and the Boys and Girls Club of Central Iowa. “That’s our mission—to bring ballet to Des Moines as a whole, no matter what the person’s experience or background.”