If you’re planning on attending Ballet West’s production of Romeo and Juliet this month, you might notice the company has hired a new maestro: Tara Simoncic. Artistic Director Adam Sklute has brought her in over the past several years for projects, but she was appointed as the orchestral conductor in November.
“I was attracted to Ballet West because it is an amazing company to work with,” says Simoncic. “It’s a company in which you feel like you are a part of something very special. I really enjoy working with the dancers, the staff, and the musicians.”
Simoncic’s interest in music started when she was only 6 years old as she studied the trumpet. She would later go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in music (in trumpet performance) from the New England Conservatory, a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from Northwestern University, and a professional studies diploma in orchestral conducting from the Manhattan School of Music.
She was born and raised in California, and admits that perhaps she was drawn to Utah because it has a similar, laid-back vibe. She likes that everyone is friendly and it reminds her of home.
Some might see being a ballet conductor as limiting because they are at the mercy of a choreographer and performers, but Simoncic sees it differently. “A conductor who works with ballet has to be able to interpret the movement of the dancers and must be able to adjust tempos accordingly to fit their movements and timing,” she says. “A lot of what you do depends on what is necessary for the choreography and for the story to unfold onstage while continuing to serve the music. It’s extremely challenging, and that’s one of the many things that I love about it.”
Not only does a ballet conductor have to communicate with the instrumentalists, she must communicate with the dancers onstage at the same time. “I communicate with the individual dancers when they are dancing solos or if there is a pas de deux,” Simoncic explains. “It’s important to know what the dancers prefer as far as tempo and the overall interpretation so that I can translate that into what needs to happen with the music. It’s the best feeling when you know that what you have done musically connects with the dancers. There is an electricity that can occur between the music and dance.”
Tara Simoncic fell in love with ballet when she first moved to New York City to attend the Manhattan School of Music and saw American Ballet Theatre’s production of Swan Lake. “Before that, I was mainly a symphonic conductor and ballet conducting didn’t cross my mind. During that performance, I was swept up in the story, choreography, music, and the beautiful art forms being combined together.” To this day, Swan Lake is her favorite ballet to conduct. She loves seeing how dance can change one’s perception of the music. “Dance can heighten music to an entirely different level. It can help the music tell a story and bring so much beauty, emotion, and understanding to a piece of music. The audience member is able to see the phrasing, articulations, dynamics, and colors through the dancers.”
Simoncic believes Ballet West is a special company. “There are very few companies who continue to use live music for their performances. The dancers and musicians are extremely talented and lovely to work with and there is a feeling that everyone at Ballet West is inspired to bring together a beautiful collaboration of the two art forms,” she observes.
Laura Durham works for KUED Channel-7 in the Creative Services Department, curating community engagement projects for both PBS and KUED productions that foster trust and value to the communities in Utah. She also produces Contact with Mary Dickson and Contact in the Community — a digital series featuring arts and culture groups in Utah. Prior to her work at KUED, Laura spent 15 years at the Utah Division of Arts & Museums in the visual arts program and later managing communications, branding, marketing, and public value projects for all arts and museums programming. She has served the Utah community in various capacities with her role as Vice President of the Salt Lake Gallery Association and Program Director for the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll. She lives in Salt Lake City, sings with Utah Chamber Artists, and loves to contribute to 15 Bytes as often as time allows.