EDT Artistic Director Lisa Dillinger

Before Lisa Dillinger’s fifth birthday approached, she convinced herself she’d become a ballerina. Her parents bought Dillinger a book — heavy on pictures — about dance technique, and the preschooler practiced in her bedroom. At 6, she surpassed her fellow students in ballet class. Her passion, aided with her slim, flexible, long limbs, created a beautiful ballerina. “I just happened to fall in the right gene pool,” Dillinger says.

Her career carried her throughout the United States, including Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, and Butler University in Indianapolis. In July 2010, Dillinger landed at the Evansville Dance Theatre as the new artistic director. She’ll make her EDT debut at the annual winter performance of The Nutcracker, which Dillinger says will be “totally different.” Sokvannara Sar, a native of Cambodia, will perform as the Cavalier, Clara’s Nutcracker come to life, and Allyson Ashley, formerly with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, takes on the role as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Dillinger intended to showcase diversity with her two leads. “There are a lot of social barriers that need to be broken down in the ballet world,” Dillinger says.

Your body is your instrument. In ballet, the notes of music appear on your body and make line, shape, and form.

Oftentimes, people who have the ideal genetics for it don’t make it as far as the people who had to struggle. They did it because they had to struggle whereas it came too easy for the others. You have to have a strong sense of drive.

A lot of people have the technical elements, but they are, quite frankly, boring because they don’t have the artistry that they need to express themselves.

Ballet is an outlet to express myself. It’s mentally intriguing because I have to figure out how my anatomy moves in time, space, and music. It’s always a challenge because the work elements dancers perform under are never the same day to day. That keeps me literally on my toes.

It’s a different kind of world. I can escape from reality and be creative and artistic. Dance is more what everyone tries to make the real world like.

It’s kind of like being a professional football player. It’s a lot of pounding, and dancers typically will work through injuries that athletes would take time off for.

Great dance can happen anywhere. Colleen Kelly Denisco (director of Carlisle Ballet) is extremely successful, but it took people a number of years to wake up to the fact that she’s in Carlisle, Penn. Now it’s one of the main training centers. If it can happen in Carlisle, Penn., it can happen in Evansville.

A lot of companies are really white. It’s sad. That needs to stop because (minority dancers) are just as talented and capable. I’ve seen too many dancers in my career cast aside because they happen to be of a certain ethnicity. Because I had a maiden name of Stickelman, I’ve actually had people ask me to change my name for a short period of time because they thought it was too Jewish-sounding. I’ve been through that. To me, talent doesn’t have a color. 

For more information on Nutcracker performances, see our Guide, p. 104, or visit www.edtdance.org.

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