A dance company is a living, breathing organization, much like a garden, vibrant with colors, textures, and strengths. Some plants thrive better in shade, some in light, some in wet soil, some need a very dry existence, yet all flourish with care and under the optimum circumstances.
So it is with a professional dance company. There is a varied blend of artists with unique skills, techniques, artistry, personalities and strengths. During their years with a dance organization, they mature in abilities and expand in artistry. Each dancer adds flavor, color and dynamics to the company presentations — and the puzzle of the company’s structure is in constant motion.
Under the watchful eye of the artistic director, and we’re speaking specifically, now, of Miami City Ballet (MCB) led by artistic director Lourdes Lopez, the company dancers are groomed, cultivated, and continue to mature. The repertory they are given, the choreographers that are chosen to lead rehearsals, the daily, rigorous voices of the rehearsal directors and the dancers themselves all blend to create the magic that is seen on the stage in performance. Just as important is the unity and dynamics that occur within the company on a daily basis. Love of the art and a nurturing environment propels dancers to rise within the organization.
As in any garden, business or organization, the potential and possibilities are exciting.
In a recent spring performance of Miami City Ballet, as the intermission began, there was a loud whoop on stage behind the curtain, with applause and laughter. The excitement was quite palpable and some in the audience knew well what the hoopla meant.
One of the dance artists had been promoted. As audience members, everyone has their favorite performer, so who would it be this time?
Dawn Atkins was promoted to Principal Dancer after a striking performance of the White Couple in Martha Graham’s "Diversion of Angels." Atkins had risen through the ranks very quickly, having joined MCB as a soloist in the 2020-2021 season.
“For my very first promotion within the company from soloist to principal soloist, I was called into Lourdes’s office. I thought that was how it was done,” recalls Atkins. “When it was announced on the stage that I was being promoted to principal, I had no idea what was happening. It was very, very cool.”
Atkins’ introduction to dance was similar to many youngsters whose parent signs them up for classes at an early age
“When I was about five, I was enrolled in a number of classes, but I kept asking for ballet,” she Atkins.
Things changed when she entered the ballet classroom.
“I loved it and was rather relentless,” she says. “I felt so at home in the studio. I loved the discipline, the self-expression and I think, the routine of it. It was a class for youngsters, so we were in the center, but I kept asking to go to the barre. I knew, at that young age, what I wanted, and I was ready.”
Atkins grew up in Middletown Springs, Vermont. Upon moving to Virginia, she continued her studies at The School of Richmond Ballet. She attended the North Carolina School of the Arts under the direction of Ethan Stiefel on scholarship before joining Boston Ballet School in 2011 and then Boston Ballet II in 2012. In 2013, she was promoted to Artist of the Company for Boston Ballet.
Atkins was quickly recognized for her talents and moved up through the ranks of Boston Ballet.
She had been following MCB for a while and says she especially liked the direction of Lopez, a strong female leader.
“It was inspiring every time I heard her speak and I found the dancers to be so motivated,” says Atkins.
When her husband's job in finance with Charles Schwab required a move to South Florida, Atkins was more than ready to make the leap to a new company.
"I sent my audition material to MCB and then eventually, Lourdes Lopez, contacted me and asked if I could come take class for a few days with the company. She and the rest of the artistic staff watched those few days and that led to her giving me a contract," recalls Atkins.
Joining MCB for the 2020-2021 season, Atkins was soon fortunate to be dancing in major roles. She performed the "Diamonds" pas from “Jewels,” the Siren in “The Prodigal Son,” and the lead woman in “Symphony in Three Movements” among other repertory.
Lopez recalls the moment that she knew the dancer was ready to move up to principal artist.
“It was 'Diamonds,' I believe, her first season with us and after a long three-month injury. The rehearsals were fine, and she was technically and physically ready, but it was her interpretation on the stage that blew me away,” says Lopez. “The ballerina in 'Diamonds' moves in a kind of solitary splendor. This splendor can be emotionally detached from partner and audience, or be more dramatic or, romantic.”
Lopez says that Atkins, however, heard the Tchaikovsky music "differently" and interpreted the choreography ‘differently.’
“Dawn heard elation in the music and found joy in the steps,” recalls Lopez. “It was such an unexpected interpretation, one that I had never seen before, but worked totally. It was how Dawn heard the music and (how she) felt about the choreography.”
So now, for the 20-23-2024 Miami City Ballet season, Atkins begins the journey as Principal Artist.
“There is something special about all types of dance,” Atkins says when asked if there is a certain style of dance she likes the best.
“I try to be an everything dancer. I love the black and white Balanchine ballets. With my body type (long limbed) I would tend to move slower, to be a jumper. Funny, everything is fast in MCB.”
“You wouldn't immediately see it, because of her length,” says Lopez. “How fine and narrow she is and her demeanor, but she's a strong classical dancer.
While Atkins is very much a ballerina, at home she is a wife, and also a mother to a golden retriever and pug. She takes care of her body with pilates and acupuncture and says she eats a healthy regimen of food.
"When I’m home with my husband and dogs, I love when I can disconnect. It honestly takes a little bit to do that depending on the demands at work. I sometimes go a whole weekend and never feel like I really disconnect. Other times, I am proud to say I do. With that in mind, I always try to operate respectfully to my body and my career choice. For example, if we’re spending time in the mountains, I elect not to ski because I feel that puts me in unnecessary risk for my career."
While her favorite foods are spicy, she says that prior to a performance, she eats a bland diet.
“With the nerves before a show, I like to keep it very simple, such as toast with avocado. I think I’ve gotten better with choices over the years. But we always have a little white chocolate in the dressing room,” she reveals.
Atkins says being promoted to principal artist is an honor.
“I’ve been really fortunate in my career,” she says. “More than specific roles to add, I hope I can just keep growing as a dancer and be a positive role model for others.”
Dawn Atkins can be seen in Miami City Ballet Season 2023-24. To see the line up of shows and subscription packages currently on sale, go to miamicityballet.org/subscriptions