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Q&A: Olivia Clark on retirement, favorite roles and what’s next

[image_with_animation image_url=”7462″ alignment=”center” animation=”None”]Longtime dancer Olivia Clark will take her final bow Saturday, Nov. 7, at the last performance of Dracula.

Ms. Clark has been with BalletMet since 1998, totaling 18 seasons with the company under three artistic directors.

She trained in the BalletMet Dance Academy Pre-Professional Program, received the Lucy Porter Scholarship and the Violetta Boft Award. She performed in Poland as part of the International Contemporary Dance Festival and toured with BalletMet in Russia. Ms. Clark has worked with many esteemed choreographers, including James Kudelka and Dwight Rhoden.

She’s married to Ballet Master Hisham Omardien and together they have two children.

“It’s time for me to focus on being a mom,” she said of her retirement, which she announced in August. “And I’m excited about that.”

Here, Ms. Clark discusses her favorite roles, future plans and advice for young dancers. A transcript of the interview is below.[vc_video link=””]
What went into your decision to retire?

I have two children now. I have an 8-year-old daughter, Safiyyah, and a 6-month-old son, Zayn. And when I was on maternity leave with my second child, it started me thinking about moving on to what’s next in my life. Safiyyah is getting to the age where she’s wanting to do things after school and clubs at school. She’s got quite a busy social life. So it’s time for me to be there for her so she can say yes to whatever she wants to do. And then also of course be there for Zayn. It’s time for me to focus on being a mom, and I’m excited about that.

What has been your favorite role?

I’ve had a lot of favorite roles. Some that really stick out for me would be Mina in David Nixon’s Dracula. Another one of my all-time favorites is being the woman in James Kudelka’s The Man in Black—one of the highlights of my career, being the original cast for that and being in the room when he created it. It was an amazing experience. Some other favorites are Fortuna in Dwight Rhoden’s Carmina Burana. I also got the chance to do Carmen in Amadeo Amodio’s Carmen, which was amazing. I love being Clara in The Nutcracker. We do it every year, but it is such a magical ballet. I love that time of year, and I love the role of Clara. That was so special for me.

What will you miss about being a BalletMet dancer?

I will miss the camaraderie of the company. There’s something that really binds artists together when you’re going out on stage to perform together. You’re in it together. You all have your different roles to play, but you’re all going out there, maybe a little nervous, especially for opening night, but you know you’re all going to pull together and make it happen. And that’s really a unique and cool feeling to experience with a group of your friends and peers. I’ll miss the rehearsal process because I love being in the studio, especially with a choreographer when they’re coming up with something new. As a dancer in a piece, you do have a little bit of input on what the steps are. You can help, you can give a little bit of your artistic side as well into it, so I’ll miss that creative process. I’ll also miss you when you have a role, really diving into it and seeing what new things you can do with it or how you can tell the story in a new way. I’ve always loved doing that, really dissecting a part and seeing what you can do with it just to make it a little more special or find moments on stage to really bring more to life for the audience. I’ll also miss hanging out at the theater. I think it’s such a cool backstage atmosphere before shows and after when you’re usually celebrating a little bit.

What’s next for you?

My future plans are, like I said, to be a mom and to allow myself to be open to what comes next. As a dancer, for me I had to really be laser-focused on becoming a dancer when I was preparing to join a company. All of my thought and energy went into finding that job and making it work and then doing the best I could. And for me, I felt all of my energy had to go into that, which was a good thing at the time. I’ve never said, “Well, what am I doing next?” Now it’s time for me to do that. I’ll be being a mom, but I’ll also be thinking what is my next step? And I can’t give you a clear, definite answer what that is today. I’m going to take some time and focus on myself and see what happens next.

Can you share some advice for young dancers?

You know what, people have been amazing. Since I announced my retirement, people have been writing me or coming up to me in the hallways or even at the grocery store and telling me things like, “You know what, I was going through a really hard time, and then I came to a performance and you did this piece, and it was amazing and it made me feel better.” Or somebody said, “I was having a really bad day and then I saw this really funny ballet, and it made me laugh and it turned my day around.” Or somebody saying, “I was having this problem in my life and then I saw a ballet and you made me think about it differently, and I came up with this solution.” And like, that’s why we do it, you know? Don’t forget that. Because it’s easy to get wrapped up in the technique of things. And technique is so important, absolutely, because technique is the tool we use to tell the stories we’re trying to tell. But don’t forget that ultimately it’s about the story, and it’s about bringing these moments to the audience. It’s about making them feel something or making them laugh or think about something a different way. That’s what it’s all about. In giving the audience moments like that, you find beautiful moments for yourself.