Company dancer Nicole Haskins will be leaving Smuin at the end of the 2018/19 season to pursue other career opportunities. After six seasons with Smuin, where she balanced her performing career alongside her growing choreographic career, Haskins will be focusing her energy on choreography, teaching, and supporting the next generation of professional dancers.
Since joining the company as a dancer in 2013, Haskins has performed in numerous world premieres and choreographed several new works on the Company. Join us in celebrating her many accomplishments over the years as she reflects on her time with Smuin in the interview below.
What first drew you to ballet?
I started dancing when I was three. I think it was performing that really hooked me into the world of ballet. Being onstage and having the music and the lights [was really exciting for me.] For me, performing has been the closest thing I could find to meditative stillness. When I’m on stage, I never feel like I have to think; I’ve never been stressed or worried. I feel the most myself and the most at peace.
What are some of your favorite pieces, or memorable roles that you’ve danced in your time here?
My favorite role I’ve ever danced was Helen Pickett’s Petal. Getting to work with both [choreographer] Helen Pickett and [restager] Sarah Hillmer was a transformative experience for me. It was the first time I got to be a strong, powerful woman onstage and also dance a pas de deux. It was very rewarding to feel that one dancer could do many different things within a piece. I think it not only changed my dancing, but changed the way that I related to dancers as a choreographer, having worked with two incredibly powerful, thoughtful, and honest women.
I really loved getting to work with Val Caniparoli. He is such a wonderful presence in the studio. When we brought back Tutto Eccetto il Lavandino (everything but the kitchen sink), I got to do some really wonderful things, including a pas de deux with Robert Miller Moore. Getting to dance with an incredible partner like Robert and having someone like Val to coach me was just a really unique experience.
And, this season, getting to do Trey McIntyre’s Blue Until June has really been an incredible honor. I first learned that piece when I was in Washington Ballet from [restager] Erin Du, who then came to set it [on Smuin]. When I heard it was going to be added to Smuin’s rep, I was really hopeful that I would get a chance to perform it. It’s been beyond my wildest dreams. I got to dance a powerful female solo, but I think it’s a little more emotionally subdued than some of the powerful solos I usually do. Dancing that role, especially when it’s just me breathing onstage and feeling the audience completely with me, was such a reward I’ll never forget.
How has Smuin helped advance your career as a choreographer?
Since I joined [the Company], I’ve gotten to watch how a lot of choreographers work. I feel very lucky that while I was developing as a choreographer I got to watch other choreographers who are in the prime of their craft and see all the tools and techniques that they developed over the years.
I started choreographing at my [childhood] ballet school, and I was very fortunate that my teachers encouraged me. When I danced with Sacramento Ballet, they had a workshop where anyone could sign up to choreograph. It was really there that I realized that I could [share my own creative voice]. It was an extra bonus when I joined Smuin that the dancers were also provided this wonderful opportunity with the Choreography Showcase. You really have to practice choreography, just like any other art form. The fact that Smuin offers us a real performance space with lights and costumes is invaluable for anyone, whether or not they want to become a full-time choreographer in their next career or if they just want to try it out. It’s something that takes someone caring about the process to allow [aspiring choreographers] those opportunities.
You’ve had two mainstage premieres with the Company, how have those works helped shape your voice as a choreographer?
When Smuin’s Artistic Director Celia Fushille approached me about creating a piece for a main repertory program, I just couldn’t believe it. For her to trust in my abilities to run alongside a piece by Amy Seiwert and another by Trey McIntyre was truly special. I was so grateful that everyone gave 110% to really bring the beauty and the music to life within the piece. It was incredible to get to watch it every night. Getting to watch and to be with the audience is not something that you get to do as a choreographer. So, to create something of that magnitude and get to live with it the whole time it’s being performed was something I’ll never forget.
When Celia asked me about bringing back Merely Players from the [Choreography Showcase], I was really excited. I put a lot of effort in the structure and story of the piece. To come back to it with some of the same dancers, and some new dancers, was really cool. What I think I was the most impressed with was that I didn’t end up changing much. We initially had only 10 days to make the workshop piece, and I pretty much kept it the same except for two or three moments.
What makes Smuin special as a Company?
I think what makes Smuin unique is that it offers dancers the ability to be themselves. I never was asked to be another dancer while I was at Smuin, only the best version of myself, which I think is very rare and extremely valuable. You’re not losing time trying to change all the things about yourself, you’re only moving forward to find new and exciting ways within who you already are.
What will you take away from your experience as a dancer at Smuin?
Going forward, my wish for dancers is for them to believe in themselves enough to thrive. I hope dancers can experience the joy of not letting themselves worry about the little things. I think that we’re taught that ballet is about perfection, but it’s difficult when you’re held up against a standard that you’re never going to meet. You’re just supposed to keep coming in every day and working on it. At the end of the day, it really is about appreciating yourself and appreciating the incredible things that most no one else can do! It’s such a short career and there’s so many roadblocks along the way—I just feel extremely grateful that I’ve gotten to dance on my own terms, and dance in a way that I feel really proud with what I’ve gotten to do.