Robert Kelley and Diane Cypher are celebrating 20 years as Co-Executive Artistic Directors of Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre – one of our amazing grantee organizations. We caught up with Robert earlier this week. Read on or click here for tickets to Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre’s Spring Production March 24 & 25.

How did you get into dance, and ballet specifically?

I started dancing as an 18-year-old. I was dating a girl who was a professional in Washington Ballet Company. One day, she came home saying that her feet hurt. When I wondered out loud how bad her feet could possibly hurt from “just dancing,” she offered me $50 to take a beginning ballet class. So I took the dare, and went to take the class. I refused to wear panty hose, and thought, “As soon as I figure out the pas de bourree I’ll be done.” It turned out that I had a really forgiving body and I was super flexible – and I loved it. I had heard from my girlfriend that everyone in the ballet community lies about their age. So I said I was 13 and got a scholarship.

It’s your 20th anniversary with Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre! Looking back, is there something that stands out that you’re particularly proud of?

I’m really proud of the high production quality of our performances, which comes down to the talent we’ve attracted and the dedication of our staff (most of whom have been here since the beginning). We’ve all been working together for so many years we have shared knowledge at this point.

Your Spring Concert is coming up in a couple weeks. What is most exciting to you in the lineup? 

Well, we have one of my pieces (Pivot) which we haven’t produced for a while. We’re also doing Act 2 of Swan Lake. Very rarely do we have the level of talent needed to pull off Swan Lake. We were last able to put do it in 1999, and both dancers went on to be principal dancers with professional companies. This year we have Ava Rose Dylan (14) and Ryan Gonzalez (16) – they both have come up through the petite company and are incredible dancers.

Looking ahead, what is something you’re particularly excited about in terms of SCBT’s future?

We’re still working on how to get more involved at the Tannery (and ultimately move there). In the near term, I’m always excited about the talent level that walks in the door on a daily basis.

What else do you like to do for fun?

I’m a super competitive dressage rider, and have won multiple championships. My current horse, J.D. (short for “Juvenile Delinquent”) is a big lug of love, he’s the most challenging and the most talented horse I’ve worked with!

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