In this interview, Sarah Tallman discusses how success is about perspective.
Hi, Sarah, let’s start with why you would see yourself as just starting in your career.
Each moment is new. I know that sounds a bit trite, but I feel there is an evolution to my work in the world that makes it seem as though I’m just beginning. Every aspect and experience from now and up until this point has all been a collection of beautiful wins and losses, elegance and failure, trust, loss, joy, etc. Together, as I do my best to stay present, I am always beginning anew. I feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible for me. That totally lights me up.
It’s your thirteenth season with Wonderbound and I’m curious as to what aspects of that company has kept you this committed?
I love this question. Hands down, it is because of the work we do and the challenges that exist within the work we do. I am always receiving opportunities to access new parts of myself, which keeps me in a growth mindset. I've had the chance to wear pointe shoes; speak on stage; work with magicians, poets, actors, musicians, [and] visual artists; perform my own written dialogue, [and] choreograph on myself and the company.
There is also a larger aspect of service that extends beyond our audience. Wonderbound serves the homeless, Alzheimer’s patients, and underprivileged youth, all through the art of dance. There is an attention [to] and theme [of] excellence that keeps my heart and soul both challenged and satisfied—sort of like just the right amount of food at a really great restaurant. At once you’re taken care of, well fed, and nourished in the process.
You’d mentioned before that the direction of a company is integral to the development of the dancer. Will you speak more on that?
When I think about the direction of the company, I’m looking at that in terms of its mission, vision, and overall work in the world. Is the company committed to growth in words and action? I have grown as an artist and athlete because of my commitment to personally developing myself, but also because Wonderbound has facilitated a space to grow and really set a precedent to grow as artist, athlete, and human. My growth in all of these areas feels [like] it’s been expedited and fully supported as a result of the far-reaching goals of the company.
You’re a dancer and a choreographer, which is a similar relationship to that of a curator and an artist. Has existing in one role influenced the other?
Absolutely! I say that with exuberance because I’m very proud and simultaneously humbled by the ability, capacity, and opportunity to function in these two roles. There’s, of course, a practicality to it all. I know very few choreographers who were not first dancers. There are exceptions to everything, and I know that they exist; however, the relationship I have to my physical self and the access I have to my emotional self because I am a dancer has created a beautiful platform and transition to that of choreographer. That being said, they absolutely access completely different parts of the brain. Both are problem-solving endeavors, although one is the creation of the puzzle and the other is attention toward mastery of the puzzle piece.
Because I currently am involved with both, they definitely influence each other, although I am very clear and work very hard at shifting in and out of each role as needed.
When you reflect on your career, is there advice that you wished you’d been given [when] you were starting?
Overall I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had wonderful, supportive mentors and a reliance on my intuition to guide me through each experience. I would say that there is a fine line between “paying your dues” and being taken advantage of. I’m not sure I would have believed it at the time, but I would say that it’s perfectly okay to try something and not like it. It’s okay to walk away from a job that you end up not liking. Just because it’s a job in dance doesn't make it a great job. There are many other factors. I would also say that if you walk away from a job, do so with grace. The world is very small, and you WILL meet people again, and somehow, some way we are all connected. The dance world is really like three degrees of separation.
I also think I would like to have been told that the “starving artist” is an archetypal myth. Artists should be respected, and to attach “starving” [to their title], or [make statements like] “artists don’t make money” is a disservice to Art and to the Artist. It perpetuates the cycle of fear and scarcity around money [instead of teaching] how to not just survive, but thrive as an artist. It also perpetuates a cycle of the Artist needing to be in a particular state of mind in order to create. It’s not necessary to eat ramen or rice and beans because you aren’t being paid. Eat it because you like it, not because you’re an artist and you’ve been forced into thinking it’s how you’re supposed to live.
You’ve mentioned that it is possible to do what you love and be successful. But nothing comes without sacrifice. What were the things that you had to compromise on in order to pursue your career?
Hmmm...On one hand I haven't sacrificed a thing because I’ve been able to create a career out of my work. My livelihood and “outside of dance life” was still within the dance world, and any sacrifice was made with intention and love. For example, a pro athlete doesn't participate some of the time, they do their work ad nauseam in order to create results. Same thing as a dancer, musician, writer, etc. It’s a full-time-plus job. So, my friends and family are either in the dance world or highly attuned to what I do. As I’ve progressed through my career, I can look back and see where I’ve said no to concerts, social events, family vacations, dinners, etc. that in retrospect were hard for me to miss. In some ways it drove my spirit and love to do my best work. My mindset at the time was, “If I’m going to miss out on (blank), I better make this performance, rehearsal, etc. the best I’ve ever done.”
Yes, there is a pressure to that, but on some level, I thrive on the pressure. Now I definitely make more space for life outside of ballet. I never totally get away, but I do realize how important it is to make space for things I love. It feeds my artistic soul, and that’s really important in terms of longevity and harnessing or understanding my creative spirit. The time I take is in direct communication with how much I trust myself. So, that’s been another important learning curve.
What are you working on now?
I’m getting ready to go back on contract! Last season was full with my regular dancer duties, plus two professional commissions and two pre-professional commissions, as well as the re-staging of an older work and appearance as both dancer and choreographer at the Vail International Dance Festival! Five days off to relax and headed back in for the new season. I have a couple of different projects in my back pocket: some choreographic projects, some writing projects, redesigning and relaunching my website, and teaching. Things will pop up throughout the year. That would be another piece of advice I wish I had known. Plan and then forget the plan! Something will always come through as long as there is a balance of work and play.