Ashley Tuttle

The former ABT principal reunites with Twyla Tharp.

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Has that changed your dancing?
I feel there's more of a weight to my dancing, or a stronger presence in a sense. Maybe I'm not as waiflike? I don't know. I can't see myself; it's more of what I feel. Maybe instead of feeling like a little girl, I feel more like a woman. My legs don't go as high, but my joints...I don't feel old. After this show, I want to keep dancing. I found that I need to be around like-minded people—I need to be around artists. It makes me feel not as much of a misfit. [Laughs] The thing I can say is dance is the language I speak best, and I haven't been able to speak it in a while. I was able to finally speak. I feel like sometimes maybe I shout too much now: "I can dance!" But I'm just really enjoying it and feel very blessed to be given this opportunity. I didn't have to disappear. It's on my terms now.

Did you approach Twyla when you heard she was working on this show?
I had gotten to a point where I felt confident enough to put myself out there again. On occasion I would sneak away from construction and get to a late 4:30 class. I e-mailed Twyla and said, "I'm interested in dancing. Do you have anything? I'll dance for free. It's not about the money, but I need this for my soul, and if anything what I've realized about not being in the dance world is that I need to be in the dance world." I got an e-mail back saying, "I'm having an audition for this new show I'm doing, so you're welcome to come." [Takes a deep breath] I'm like, Okay, I've got an audition. Pull myself together. She obviously hasn't seen me in a few years, so it's not outrageous for her to say that to me by any means, and she's heard that I haven't been dancing, and Twyla is very much about fitness and being in shape. I'm sure part of her wanted to make sure I was. The unfortunate thing was that the audition was the next week. [Laughs nervously] I was working as hard as I could—sit-ups in my living room, the whole thing, and I went to the audition. After, all she said to me was, "Keep working." I knew I wasn't presenting myself as the best dancer in the world, but it was like I was home. I was with my people.

What happened?
I got a callback to the next audition. And then she was Twyla: "Do it this way, do it that way." Twyla will push you, which I adore. She was on me, and pushing, and I appreciated that, and then she offered me a swing position in the Atlanta show. I was just so honored to be back in her world and dancing.

Did you have moments of insecurity coming back into the world like that?
Absolutely.

When I was watching rehearsals a year ago, you seemed in control.
You're so sweet. I am so neurotic. [Laughs] I'm extremely insecure. A friend of mine who was at both auditions had said, "You came to that first audition, and you were kind of out of shape." I was huffing and puffing and turning bright red and falling over, but they said, "You came back two weeks later, and you had pulled yourself together more." I had needed time. So Twyla had me as a swing. I put on my heels. I was swinging all three ensemble dancers. One dancer hurt herself, so on the second day Twyla said, "Okay, you're in—this is your spot." Now besides being insecure that I haven't been dancing, I'm also doing something that's not my first thing. "You've got to be really flirty and sexy and pop your hip." So definite moments of insecurity. Should I have come back to this? I have a touch of stage fright as well, but when we got to, I was on for eight shows a week. It was great. I could find my path again. If there's any critique of ABT, it was [about] time—you weren't on enough. You might do Swan Lake once or twice a year, and then there's a lot of pressure that it has to be better than it was the last time. So the Broadway part of it was great—you get to be on a lot.

How did you start playing Betsy?
Twyla asked me to do a different part. This part was much more pink. And other insecurities came up. I know how to play this because I have certain mannerisms, let's say, or ways to do it.

Check out our past coverage of Ashley Tuttle:
Holding court ABT's divine Ashley Tuttle finds inspiration in Balanchine—and basketball.
Turning points The good-bye girl.

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