Feb 10, 2023 - Business

Incoming ballet leader calls Nashville "Dance City"

Nick Mullikin works with dancers at the Nashville Ballet.

Nick Mullikin works with dancers at the Nashville Ballet. Photo: Karyn Kipley/courtesy of the Nashville Ballet

Incoming Nashville Ballet artistic director Nick Mullikin wants students training here to know they can start at the bottom and earn their way to the top of the company.

  • After all, that's how he did it.

Flashback: Mullikin launched his career as the school registrar for the Nashville Ballet, working the front desk and handling administrative duties.

Why it matters: Mullikin is faced with the tall task of replacing a legend. He wants to push the Nashville Ballet to new heights.

What he's saying: "I came in and restarted my career in Nashville," Mullikin tells Axios.

  • He was a professional dancer in Salt Lake City, where he was voted to be the company's union representative.
  • But an unexpected injury stopped him from dancing and forced him to find a new way to pursue his passion.
  • After a brief stint in management in Salt Lake City, Millikin took a break to enroll at the University of Texas in Austin and then wound up at his entry-level job with the Nashville Ballet in 2015.

By the numbers: Since he's been directing the Nashville Ballet's second company, there's been an 800% increase in dancers earning job placements across the country.

  • He has a knack for developing talent. Fourteen dancers, which represent over 40% of the Nashville Ballet's top company dancers, were trained by Mullikin.

What's next: "We want to make sure the ballet is something uniquely Nashville," he says. "The city is something special. There's such a sense of creativity. There are so many talented people who live here who want to collaborate."

  • "We are a creative hub, and I think it's incumbent on the city's ballet company to emulate that. We're a dance city and a place where ideas are born."
  • Creative collaborations include ballets with scores by Rhiannon Giddens for the renowned ballet “Lucy Negro Redux” and Ben Folds.

Zoom in: Mullikin also says continuing to promote diversity will be foundational to his tenure.

  • "When you look at our company it looks like our city, and I think that's what the art is about rather than trying to replicate this one specific thing it's always been."
  • The Nashville Ballet was among the first in the art form to allow dancers to wear tights that match their individual skin tones, instead of just pink tights.

If you go: The Nashville Ballet's next run of performances begins tonight with the debut of Vasterling's "Attitude: Anthology," which tells unheralded stories of people buried in the city cemetery.


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