August Tye, ballet mistress for Lyric Opera and founder of the Hyde Park School of Dance

Hyde Parker August Tye is a ballet dancer, teacher, and choreographer. She is ballet mistress at Lyric Opera of Chicago and the founder of the Hyde Park School of Dance (originally, the Hyde Park School of Ballet, which expanded its offerings and necessitated a name change). She began winning awards at the age of 15. Her dance school has about 475 students from 37 zip codes, and she quickly adopted the Zoom platform during the coronavirus pandemic so that she and other instructors could teach at a distance. She lives in Hyde Park with her husband, two daughters, one son, and three cats.

Over the last several days, via email, text, and phone, Tye spoke with me about her career in dance.

Rantala: What does a ballet mistress do?

Tye: A ballet mistress is for the dancers what the choral director is for the chorus. I help run dance auditions and provide a warm-up for the dancers before each rehearsal. I record all movement into my score for cueing and for musical reference. The choreographer usually leaves after opening night. At that point I am in charge of keeping the integrity of the movement exactly as it was opening night. If a dancer is injured or sick I prepare the understudy. Often, I help the choreographer navigate the AGMA Union rules and help them rehearse the singers who are asked to dance. Some choreographers are very collaborative with me and some have everything they want set. With each production my role is slightly different yet the same.

I am also considered the house choreographer at Lyric. If a show does not have a designated choreographer, I will be in charge of putting together a remount of the original production’s movement or choreograph original movement for the show in consultation with the director. Over the years I have developed a trusted relationship with the Lyric Opera Chorus and work with them frequently when they are chosen to dance.

A fringe benefit of the job is that I am often asked to help with remounts of Lyric productions at other opera companies. This has afforded me the opportunity to work at San Francisco Opera and London’s Royal Opera House in Lyric’s production of “Iphigénie en Tauride,” Dallas Opera in “Don Giovanni”, and the Saito Kinen Festival in Matsumoto, Japan in “Salome.” It’s an amazing job!

Rantala: How did you come to be ballet mistress at Lyric?

Tye: I danced professionally at Lyric for several seasons. In 1994 I danced in “Candide,” choreographed by Patricia Birch. Ten years later, after I had had other work experience with her, she came back to Lyric to choreograph the Robert Altman world premiere production of Bolcom’s “A Wedding” and she engaged me to be her assistant choreographer. I have worked at Lyric every season since, either as ballet mistress or house choreographer.

Rantala: What are some of the highlights of your career at Lyric?

Tye: “Iphigénie en Tauride,” mentioned earlier. “Dialogues des Carmélites” had a great production team with original direction by Robert Carsen and original choreography by Philippe Giraudeau. It’s all about the production for me. I’m a very visual person and this team makes very clean, minimalist yet striking productions. “Julius Caesar” with director Sir David McVicar and choreographer Andrew George. McVicar is a genius as far as I’m concerned. His attention to detail and his approach with the artists are incomparable. He knows what he wants to do with the piece when he arrives and works fast, knows everyone’s name, and gets the most out of the artists. His partner Andrew George provides the comic relief and a great balance to the team with intricate, fearless, and unique choreography. Any team who can make an almost five-hour opera fly by is a force to be reckoned with.

Rantala: What have you done most recently at Lyric Opera?

Tye: I was revival choreographer for “Madama Butterfly,” restaging the original choreography for the Geishas. I am the original choreographer for the Robert Falls production of “Don Giovanni” which we remounted this fall at Lyric.

Rantala: Can you comment on the upcoming move by Joffrey Ballet to the Lyric Opera House?

Tye: As far as I know the move is basically a space sharing agreement. I know both organizations would like to cross-pollinate their audiences and build some nice season ticket packages together eventually. I think it would be fun if we could work together in performance as well, and that may happen organically as the two organizations grow closer to one another. I had the extreme pleasure of working with both organizations during their first collaboration: “Orphée et Eurydice.”

As ballet mistress for Lyric Opera, I sat in on all dance rehearsals alongside the Joffrey ballet mistress/master team. I recorded the movement into my score and shared with Lyric Opera stage management so that they would be able to cue dancers’ entrances, etc. I had the incredible experience of watching the legendary John Neumeier build the piece from square one with the dancers. I also got to know the Joffrey dancers and build some nice relationships.

Rantala: Please talk about the Hyde Park School of Dance.

Tye: When we founded the school in 1993 as a 501c3 not for profit, it was my dream to give back to young people who love dance what was given to me by my teacher.

I trained with my first ballet teacher, Therese Bullard, for 12 years. During that time I received impeccable Royal Academy of Dance ballet training — but that was just the tip of the iceberg. She wanted dance to prepare us for life. We learned there was no substitute for discipline and commitment to your art form — which in turn translates to discipline in all aspects of your life.

Teacher training was a requirement, so that we could have a career outside of performance yet directly relevant to our passion for dance. We were also encouraged to choreograph so that we could have a creative outlet for self-expression and also learn to work with peers.

Most importantly she taught us to give back. We performed for people of all ages from nursing homes to public schools. She never hesitated to help out a family who couldn’t pay full tuition. If it wasn’t for her generosity, my family could not have afforded the extensive training it took for my sister and me to be dancers.

When I had the opportunity to start a dance school I wanted to make sure I was giving back what was given to me. I don’t want a person’s economic situation, the color of their skin or shape of their body to ever inhibit them from dance training. Dance teaches life lessons and life skills that will set you up for success no matter what you decide to do with your career.

Rantala: Why did you choose to live in Hyde Park?

Tye: I love Hyde Park and the people. It’s integrated and diverse, and the public schools are good. I was sure it would be a great place for our kids to grow up.

Rantala: How has Gov. Pritzker's shelter in place order changed household life for your family?

Tye: We are all five home almost all day. We have family meals together almost every night and game night is every night. Before the pandemic we would be lucky to have one family meal together a week.

Rantala: You are married to Wilbur Pauley, whom I interviewed two weeks ago for the Herald. How did you meet?

Tye: We met when we both were cast in the Hal Prince production of “Candide” at Lyric in 1994. We started going out to play pool and see movies in our spare time.

Rantala: I understand your children sometimes ask Dad not to use his opera voice. Do you?

Tye: We can suggest that he not use his opera voice but he can’t help it especially when he’s feeling enthusiastic about something. So we usually just plug our ears if it gets too much, especially in the car.

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