2019 is our 50th anniversary and we are championing some of the people who help make Scottish Ballet a great place to work. Each week we will introduce you to a different career at Scottish Ballet and the person behind it.
Matthew O'Hare joined Scottish Ballet as Company Manager in 2017. Previously he had been a Scottish Ballet Junior Associate before going on to study at the London Contemporary Dance School. It was there Matthew first got his taste for performance tour management, a career he further developed during his time at Bern Ballet before moving into project management in the public sector.
We caught up with Matthew to hear more about his transition from dancer to company management, and why he is proud to work at Scottish Ballet.
How did you start dancing?
I come from a large and musical family, so we always had some great music going on in our busy household. The Bee Gees got me dancing around our little flat in Easterhouse, Glasgow, and my mum reckoned I should try out dance classes at our local school – The Valerie Brown School of Dance in Hamilton. I went along to watch a modern (jazz) class and was itching to be a part of the group; had it not been for another male in the group I don’t think I would have joined.
I spent a very happy few years dancing in the evenings and weekends there until my teacher asked if I’d heard of Scottish Ballet who had a Junior Associate programme. I hadn’t, and soon after began coaching in ballet before successfully auditioning for the programme. Penny Withers ran the Junior Associate programme at the time in SB’s old 261 Princess Street premises. She instilled strong discipline and technique in us all that served me well through my training and performance years. Had it not been for a generous private benefactor, I’d never have been able to access that training and may well have had a very different career and life path.
Can you describe the transition from dancer to company management?
My ballet tutor at London Contemporary Dance School, Patricia Rianne – a founding Principal dancer at Scottish Ballet – asked in my final year of undergraduate studies if I’d like to coordinate the graduate performance tour. It was the first opportunity I had liaising with venues, looking at technical aspects we’d been taught, and spending time either back or front of house making sure the performance and logistics of the tour ran smoothly and to a high standard.
I loved it, and very early into my apprenticeship performing with Bern Ballet in Switzerland, under Cathy Marston’s direction, I flagged my desire to learn everything there is to know about company management. Cathy was incredible; she opened her books on what it takes to deliver a production, how much it costs, and how to deliver a tour. I shadowed the then company manager, Wanda Puvogel, planning and delivering tours throughout Switzerland. Cathy put her faith in me by giving me my first budget to deliver a run of performances ‘Made in Bern’ in our contemporary performance venue Vidmarhallen.
That was the first time I really worked on the full spectrum of performance planning and stepped off-stage to enjoy the work the wonderful dancers had created. On opening night, the company unexpectedly took me onto the stage for a curtain call, an incredible honour in the arts world. Their appreciation and belief in my management abilities that night cemented my desire to follow a career in arts management.
I was fortunate and ambitious to acquire a portfolio of significant roles in the creative sector. From co-founding John Ross Dance to winning the Matthew Bourne choreographic award in its second year; working on the 2014 Commonwealth Games cultural programme and running the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s external engagements agency before making a corporate move into the public sector project managing international trade missions for Scottish Ministers.
All these roles equipped me with a strong discipline in project management, a global network of change-makers, and the fortune of having a succession of fantastic managers who believed in what I can achieve. All were helping coach and develop transferrable skills that I use every single day at SB.
What made you want to work for Scottish Ballet?
I had spent a pretty reasonable amount of time working at Scottish Enterprise / Scottish Development International delivering global trade missions for the highest levels of government and loved the role. In 2016 I was part of the team who supported the delivery of ‘Scotland Week’ throughout North America for Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP. Scottish Ballet became a key highlight of the cultural aspects of that programme, and it re-ignited my passion for dance.
While I wasn’t actively looking to make any moves, I became increasingly aware of the bold international agenda of ground-breaking work that the company were producing in impressive theatres around the world. That combined with the inspirational leadership Christopher Hampson was exhibiting, delivering leadership talks for TED talks and beyond, it was an attractive draw and obvious next step, drawing on my past training and experience.
In early 2018 an opportunity arose to take up the company management position, and I was determined to give my very best to secure the role. It’s been a huge learning curve, and I continue to learn every day and be inspired by a terrific team of staff and world-class performers. I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve collectively achieved during that time and excited for what the next few seasons have in store, particularly during our ambitious ‘Five in Five’ campaign.