With nearly 40 years in the dance world, Robert Mills is a veteran performing arts professional. Originally from Indiana, Mills danced for both Tulsa Ballet and Ballet Oklahoma (now Oklahoma City Ballet) during his 16-year professional career before moving into art direction and education. During his tenure dancing in Oklahoma, Mills forged close bonds that would later help him land the job of artistic director at OKC Ballet, where he has been since 2008. We caught up with Mills and got his thoughts on … 

 … highlights at
OKC Ballet. 

When I inherited the artistic director position, the company was on very poor footing. There are so many things I take pride in – the most obvious and tangible would be our capital campaign and the acquisition of our beautiful new building, the Susan E. Brackett Dance Center. I am also proud of how much our school has expanded; the fall and spring year-round programs have nearly quadrupled. 

The organization had no summer intensive training program; I instituted one early in my tenure. Now, it draws anywhere between 150-200 students from around the U.S. – and the world – each summer.  

When I was hired, the company had been in place for over 35 years but had never done full length versions of classics like Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty with live orchestra. I am proud to have added these staples to our repertory and other full length works like Bournonville’s La Sylphide. 

Our community engagement programs have gone from one to six, reaching thousands more in our community. We are attracting top level dancers and choreographers from around the world.   

… effects of the 
COVID-19 crisis.

Like many performing arts organizations, we had to cancel some performances, postpone others, and we’ve closed our facility to the public, which means we have put our school on pause until further notice. Lastly, all of our staff is working from home. We are trying to engage with our core audience and patrons with online “virtual” experiences. We have been holding free classes for various levels on Instagram live, uploading snippets from past performances of the professional company, and some of our community engagement programs have continued via Zoom, like our Dance for Parkinson’s program. 

Oklahomans can help by donating the cost of any tickets to canceled performances, events or classes back to nonprofit performing arts groups like Oklahoma City Ballet. They can also purchase season tickets for the upcoming 2020-2021 performance season. Donating anything you can in addition to these purchases is also greatly needed. Organizations like us depend on giving in the best and most normal of years. So now, more than ever, we need your generosity.   

… the dynamic nature of
his organization.

Oklahoma City Ballet is much more than just our professional performances. We teach, we engage and we bring people together. Our facility usually has more than 300 people pass through its doors on a daily basis. There is a mix of professional dancers, administrative staff, ticket buyers, young students and their families, older students and very special populations like those who attend Dance for Parkinson’s or Chance to Dance. We provide a place for the community to come and enjoy dance in many ways. 

… his goals.

Our goal right now is to be nimble and creative at a time when there is so much uncertainty. When we come out of this pandemic, and the inevitable recession that will follow, we will continue our mission in the best way that we can. 

There are simple answers, like a longer performance season for our dancers by adding a fifth production on our mainstage Civic Center season, a 50th anniversary season celebration, and future projects with giants in our industry. For right now though, it is about making sure we can weather the storm. 

… community service.

It has been important to me from the beginning of my time here that we find ways to give back to a community that we so heavily rely on for funding.  It perpetuates our art form into the future while providing what can often times be a life-changing experience to those with whom we engage. I support art and culture in our community; my partner and I enjoy supporting the Oklahoma City Museum of Art and Oklahoma Contemporary. We attend performances by Oklahoma City Ballet’s fellow performing arts groups like the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and Lyric Theatre and serve on various boards.