Getting to know Garrett Smith

The Choreographer Creating Not So Tiny Waves Worldwide

Accomplished dancer and freelance choreographer Garrett Smith shares everything from his choreographic journey, to culinary interests, and using Instagram as a business tool. His work is sought after by companies and dancers worldwide and recently crossed over into commercial television with Netflix’s Tiny Pretty Things. This is just the beginning for this creative genius! 

I first had the pleasure of working with Garrett Smith in 2015 when he created Facades at Ballet West. At that time, he was still dancing with The Norwegian National Ballet. Since then, Garrett has fully transitioned to a rapidly flourishing freelance choreographic career. To date, in addition to Facades with Ballet West, he has created works on The Bolshoi Ballet, The Mariinsky Ballet, Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montréal, Opéra National de Bordeaux, The Norwegian National Ballet, Houston Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Tulsa Ballet, and Pennsylvania Ballet.  His work appearing in the current Netflix series Tiny Pretty Things has now brought him to the forefront of the commercial choreographic scene. 

Ballet Choreographer Garrett Smith Tiny Pretty Things

It was lovely having the recent opportunity to reconnect and chat with Garrett while he visited his family in Utah. Garrett is charmingly handsome, with a delightful sense of humor and incredible eye for beauty. From a competition kid, to internationally recognized choreographer, this is sure to be just the beginning for this creative genius. 

Photo Jenny Dustman Nielson

How did choreographing for Tiny Pretty Things come about? 

Jennifer Nichols, who is the head choreographer, was in charge of scouting out choreographers and she just noticed me on Instagram. She’s located in Toronto, Canada, which is also where it was filmed, and I guess because I was working in Montreal at the time, the hashtags were close to her feed because of the algorithm. Or maybe she was following me? I don’t know, but she really liked what I was doing in Montreal and she contacted me through Instagram. For me, Instagram is a business tool. I’ve gotten a lot of offers through there. My work is in episodes 5 – “Split Sole,”  7 – “Catch and Release,” 8 – “Releve” and 10 – “Push Comes to Shove.”

What was that choreographic process like?

I was in Toronto in October of 2019 for ten days, so it was minimal time. I had to recycle choreography from other creations and kind of fuse some things together. There were some things I created on the spot there, but there was just limited time. 

How did it feel to work on a more commercial mainstream project coming from such a classical ballet background?

I actually have that background growing up in Utah. I was a competition kid before I was a classical artist, so I am well versed with that world. There’s just a different type of mentality and work ethic from the commercial world versus ballet company world. I think that background made me more versatile. I like to have versatility when I create. I love working with big ballet companies on pointe, but I also love working with small contemporary companies in socks. I don’t want to get stuck in one thing, or labeled as “he’s just this.” 

Photo: Maude Sabourin in “Complete” for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens by Sasha Onyshchenko

Would you say opportunities like Tiny Pretty Things are rare for choreographers?

Yeah, it came out of nowhere and I’m really lucky that I got to do it. It was number one worldwide for a week, and now it’s still in the top ten worldwide (at the time of the interview) and doing really well. It’s so cool to be like let’s go watch Netflix, I choreographed that. 

Photo: “Imitation” for Norwegian National Ballet by Jörn Wiesner

The choreographer on Tiny Pretty Things is a bit, hmm lets say, intense? Are there any aspects of that character you relate to in any way? 

Laughs* No. 

Did you have mentors that helped you develop as a choreographer? How do you feel about the importance of access to opportunities for potential choreographers?

I’ve had mentors all throughout my life and I would always ask choreographers and dancers questions. I was always trying to find out information. 

The way I had access was through choreographic workshops. I think every company should have choreographic workshops for their dancers and provide some way for dancers to have time to work and play around in the studio. I got to choreograph in Houston’s summer program, which is where I got to work and be noticed in the beginning, and then it just sort of grew. I got opportunities in the second company based upon pieces I had done in the summer program and then I got into the school, then Houston Ballet II, and they kept letting me choreograph. I applied for the New York Choreographic Institute and I got that as an apprentice. I got to choreograph a piece on Houston Ballet as an apprentice and that got put in the gala. I would just seek out any opportunity. I was always the first person to sign up. 

Photos: Anne Sylvie Bonnet

How has quarantine made you reflect on your life path and career?

There are so many things I’m interested in: architecture, building my own show in Barcelona, and getting a culinary education… opening up a cafe and creating my own menu and having a cute coffee/bakery shop. I would love that. I feel like cooking is still creative. Creating a menu is just like being a choreographer because you create something that the audience gets to digest and experience, just like dance. 

But I love choreographing so much I don’t know if I could actually stop. I’ve had many moments of being worried about how I am going to pay my bills. Sometimes it’s hard as a freelance choreographer because you never know when work is going to come your way. I feel like I’ve really had to push and hunt for work. I have moments of feeling very confident about it and then not. I would love to choreograph for NDT and for more companies in Europe.

What have been some of your most memorable moments as a choreographer? 

Choreographing for The Mariinsky and The Bolshoi was like wow, I cannot believe I’m here at The Bolshoi! That was amazing just because of what it is; just the immensity of that world and how many people are in The Bolshoi, Russia. My piece closed the festival at Bolshoi; it was all these men in tutus, it was really cool. Also at Houston Ballet when I created Reveal in 2015, that was a very special time. I loved that time, and I loved that piece. And creating Forbidden Paths for Bruce Wood Dance, because of the message of what it was: dedicating that to Iranian people. That was really special. I received probably 25,000 followers after that in two weeks, all from Iran. My big following, you could see on my (Instagram) statistics, was from Iran (Tehran) because of all the people who were so happy that I was supporting their struggles in their country. 

Photo 1: Arian Molina Soca Photo 2: Yohan Terraza Photo 3: Alexander Iziliaev

Can you tell us more about that?

I was in Norway creating a piece and I posted a teaser – a very fun, light, comical moment from this piece – and a guy reposted it who was following me from Iran. I didn’t understand what the language was saying in his post, but he was saying, “dance brings joy to people, as you can clearly see in this teaser.” I was like, well, why are you saying that? And he said it’s not legal for men and women, or people, to even touch each other and perform in public in this way. Dance schools don’t really exist there. People are dancing in basements, in secret, in hiding. There were people (in Iran) who made a music video dancing to Will Pharrell’s “Happy” and they all got detained and arrested. It’s just so crazy that that is not even legal. People there are prohibited from performing freely in a way that we take for granted. 

People complain, myself included, that coronavirus has taken away all these things from performing artists. But even when coronavirus is over, people in Iran still won’t have the ability to dance like we do. And because of social media, they see that. I have so many people messaging me asking for help. 

So I decided to dedicate the piece I made for Bruce Wood Dance to them and I used all Persian music. It received a lot of attention from people in Iran. I was supposed to host a workshop for Iranian people in Turkey, because they don’t need a visa to travel to Turkey, but because of coronavirus we couldn’t. 

David King Reflects:

Perhaps the key to Garrett’s creativity is, in fact, derived not only from the versatility of his dance career, but the disciplines and cultural textures of his outside creative interests, as well. I personally easily identify with his desire to cultivate design and culinary arts as a part of his artistic path. It has been the ability to draw on those expressions that has kept me somewhat refreshed and pushing forward throughout quarantine, the pandemic and the subsequent erosions and contortions of ballet and the performing arts. I am anxious to see how he draws on those disciplines and his personal aspirations in his future work to expand his choreographic vocabulary throughout his career. It’s sure to be anything but tiny.

David King on Garrett Smith