After 32 years as executive director of Chattanooga Ballet, Bob Willie is stepping down and will now assume the title of director emeritus. I first met Bob Willie when he assumed the position of executive director of the Chattanooga Ballet in 1986. I looked at this handsome, athletic young man and wondered what he knew about dance. A look at his resume showed a knowledge of dance, theater and production management, as well as important administrative and leadership skills that the Chattanooga Ballet needed.
A native of New York, Bob began his career as assistant director to Tony-award winning director/producer Joe Layton. He received his B.S. degree from East Carolina University, where he received the Chancellor’s Scholarship for Excellence in Theatre Performance. He continued his education in the MFA Acting/Directing program at the University of Louisville and at H.B. Studios in New York under the tutelage of Uta Hagen and Charles Nelson Reilly.
Founded in 1973 as the Chattanooga Center for Dance by William L. Montague Jr., Barbara Tepper, Tom and Barbara Donovan, Mel Young, Joni McNeil, Deanne Irvine, and Molly Miles, the ballet became incorporated into a non-profit arts organization known as the Chattanooga Ballet in 1975. It was essentially a school for dance with no company or productions. Things changed dramatically with the addition of Bob Willie as executive director.
Bob strongly supported the mission of a school for ballet but added professional dancers to form a ballet company, as well. He initiated the Chattanooga Ballet’s first production of “The Nutcracker” 30 years ago and added a spring concert, which has grown to feature new works by guest choreographers, as well as full length ballets such as “Act III of Sleeping Beauty.”
Bob Willie’s leadership, direction, hard work and vision led to many successes for the Chattanooga Ballet. The school has grown to over 400 students, male and female, and includes full time professional dancers/teachers, plus a number of part time professionals, as well as an artistic director. This group performs two concerts a year, plus many outreach performances and collaborations, including the very popular annual production of “The Nutcracker” that is performed at the Tivoli Theatre.
The Ballet’s outreach programs are extensive. It performs at Erlanger Hospital, CHI Memorial Hospital, many nursing and assisted living homes and schools and the Hunter Museum. In addition, there are many performances with the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera, including “The Nutcracker,” “Peter and the Wolf,” and others. Under Bob Willie, Chattanooga Ballet has worked with the Girls Choir, Chorale Arts Society, the Dismembered Tennesseans, and has developed an outreach program at the Maurice Poss Homes with Girls Inc.
Bob and the Chattanooga Ballet have not only served students and professional dancers well but have been an important part of this community. Bob has been involved with the Chattanooga Theatre Centre as an actor and director of award winning plays, worked with the UTC theatre department, and with the Center for Creative Arts magnet school on musical productions. He has worked with ArtsBuild and the Tennessee Arts Commission, and is considered a valuable resource and consultant by the TAC.
In 2007, Bob was honored by the Tennessee Association of Dance with the Margaret Martin Award for distinguished service and outstanding contributions to the art of dance in Tennessee. He has served as president of Tennesseans for the Arts, chairman of the Tennessee Arts Commission’s Theatre Grant panel, president of the Tennessee Association of Dance and as panelist for the Southern Arts Federation/ National Endowment for the Arts.
Bob’s leadership includes his excellent stewardship of the Chattanooga Ballet’s fundraising and finances. The Chattanooga Ballet has realized financial stability for the past 29 years under Bob’s leadership with a balance sheet that is almost unheard of in the arts world. In 2006, Bob raised the money to purchase and renovate the Ballet’s present location, the William L. Montague, Jr. Center for the Dance in North Chattanooga. Bob has written and received numerous grants for the ballet and contributed personal income, as well.
Bob and his wife, Robbin, created the Chattanooga Ballet’s successful annual fundraiser, Clara’s Boutique, to assist in updating sets and costumes for “The Nutcracker.” Not only serving as production manager for all productions since his arrival, he has helped build and maintain sets, sold tickets, been a part of the “load in” for performances, directed productions and, for most of the 30 years, portrayed Herr Drosselmeyer in “The Nutcracker.”
Bob Willie brought the Chattanooga Ballet to new levels of artistic and professional development, commissioning over 60 new works by American choreographers. He has truly brought a level of professionalism and artistic excellence to Chattanooga Ballet that its founders never imagined. We salute this remarkable man and amazing artist for all that he has done and offer our deepest gratitude and best wishes for his future endeavors.