Richardson — On Nov. 17, Tanju Tuzer, founder of the Richardson-based Tuzer Ballet, died at age 73 after a three-year battle with cancer. As a husband, father and friend, Tanju’s connections are mourning the loss of the man who inspired the lives and hearts of so many.
In December 2014, Tanju was diagnosed of late-stage cancer. “It surprised me, I truly treasure my health, because my profession, dancing, is very physical,” Tanju once told Art&Seek. “So, to get the most out of my body, I have to be in top shape all the time.”
Even so, he continued to teach—and to appear in The Nutcracker in what has become a beloved and most recognizable role, Herr Drosselmeier.
As a young dancer from Turkey, Tanju had danced in Germany, France and in New York City with the Harkness Ballet. There he met Patricia, a fellow dancer who was from North Texas. After extensive touring, the couple decided they wanted to start a family. They had grown tired of stage life and together they opened the Tuzer Dance School in Richardson. They now have two grown daughters and a grandson.
They constructed a 6,000-square-foot studio with a dance floor that was built on five layers of wood to give it the right response. As with everything they tackled, it was built perfectly.
If you build it, they will come.
And come they did. For 33 years, students poured into the studio and into the lives of Tanju and Patricia. In a statement released by the company board of directors:
“Tanju was an accomplished professional dancer on the international stage and one of classical ballet’s greatest ambassadors, he was a true artist and loved the artform like very few have. As a man, he was a craftsman, an adventurer, an avid fisherman, a gardener, a bee keeper, and a lover of the human spirit. As an artistic director and a teacher, he was the maestro, a brilliant oracle of dance who had a passion for connecting the body to the soul while teaching the art form to his students whom he loved dearly.”
Surrounded by family, Tanju left this world and now his legacy begins.
“This is my life’s work and I am firmly adamant that the Tuzer tradition of the Nutcracker continue,” said Tanju Tuzer from his home. “I expect great things to continue from Tuzer Ballet, both from its students and its plentiful alum worldwide.”
“It is very important for our children to hear live music, see a live performance and be exposed to performances that trigger some magic, broadening imagination and leaving deep impressions so that when they grow up, they have that dimension of art.”
Per Tanju’s request, his grandson will be introduced on stage prior to each Nutcracker performance and a foundation memorial fund has been set up in his name. The next generation of Tuzer will go on and his legacy will thrive.
As the company grieves, they have continued to prepare for their 33rd annual production of The Nutcracker. This will be the first in the company’s 33 years without Tanju Tuzer’s physical presence.
The Nutcracker is performed at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17 at the Charles W. Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts and is dedicated to Tanju. A tribute video commemorating his life will be presented immediately after each performance.
Proving that the dance community is one of the most tightly knit of any of the performing arts, the outpouring of alumni has been deeply moving and essential. Several Tuzer alumni will perform and assist back stage in support of their beloved mentor and lifelong friend. Their contribution to the production during this difficult time has helped the Tuzer Ballet stay on track. This community effort is a testament to how much weight and honor the Tuzer name carries for students new and old.
Travis Morrison, a Tuzer alum and a student of Physical Therapy at UTMB Galveston, will be assuming Tanju’s role of Herr Drosselmeier. Kimi Nikaidoh and Oliva Rehrman of Bruce Wood Dance have been overseeing rehearsals.
Taryn Mejia and Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye with the Kansas City Ballet will be headlining as the Snow Queen, Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. Zack Grubbs, also a Tuzer alum and current Academy Principal/Artistic Director with the Cincinnati Ballet, will lead rehearsals the week prior to the performance and fill a crucial role backstage for each show.
"The important thing was the man, the genius,” says a representative of the board. “His dedication to excellence and the passion he brought to the studio, the stage and beyond is irreplaceable. He strived for perfection not only from his students but in himself. He saw beauty in everything, from the tiniest flower to the setting sun. His composed sense of humor remained with him to the bitter end. He could make you happy and want to do it his way."
Tanju has influenced and inspired so many. He will be missed dearly but his spirit and lives in our hearts, his voice echoes throughout the school, and his essence rustles through the air.
Tuzer Ballet will host a Life Celebration for Tanju Tuzer, 1-5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018, at the Tuzer Dance School. In lieu of flowers please consider donating to the Tanju Tuzer Memorial fund. More information can be found at www.tuzerballet.com.