Thomas Phelan is a problem solver, for fun, to learn, and in handling situations in or out of the studio and on or offstage. He takes a pragmatic, figure-it-out stance toward to life and art. “I’m a fairly positive person,” he says, “an optimist—and a realist,” which translates into matter-of-fact analyses of missteps and a pick-yourself-up-and-get-on-with it attitude in all he does.
He is also helped along the way by an irrepressible sense of humor. If you’ve spent even five minutes in Thomas’s company, you’ll predict that a sense of humor tops his list of essential characteristics for a good friend or colleague—or for himself. His boyfriend, Joel Domenico will say, “You think you’re kind of funny, don’t you?” Yes, he does. And is.
At parent conferences when Thomas was a child, his teachers would say good things about him but then add, “He needs to learn when it’s appropriate to make jokes.”
In adulthood, though he’s more subtle now in when and how he applies it, he’s essentially decided that there’s nothing that can’t benefit from humor. He has developed a finely honed sense of the incongruities of life.
He also says he greatly admires “Talent. I know writers, painters, singers, scientists and I’m greatly drawn by their passion and the way they talk about what they care about.”
If he had to state his own best characteristics, he’d say that he’s funny, intelligent and creative. He should add ‘versatile.’ His own talents span the sciences as well as the arts.
Thomas loves math, science, numbers, video games (“hand-eye co-ordination!”) and mind-bending puzzles, like those found at Ada’s, where we met to talk. “I love feeling my brain fire up,” he says. Recently, he’s become intrigued by old clocks. “I want to deconstruct a watch, see what mechanisms go into it.”
His ballet teacher in college (Colorado State University) had an origami day once, and that fascinated him—“the magic fold” where you have a flat little packet, then you pull, push through “and all of a sudden it’s a rose. She was wonderful at it—that kind of transformation.” The teacher in question is Carol Roderick, who taught at Royal Winnipeg and Boston Ballet before CSU. “She’s smart, talented, a great teacher, my role-model.”
Thomas began college as a math major, intending to go into teaching. “I could put a positive spin on math,” that a lot of people hate or find really hard. “It’s simple,” he remarks, “but not easy.” Then he got caught up in dance, and it’s easy to understand why when his teacher was Carol Roderick. “In teaching dance,” he says, “she recognized that there were various approaches