Lindsi Dec steps out from the “Rubies” corps, lowering her arms slowly, a flash in her eyes. And then she bursts into action, her 5' 9" worth of angular beauty unfurling into head-high extensions. Darting and slinking through Balanchine’s hip-jutting steps, the Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist is having the time of her life. And so is the audience.

Dec’s connection to this solo goes back a long way. She saw it for the first time as a teenager attending a Miami City Ballet performance at the Kennedy Center and promptly decided that ballet was what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. It’s no surprise that Dec responded immediately to the role. The steps fit her long, leggy body and playful personality. If there’s one part that captures Dec’s energy, optimism and humor, says PNB artistic director Peter Boal, it’s the solo girl in “Rubies” from Balanchine’s Jewels.

When Boal came to PNB in 2005, he saw Dec as someone who could excel in tall-girl roles. Now 29, this neoclassical dancer has created a much richer onstage identity. The same enthusiasm that Boal loves in her “Rubies” performances has helped Dec prove she is also a modern dancer, a contemporary dancer, a lyrical dancer and—something that surprised even Dec herself when it happened this past June—a Romantic classical ballerina.

Dec started out learning everything from pompom to ballet at the Linda Natoli Studio of Dance in Clinton, Maryland. No one in her family danced—not her mother, her father, her older brother or her many aunts. But her mother signed her up for classes when Dec was 3. Why? “My mom told me, ‘Well, you were very introverted.’ ” Dec laughs. “What?! You can’t even stop me from talking!”

Dec’s family moved around Maryland and Virginia quite a bit, but dance class and competitions continued in spite of long commutes to one dance studio or another. In eighth grade, Dec dropped sports to focus on ballet. She then attended Houston Ballet’s summer intensive and got a glimpse of what a professional career would require. Her progress stopped short, however, when her high school refused to waive its after-school athletic requirements.

It cost her a year of ballet study before she found her way back to the studio. When she returned, she felt she’d fallen behind the other students. “I still feel that way,” she confesses. However, she pushed herself to catch up, and in the process developed a work ethic that has led to one breakthrough after another. 

Dec was 15 when seeing “Rubies” cemented her desire for a professional career. She enrolled in The Washington School of Ballet, a longtime dream of hers. When she suddenly sprouted to 5' 9" in her junior year, she worried whether ballet was still an option. A friend recommended that she study at Pacific Northwest Ballet, which was known for hiring tall dancers.

Dec followed through, and was accepted to their summer program. Despite certain technical weaknesses like modest turnout, Dec was offered a spot in PNB’s professional division when she graduated from high school. She had also won a scholarship to New York University, but decided to defer and see how her efforts in the professional division went. In 2001, PNB hired her as an apprentice; the next year she made it into the corps. PNB’s then co-artistic director Francia Russell recommended Dec spend time in front of a mirror looking for lines that would compensate for her lack of turnout. Dec still follows that  advice to this day—it’s one of the secrets of her success.

Dec stayed in the corps for seven years. In 2007, Boal told her, “To gain ground in this company, you need to excel at more lyrical movement. That softer, more adagio side would open doors for you.” Dec took Boal’s challenge. She actually had already been working on pas de deux after hours with another PNB dancer, Karel Cruz, a 6' 4" Cuban with bravura technique. It paid off. In 2008, PNB ballet master Paul Gibson cast the pair in a pas de deux in his Sense of Doubt—an adagio section. Gibson had long admired Dec’s ability to transform herself for a role, but he felt this time she went somewhere new emotionally. Boal agreed, noting that Dec and Cruz made the dancers’ interaction itself be a presence onstage. “He’s a perfect partner for her,” Boal thought.

Perfect partners onstage—and off. Dec and Cruz got married in 2009, the same year she was promoted to soloist. That fall, their luminous pas de deux in Jirí Kylián’s Petite Mort electrified Seattle audiences. Yet the couple did not rely on their personal chemistry to create a dramatic performance. They watched a Nederlands Dans Theater video of the piece every night during rehearsals, says Dec, trying to figure out how to achieve a “liquid movement quality.” They nailed it.

Dec has blossomed with married life. “I couldn’t think of anything better for us,” she says. “We’re so supportive of each other.” While they enjoy salsa dancing, neither has consuming hobbies. They like hanging out with each other, with their pound kitties—Miso and Luna—and with their friends. It’s easy to see why. Even interviewing Dec is fun. She sees the humor in life and laughs readily.

Her positive personality follows her into the studio. “When you know you’re rehearsing Lindsi,” says Gibson, “you know it’s going to be a great rehearsal.” Choreographer and fellow PNB dancer Kiyon Gaines, who counts her as a close friend as well as a muse, agrees, noting that he feeds off her energy and eagerness. Gaines also praises Dec’s professionalism and her support of other company members. “She is a source of encouragement,” he says. “Everyone in the company has benefited from Lindsi’s kindness.”

Since her Petite Mort breakthrough, Dec has been cast often and widely. For the company’s new restaging of Giselle last June, acknowledging Dec’s evolution as a dancer, Boal cast her as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Dec thought at the time. None of her many fans would have doubted her dramatic abilities, but Giselle’s floating movement and soft arms presented a big change from Dec’s other repertoire.

Then in March, Dec tore a muscle in her right leg. She faced nine weeks of recovery, with Giselle looming at the other end. Dec’s injury altered her approach to her extracurricular workouts. For the past five years, she had been cross-training, doing abs, cardio on the elliptical and weights with good results. Post-injury, however, Pilates, yoga and not pushing became the new rule. Boal noticed that Dec came back to the studio with a different posture and a greater fluidity to her port de bras. In fact, he interrupted a run-through of Giselle to tell her how great her arms looked. “After I got injured, something clicked in my head about placement,” says Dec. In Giselle, she showed a new lift to her carriage, a quietness. Contrary to even her own expectations, this powerhouse had succeeded in transforming herself once again.

Happily, Dec’s natural spice and sparkle survived the transformation. “You worry when someone starts to analyze little pieces that they’ll become too restricted and lose their expression,” says Boal. “What’s so great about Lindsi is that freedom. And she hasn’t lost it.”

Rosie Gaynor is a Seattle dance writer.

Still winded from a run-through of Swanilda’s 10-minute Act III pas de deux, Lesley Rausch walks through her variation with Pacific Northwest Ballet ballet master Otto Neubert. “You have a killer instep; show that to the audience,” says Neubert. As they move along the diagonal together—a kind of pas de cheval into chassé pas de bourrée on pointe, 14 subtly different times in a row—he encourages the soloist to make more of the end of each pas de bourrée. New timing and a tighter fifth suddenly make the old-fashioned sequence exquisite. Neubert adds, “Let the movement originate from the shoulders,” and Rausch’s port de bras becomes part of the step’s charm.

 

This dainty variation—like its accompanying pas de deux and coda—was originally created by Petipa, and George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova included it when they made their Coppélia in 1974. PNB called on one of the original New York City Ballet cast members, Judith Fugate, to set the ballet this spring. She only had a few weeks, but, as she says, “Not having everything chewed up and handed to you develops you as an artist.”

 

Swanilda, the ballet’s lead role, certainly calls for an artist. Or two, suggests PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal: “One who walks around on her heels acting feisty and the other an elegant, refined ballerina.” When Swanilda sees her boyfriend Franz falling for the very quiet, very still Coppélia, she investigates and gleefully discovers that Franz’s precious beloved is only a doll. Swanilda saves Franz from the machinations of dollmaker Dr. Coppélius and, without any recrimination, the two get married, completely in love. The dancer performing Swanilda needs to project inquisitiveness, spirit and charm. She needs comedic timing, but tenderness, too. She’s not above an occasional moment of girlish pique. And she’s young: The first Swanilda, in 1870 at the Paris Opéra, was only 16.

 

To get into character, Rausch looked for personality traits she shared with Swanilda: She feels they both have spunk, intelligence and energy to spare. “Five years ago I was very uncomfortable putting myself in an acting mindset,” says Rausch, who is known for a regal, technical excellence that suits abstract Balanchine ballets. She saw an opportunity for growth with this role and enjoyed feeling Swanilda’s childlike wonder and playfulness. Hers was a Swanilda who danced to have fun.

 

Act III presents the most technical challenges. It’s more than just dancing fast at the end of a long ballet. “The pas de deux,” Rausch explains, “has awkward moments, so you’re using your body to make it controlled and smooth.” One such moment is the bird lift—or “nightmare lift,” as Boal calls it. Rausch has to get her hips, not ribs, to make contact with her partner’s shoulder—all in one seamless phrase. To accomplish this, Rausch focused on staying pitched forward and keeping her and her partner’s left hands in front so both could sense her balance.

 

The variation is mostly hops on pointe. Because Rausch has super-flexible feet, she adjusted her arch and pulled back on her ankle to accomplish the plié. Unlike other jumps, “you can’t cushion with your feet here,” says Boal. He recommends coordinating the landing through the knees and quads to cushion above the feet.

 

Also challenging is the coda’s 16-count double manège. Rausch advises: “Pick points to focus on and plan where you’re going to step.” Boal adds, “Bank on the turns. Lean back to round the corner.” Coppélia ends happily for Swanilda, as it did for Rausch. Rausch went on a week earlier than scheduled and gave two strong performances. Her Swanilda never became saccharine and proved a joy to watch. At the beginning of the Act III marathon, she pulled off a luxurious, three-second hold on an airy arabesque. Stamina? Not an issue!

In The Wings: Jenna Nelson

 

At Pacific Northwest Ballet School

 

By Rosie Gaynor

 

Folks don’t always notice Jenna Nelson right off the bat. She has what Pacific Northwest Ballet School principal Abbie Siegel calls “a quiet strength.” It’s a steadfast presence that doesn’t beg for attention.

 

Once you spot her, though, she’s riveting. At 17, her movement is already sophisticated and crystalline. Her head knows exactly where to go, and her shoulders are starting to follow suit. She brings exceptional control and generosity to her long développés. Her frappés shoot straight out, precise, strong and yet somehow dainty. You’d never guess that she began dancing only six years ago.

 

Peter Boal, artistic director of PNB and a teacher at the school, speaks of Nelson’s refinement, line, fluidity—and her feet: “Jenna has found where her arch is strong. When she uses her feet well, they’re pretty much textbook.”

 

Nelson didn’t start out dreaming about ballet. She grew up playing soccer, and when she was 12, she signed up for ballet class with friends just for fun. It wasn’t long before she realized she loved it—or before her teacher sent her on to PNBS. The commute to Seattle proved impractical, however, so Nelson joined Evergreen City Ballet Academy, studying with former PNB dancers Wade Walthall and Julie Tobiason. But PNBS never lost track of Nelson, and they invited her to attend their summer programs. In the fall of 2008, Nelson made the leap to training at PNB full-time in their two-year Professional Division program, a step Tobiason facilitated by offering Nelson a room in her own home.

 

Technique reigns at PNBS, with a syllabus that emphasizes Balanchine but also trains dancers for the demands of contemporary ballet work. This suits Nelson, who prefers classical ballets but also dreams of performing Forsythe’s In the middle, somewhat elevated. The school shares a building with the com­pany, so there are multiple opportunities to learn through observation, including occasional participation in company class. Students perform with PNB as well. In 2009, Nelson danced three corps roles in Nutcracker, and also joined the com­pany in Swan Lake, Symphony in C and West Side Story Suite.

 

Nelson’s schedule is a ballet student’s dream—if you gloss over the seven online courses she is taking to finish high school. After technique from 9:30 to 11:00 am comes an hour or so of pointe, variations, modern or partnering. (Recent variations have included excerpts from Études and The Four Temper­aments.) A second technique class starts at 3:30, unless there’s a rehearsal.

 

What keeps Nelson focused in the competitive ballet world? “I try to stay concentrated on what I want,” she says, “and not to think about things too much but just enjoying dancing.”

At A Glance:
Pacific Northwest Ballet School

 

Founded: 1974
Director: Peter Boal
Past Directors: Janet Reed (1974–75), Melissa Hayden (1976), Francia Russell (1977–2005)
Technique Taught: Various, with an emphasis on Balanchine; syllabus designed to meet the eclectic demands of dance companies today
Classes Offered: Classical ballet technique, modern, pointe, variations, partnering
Number of Students: 950
Alumni in the Past 10 Years: Ballet Frankfurt, Boston Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Company, Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Suzanne Farrell Ballet, The Washington Ballet, among others
Focus: PNBS’ goal is to provide a healthy environment, inspiration and education. Dancers receive life-skills seminars, physical and nutritional guidance, performance opportunities and the chance to observe PNB members in their daily class, in rehearsals and in performance. The school flies in directors from 10–12 other companies each year to audition Professional Division students.
Website: www.pnb.org/PNBSchool

 

 

Student Opportunities

 

From YAGP to Degree
Youth America Grand Prix is now offering a new perk for finalists: the chance to audition for several top college dance departments at once. Representatives from such prestigious programs as Indiana University and Juilliard now attend the final round of YAGP to scout for talented high school seniors. Some even accept dancers and offer scholarships on the spot.

 

“I’d like to change the stereotype that you have to choose between a professional career in dance or college,” says University of Utah’s Department of Ballet professor Regina Zarhina, who heads the initiative. “If you look at job advertisements, most companies aren’t looking to hire very young and inexperienced dancers anymore.”

 

The program, which launched in 2009, includes an information session on dancing in college and each participating dance department presents information on their school. Dancers then take a combined audition class, which includes ballet, pointe and a short jazz section. For more information, go to www.yagp.org. You can also learn about each of the participating dance departments on DanceU101.com.
—Jennifer Stahl

Good Graces
Winning a prestigious award is not only an opportunity for trophies, money and exposure. A win from a respected organization, such as the Princess Grace Foundation–USA, can provide opportunities that stretch far beyond the awards ceremony and into your professional career.

 

Princess Grace Award recipients not only get a boost on their resumés, they are also welcomed into a fraternity of artists and professionals. In addition to opportunities to network with all of the other winners since 1984, financial assistance is available—for life. “We offer winners assistance for special
projects and residencies,” says Toby E. Boshak, executive director of PGF–USA. “They can use the advantages throughout their career.”

 

For students, an award from PGF–USA can change their fate when they step into the professional world. “There is a level of prestige that goes along with the honor of winning a Princess Grace Award,” says Boshak.

 

Alexander Peters, 18, won in 2008 after the faculty at the School of American Ballet nominated him for the award. “I haven’t begun my professional career as a dancer yet,” he says, “but I have the award bolded at the top of my résumé and hope it will help open the door to some great opportunities in the future.” 

 

Students in preprofessional, not-for-profit dance schools or undergraduate dance departments as well as professionals who have been a member of their company for less than five years are welcome to enter. Candidates must submit a joint application with their school or company, which can only nominate one dancer per year. The judging panel, made up of top dance professionals and artistic directors, chooses five or six winners in the dance performance category each year. Student winners receive a scholarship that covers one year of tuition at their school. Professional dancers are given one year of salary at their company. Applications are due by April 30. They can be found at www.pgfusa.com.
—Katie O’Connell

Dancing With Pros

Few student dancers are given the opportunity to learn new ballets alongside professionals. But last fall, the Rockville, Maryland–based American Dance Institute launched the ADI Chamber Ballet to give students a chance to do just that.

 

Directed by former American Ballet Theatre dancer Pamela Bjerknes, the company commissions up-and-coming choreographers to set and create their work on the students, who are joined by current dancers from The Washington Ballet.

 

“During my performing career, I watched how it always took new company members a year or two to understand how to work with a professional choreographer,” says resident choreographer Runqiao Du, a former dancer with TWB and the Suzanne Farrell Ballet. “You have to learn not to be afraid of dancing with the full-on kind of attack that choreographers demand.”

 

The company’s next performance is scheduled for April 10, with original choreography by Du and TWB dancer Jared Nelson. For more information, visit www.americandance.org. —JS


TIP: How do you stay in top form during spring recital season?
Pace yourself: If you try it 1,000 times today, tomorrow you’ll be too sore to dance. Steady work will get you better results. And once you leave the studio, get your mind off ballet so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. When I’m doing a difficult role, I?need space away from it so I?can focus once I’m in the studio. 
—Maggie Small, Richmond Ballet dancer 

 

 

Capturing Kitri

 

Inside a coaching session with Elena Kunikova

 

By Amy Brandt

 

Don Quixote’s Kitri—feisty, independent and free-spirited—explodes with personality from the moment she leaps onstage. Fiercely stubborn, she and Basilio cleverly plot to marry against her father’s wishes. While Kitri is no demure princess, she displays a proud elegance uniquely her own. The Grand Pas de Deux in Act III is the ballet’s highlight, and Kitri’s variation, with its intricate pointework, fluttering fan and Spanish flavor, gives dancers a wonderful opportunity to explore their individuality. 

 

As a former ballerina with the Maly Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, Elena Kunikova performed Kitri’s Act III variation many times. She now coaches professionals in the role, including American Ballet Theatre’s Irina Dvorovenko, New York City Ballet’s Ana Sophia Scheller and the male divas of Les Ballets Trockadero. She recently shared her expertise on mastering some of the difficult moments.

Spanish Port de Bras
One of the variation’s biggest challenges lies in its stylized port de bras. “Character dance is not widely taught in the West,” Kunikova says, “so many young dancers don’t know how to move their arms with Spanish flair.” Dancers often place their hands on their hips by pulling their elbows back and sticking out their wrists. “I call it ‘chicken wings,’ ” says Kunikova. “Instead, the palm should be delicately placed on top of the tutu, not grabbing the hip. The wrist should be pressed down and the elbow should be pushed slightly forward (make sure to keep your chest open) while the fingers sustain an elegant classical form.” Each time the arms transition from the hips to second position (and in reverse), they must pass through first position. 

 

Kunikova stresses the importance of coordinating the head with the rest of your body. For instance, she says, “It looks more impressive to look up on the développé à la seconde. Then, look lower during the passés while possibly fanning yourself. It gives more diversity and amplitude to the steps.”

Proper Fan Position
Manipulating the fan presents another challenge. “Rehearse the variation using just the port de bras, without dancing, to incorporate the fan without worrying about what’s happening from the waist down,” Kunikova says. She notes that dancers shouldn’t rest their elbow against the body when holding the fan. Initiate slower, larger fan movements with the elbow, but use the wrist to
create quick, small flutters. For added security, dancers can attach the fan to their wrist with an elastic band.

 

The fan can help build tension and excitement through the variation, like during the échappé section. “You might keep it low in front of your chest for the first set,” says Kunikova, “then gradually add port de bras on the second and third sets to show the combination’s progression.”

The Final Footwork
The variation’s final section—a series of alternating hops on pointe across the stage (called taqueté in French)—is its trickiest. The hopping foot must maintain a cupped shape to properly support the body. “It’s the only moment in ballet vocabulary when we have to make the foot ugly,” says Kunikova. Keep your weight on the supporting leg to control balance, using a shallow plié. Engaging opposition in the legs and shoulders is very characteristic for Spanish-styled ballet, and it accentuates the body’s position changes.

Exploring Kitri’s Character

Kunikova sees many avenues of artistic interpretation. “Kitri’s character can be quite different,” she says. “She could be proud, playful, willful or humorous.” However, dancers should avoid trying to appear sultry. “I call it the ‘Black Swan impersonation.’ Too much sultriness, especially for younger dancers, isn’t appropriate or true to their age.” Keep in mind that the variation is part of Kitri’s wedding celebration. “She should be joyous!”

 

While Kitri’s variation allows for lots of individual expression, Kunikova advises young students first learning the dance to avoid overloading it with too many details. “Instead,” she says, “keep it simple and clear.” Flourishes can be added later with experience and practice.
 



   

Watching Kiyon Gaines work in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s company class, you wouldn’t guess that he’s also a choreographer. From the careful thought he gives to each step, it’s clear he’s very focused on his technique. And yet in the past four years, this 27-year-old corps member has choreographed 16 works, two of which PNB has taken into its repertoire.

 

“It just sort of happened,” says Gaines of his sideline. He’d ask his colleagues to try out steps he had dreamed the night before. “They urged me to create something,” he says. “I was sort of against it.  But they said, ‘Well, just try it!’ And I did. And I fell in love with it.”

 

For now, “choreography is just the icing on the cake,” Gaines says. “Dancing is where it’s at.” That has been his attitude since he ditched choir—and flute, drama, tap and jazz—at 13 to study ballet at Baltimore School for the Arts. There he met Roberto Muñoz, who gave him private lessons after school. When Muñoz went to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s school, Gaines, 15, followed him. “PBT kicked my butt,” he admits. “But that intensive work was what I needed. I got to catch up.”

 

He caught up so well that The School of American Ballet accepted him into its summer program. Gaines had talent and dedication, but his body type didn’t conform to the New York City Ballet long-and-lean aesthetic. Yet his teacher, Peter Boal, noted the young dancer’s habit of taking corrections home for the night and applying them the next morning in class. “Every day he was proving what an amazing person, mind and talent he was,” says Boal. He invited Gaines to SAB’s Winter Term.

 

Gaines credits SAB with teaching him the finer points like where the head should be and how to partner. “They also helped me develop my skill at petit allegro,” says Gaines. “They move very quickly there.” His strong jump was already evident. “Kiyon can reject the floor faster than other creatures,” says Boal. 

 

After a summer program at PNB, Gaines joined PNB’s Professional Division with no thought of getting hired into the company. Yet it turned out to be a good choice. This “very, very intensive program,” says Gaines, taught him how to be part of a company. And at the end, PNB offered him a surprise: a contract.

 

Seattle audiences love Gaines. Critics use words like “electric,” “dynamic,” “explosive” and “charged” to describe his dancing. “Kiyon has an ebullience that is infectious,” says Twyla Tharp, who used him in her new Opus 111 last fall. Boal says, “There was not a person in that audience who didn’t love him, and all he was doing was walking! There is such wit, energy and vitality in that guy.”

 

Gaines’ choreography reflects this vibrant personality. It has  energy—combinations sweep and swirl across the stage. For his recent No Holds Barred, he tried what he calls “classical ballet with a twist.” In it, barres serve as occasional partners, and Gaines featured movements dancers often do but audiences rarely see: stretching, marking, playing. When dancers are “off in their own little world,” he says, “they create the most beautiful art.”

 

After a summer choreographing and teaching, Gaines turns his focus this fall back to dancing. Taking class, performing, choreographing—does Gaines ever rest?

 

“I really try to,” he says with a laugh, “but no. I’m a doer. As a dancer you need to let your body repair. But for me it’s the hardest thing to do.”

Rosie Gaynor is a Seattle dance writer.

 

At a Glance

Name: Kiyon Gaines
Age: 27
Company: Pacific Northwest Ballet
Training: Baltimore School for the Arts, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, The School of American Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet Professional Division
Favorite Role Performed: Male lead in Nacho Duato’s Rassemblement
Dream Role: Ulysses Dove’s Red Angels

With a name like Grace, long legs, flexible hips and an innate elegance, Grace Shibley seems to have been destined for ballet. But when asked what comes easily for her, a smile breaks out on her pretty, heart-shaped face: “I don’t feel like anything comes easily!”

Her teachers might put it differently, citing Shibley’s work ethic, her ability to listen closely and her habit of taking every opportunity to learn as factors in her success. “Jumping is hard for me, turning is not a strong point,” continues Shibley, and then she pauses again as though the list goes on and on. “I was one of those girls whose limbs flailed around.”

There’s no flailing these days. Shibley dances in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s corps with a beautiful specificity. She understands shape and line, tension and release, and she exhibits a refined sense of musical phrasing. She opens herself up to the audience with the quiet glow of someone who used to be shy. Whether she’s dancing with the dreamy grace of Afternoon of a Faun or the swanky sass of Ellington Suite, the movement seems a natural expression of her inner being.


Afternoon of a Faun was one of the first pieces Shibley learned when she joined OBT in 2007. Third cast, in a four-performance run, the chances that she would get to dance it onstage were pretty slim. But dance it she did.


That season, Shibley was also cast as the female lead in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, and the following season she danced four principal roles. Each has come as a surprise to Shibley—and, in some ways, to OBT’s Artistic Director Christopher Stowell. He sometimes gives dancers an opportunity to learn a role that might be suitable for them later in their careers. But Shibley, Stowell says, “is good at pulling the performance together without help. If working in the corner she can turn it into a full interpretation, she should get an opportunity to do it. Nobody has to explain to Grace what something’s about, or where to make an effect, or what impact this dance is supposed to have. Those big ideas are clear to her.”


At 20 years old, Portland-born Shibley is actually the same age as OBT. In some ways, they’ve grown up together. She transferred to OBT’s school shortly before Stowell came to the company in 2003. She never left. Summer intensives elsewhere didn’t make sense to her, professionally or economically. She had an offer of a traineeship at San Francisco Ballet, but turned it down when OBT offered her a company contract that same year.


What’s in store for this delicate-looking ballerina who reminds people of Suzanne Farrell, Tanaquil Le Clercq and Audrey Hepburn? She seems to enjoy herself, whether she’s dancing lead roles or corps ones. “I like being part of something bigger,” says Shibley, “like being a corps swan in Swan Lake. It feels good standing with everybody in our matching tutus. It kills your feet, but the music is beautiful and you feel like there’s moonlight on your neck. You’re part of making this exquisite ballet happen. I can’t imagine anything more fulfilling than that.”

 

At a Glance

 
Name: Grace Shibley
Age: 20
Company: Oregon Ballet Theatre
Training: Portland Metro Performing Arts Center and School, and School of Oregon Ballet Theatre
Favorite role performed: The Ballerina in Jerome Robbins’ The Concert
Dream role: Terpsichore in Balanchine’s Apollo

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