Portland's popular Wonder Ballroom, an indie music club, was packed wall to wall. A sea of hipster 20-somethings crowded in for the headline act: the locally famous band Horse Feathers and half a dozen Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers, united for the night under the name Uprising. High-energy choreography embodied the stirring lyrics, making this untraditional collaboration feel perfectly natural.
Uprising, the brainchild of OBT soloist Candace Bouchard, was born in 2009 when, facing a midseason layoff due to budget cuts, Bouchard decided to start her own project. Since high school, and while training at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Ballet Academy East, the St. Louis native held side jobs to feel connected to the non-dance world. While bartending in Portland, she discovered she loved sharing her world with people her own age. “Friends I met came to the ballet and said, 'I can't believe I never did this!' so I knew it was just getting them in the door the first time," she says. With more perspective on what they were looking for, she knew familiar spots and popular bands would be a big draw.
Bouchard in Uprising. Photo by Roslyn Barnfield, Courtesy Bouchard.
Uprising (which has been re-created five times) seems to have given a huge boost to OBT's audience development. As the project's mastermind, Bouchard took on multiple roles—producer, choreographer, marketing agent—and says OBT's marketing staff helped her write her first press release. She soon took a job as director of special programs at a residential artists' cooperative, and spent the next year and a half working approximately 20 hours a week in public relations: “I was really just thrown into the fire, and I loved it—connecting with the media, growing the organization into something people knew about."
By 2013, turnover in OBT's leadership left key administrative positions empty, and the board of trustees asked Bouchard to help on their marketing committee. When they asked her to stay on, she became marketing coordinator, writing copy for OBT's ads, working with box office reps on special offers and coordinating media interviews—all while being a prominent soloist dancer frequently featured in the press (signature roles include Dewdrop in The Nutcracker, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude and Apollo). “Her sensibility in promoting our work was spot-on, because she absorbs our messaging in the most organic way: through her own dancing," says Kevin Irving, OBT's artistic director.
Bouchard, 31, has been thinking about her future both on and off the stage. “Would I be able to stop dancing and feel like I've done everything the way I wanted?" she asks. She recently resigned from her marketing position, eager to have more time to discover who she is as an artist. “I want to get more into my dancer's brain and body," she says. But with firsthand insight on how to make ballet accessible to today's audiences, she still sees more than a notable ballet career in her future. She's already planning an Uprising show for later this year.
Secret stash: "I always have a book in my bag—always. It's like my security blanket. What if I have to stand in a long line at the post office?"
Dream Role: "When I was younger, there were three I had to do before I died: Vertiginous, Dances at a Gathering and Juliet. It's changed now, because I love being choreographed on."
Hidden talent: "I can still make a great cocktail!"
Good luck charm: "I have this little stuffed dog that one of my teachers at BAE gave me. He said to always trust myself. It's always with me in the theater."