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In Character with Gavin Larsen

A conversation with an interesting Portlander
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT The life of a ballerina isn't all glamour, not when costume adjustments and troubles of the youngest cast members get taken into account. Still, Oregon Ballet Theater ballerina Gavin Larsen, who teaches at the School of Oregon Ballet Theater, somehow never loses her poise.

For 18 years, Southwest Portland resident Gavin Larsen performed as a professional dancer, including seven years with the Oregon Ballet Theatre. Now the former prima ballerina teaches ballet to all ages at the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre. Only occasionally, she says, do those students go tutu far.

Tribune: Ever commit a faux pas onstage?

Larsen: Are you kidding? How much time do you have?

I was performing the Nutcracker. The costumes are very classical tutus and pink tights and my partner was in a tunic that had all these jewels on the front of it. One of the lifts we do involves what we call helicopter. I take a couple of running steps toward the partner, I kick one leg to the side, he grabs underneath my leg and the other side of my waist, tosses me over his head in the air and then catches me in what we call a fish.

My tights, well, basically the butt of my tights got caught on some of the beading on the front of his costume, and tore to shreds.

Tribune: A wardrobe malfunction?

Larsen: Yes. I didn't realize at the time how much was revealed.

Tribune: Ah, yes. Great art is often that way.

Larsen: I just heard a rip and felt a breeze and it was close to the end of the duet. We finished and bowed and I walked offstage and saw a bunch of people in the wings staring at me with big wide eyes in horror and wondering what I was going to do because I had to go right back onstage and do my solo.

I looked back there. When you're looking at a tutu you can't see your feet and you can't see much of your legs. There's nothing to do but to go and dance, and that's what I did.

Tribune: Did you hear about it later?

Larsen: There were some comments about how I gave my partner more of a show than I gave the audience.

Tribune: Any other performance stories?

Larsen: I was performing a ballet called Le Valse. All of the girls in the ballet have their hair in ponytails. There was a girl who had very short hair, so anytime a situation like this came up, she would wear a fall, a fake ponytail pinned to the back of her head.

Tribune: Pinned? That sounds like it would hurt.

Larsen: Bobby pins. It was a very athletic ballet, a lot of running around. At one point, the chorus suddenly clears to the sides and there's this big empty stage with this pile of hair in the middle. Talk about road kill - it looked like a dead rat.

Tribune: What did you do?

Larsen: Let it sit there until someone happened to run by and kick it out of the way. Then there's this one poor girl with no ponytail and it must have been very clear to the audience that the object had gotten separated from its owner. That kind of thing happens all the time with a tiara or a piece of costume, but not a hunk of hair.

Tribune: The kids you teach, cute?

Larsen: They're completely cute. The way they bop around is just hysterical. There's the requisite peeing on stage stories…

Tribune: Really? It's required?

Larsen: That's right. You don't get the part unless you pee. No. That's not what I meant. It's happened twice since I've been doing this job.

Tribune: Do tell.

Larsen: Once was during a dress rehearsal, not an actual performance, but we try to run these rehearsals like a show. The artistic staff was out front. I was onstage and this little boy's position was sitting on the floor. But he looked very uncomfortable. He was sitting in a strange position.

Then I saw him look around desperately and in a loud stage whisper I heard him say, 'I'm going.'

Tribune: He didn't mean offstage?

Larsen: Unfortunately not. The curtain went up and I saw a puddle.

Tribune: I bet that's never happened in a professional ballet.

Larsen: I've never known an adult to pee onstage, if that's what you mean.