'Bohemian Rhapsody' meets ballet
The Portland Ballet's students will dance to Queen classics in upcoming Spring Concert
In a white-walled studio, afternoon light pours in through high nine-paned windows and a dozen young dancers warm up around the edges of the room.
Some lift their legs along the barre, others sit to lace up their pale pink slippers.
As music starts, the dancers rise to their toes and move to a melody thats not classical, but classic rock.
They twirl and leap to the stomp-stomp-claps of Queens We Will Rock You. They illustrate the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody in quick, dramatic movements. They stroll coolly into Another One Bites the Dust, and then break into sharp spins and sudden motions that might just be the ballet equivalent of head-banging.
As each song comes to a close, the companys co-artistic director, Anne Mueller, offers correction and encouragement.
That was very soft and delicate, she tells a few of the dancers. And while many people might associate soft and delicate with the art of ballet, this piece is different, Mueller tells the group: It needs to be far more aggressive.
These are just a few of The Portland Ballets more than 250 youth and young adult dancers, who range in age from 3 to 22. Some of the high school- and college-age dancers in the academys new career-track program can spend about 30 hours in the Hillsdale studio each week.
About 41 of the dancers will perform May 6-7 in the academys Spring Concert, which will include nationally-recognized choreographer Trey McIntyres Mercury Half-Life contemporary ballet choreographed to Queen classics.
Dancers in the show will also perform George Balanchines Valse-Fantaisie, Marius Petipas Raymonda Pas De Dix and Jason Davis Simplicity, Gregg Bielemeiers Separate Times (Similar To but Different Than) and a new work from Davis.
Mercury Half-Life is a departure from the type of choreography the dancers are used to, says Mueller. They began working on the piece in October.
You need to think about this like a martial arts battle, she tells one dancer. It needs to have that kind of energy to it.
Mueller, who joined The Portland Ballet in August 2015, began her own professional dancing career right out of high school. She danced for three seasons with the Alabama Ballet before dancing with Oregon Ballet Theatre from 1996-2011. She choreographed for the company and also held several administrative roles, including interim artistic director.
Most recently, she spent two years as the first managing director for the Hillsboro-based theater company Bag&Baggage Productions. She began teaching and choreographing for The Portland Ballet part-time in February 2014 while in her Bag&Baggage role, and decided the following year to rededicate herself to ballet.
There were a lot of things I loved about that (Bag&Baggage) position, she says. But I missed dance a lot.
As the academys co-artistic director a role created specifically for her Mueller says she enjoys sharing what shes learned with the young dancers.
I love working with this age range, she says. The knowledge that I acquired in my career theyre in a place to take that knowledge and do something with it.
The academy was founded in 2001 by current co-artistic director Nancy Davis and managing director Jim Lane inside a former dairy truck garage at 6250 S.W. Capitol Highway. In 2013, they expanded the building from 3,500 square feet to 6,210 square feet, which included the addition of a third studio space.
In addition to growing its building, the academy has also expanded its enrollment by more than 30 percent in the past two years. And since Mueller joined the team, the academy began offering a rigorous pre-professional career track program for a small group of high school- and college-age students, who start dancing around 12:30 p.m. each day.
Past graduates of The Portland Ballet have gone on to dance with companies such as Grand Rapids Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Oregon Ballet Theatre, Nevada Ballet Theatre, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Sacramento Ballet, Houston Ballet, St. Louis Ballet, Royal Swedish Ballet, Batsheva, LEV Dance Company, Ballet Memphis and Ballet West.
Dancer Evan Lindsay, a junior at Beavertons Arts & Communication Magnet Academy who joined The Portland Ballet in 2014, says the studio has played a crucial role in improving his technical and performance skills.
Without The Portland Ballet, I dont think Id be where I am as a dancer today, he says. They offer quality instruction that I dont believe I can receive anywhere else in this area.
Between school and the studio, Lindsay says he spends about 40 hours dancing each week. But he doesnt mind his busy schedule; he hopes to join a professional ballet company one day.
Its worth it, he says of the regimen. All of the academic classes Im taking are extremely interesting, and then I get to go and do what I love for the rest of the day.
Not all dancers at the studio plan to take their skills to the professional level. Amelia Jamond, a junior at Wilson High School, says she plans to continue ballet after high school, but as a form of recreation.
She says her instructors at The Portland Ballet are really good at challenging me in a good way.
Its a really nurturing community, Jamond says. The teachers are really nice, but theyre serious about the work theyre doing. They make it really fun.
IF YOU GO
What: The Portland Ballets Spring Concert
When: May 6-7 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Lincoln Performance Hall at Portland State University, 1620 S.W. Park Ave.
Tickets: $5-$35, available at theportlandballet.org