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Finding Voice of Her Passion Through Dancing

An Interview with Louise Nadeau, Pacific Northwest Ballet Principal Dancer

by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin

January 2004

Finding a center of calm in the sea of excitement as PNB prepares for its Balanchine Centenary celebration, we recently chatted with Louise Nadeau in a conference room overlooking the company's main rehearsal hall, the famous "Studio C" (which replicates the size of the McCaw Hall stage) at The Phelps Center, PNB's Seattle home. What follows is an edited version of our conversation.

Please tell us how you started ballet.

I grew up in western Massachusetts, in the Berkshires, and had a lot of energy and began taking lessons of various sorts at a local girls club. I was about six or seven and in addition to ballet, I took skating. For ballet barres, we held on to the backs of folding chairs, and I found that I just loved ballet! My parents later investigated ballet schools and we were lucky to find a good ballet school in town (Pittsfield) and with a good teacher, Madeline Cantarella Culpo. This was the Berkshire Ballet (now known as the Albany Berkshire Ballet), which was a "regional" ballet school and company.

My father's work took our family to St. Louis when I was twelve, and I studied with Alexandra Zaharias for three years. About this time, the movie "The Turning Point" came out, and that really did it for me! I recall being very quiet on the way home from seeing it, and finally my mom asked me about this, and I replied, "That's [dance] what I want to do!" I began auditioning for summer courses and got into SAB, where I was asked to stay on after the summer.

What were some of your first performing experiences?

I remember being a faun in a ballet called "Satyrs and Fauns" and adoring my little fur leotard outfit with my antler headpiece. I'm sure I was cute as a bug! I actually did my first Clara there, when this company did its first "Nutcracker." Guest artists were brought in from Boston Ballet for the major parts.

Who were some of your SAB teachers? Any favorites?

Oh, boy! So many!! Danilova, Tumkovsky, Muriel Stuart (whom we both noted gave grand battement after pliť!), Stanley Williams, Suki Schorer, Helene Dudin, and Andre Kramarevsky. I particularly loved Suki's classes as I had a real affinity for the way she taught and explained things and found that it fit my body very well. I still carry with me now the things I learned and absorbed then.

What was Basel Ballet like?

It was a good experience for me. I had finished the last level at SAB but hadn't yet come up with a job and was getting discouraged. Heinz Spoerli had a huge turnover that year, and as the Basel Ballet at that time had no school, he asked SAB for two dancers, and one of my best friends and I were it!

I found Basel very sedate compared to New York -- almost boring. If I wanted to go out and buy a toaster at three in the morning in New York, I could. Not in Basel! It was a very good first experience for being in a ballet company. We toured all over Europe and we did quite a lot of different kinds of works, including those of Hans Van Manen, Mr. Spoerli, of course, and some Balanchine. I like to think of this period as a fortunate one in my life. However, after about a year and a half, it became apparent to me that it wasn't going to work out for me in the long term, as Mr. Spoerli and I did not see things the same way.

I then had to decide to try to continue my career in Europe or to return to the United States. I did return to New York, where I took class with David Howard while looking for work. I have to say that I'm one of those dancers that needs to rehearse and perform, and not just take class, as I find the most satisfaction in this.

Una Kai, from the Kansas City Ballet, was looking for two men and one woman and she observed me taking class from Diana Cartier. I thought I really didnít want to go to Kansas City, but needed and wanted the work. It turned out to be great! I was there for five years -- maybe two years too long (I became a big fish in a small pond). Todd Bolender and Diana Adams were both there. Both were mentors and had great stories from their NYCB days. I worked with Ruthanna Boris in her "Cakewalk" and in a lesser-known work of hers, "Cirque de Deux."

I also got to know Alvin Ailey a bit and was invited by him to dance with his company one time in one of his works called, "Memoria." I was a bit unsure about doing this -- not sure I'd fit in -- but was encouraged by Mr. Ailey, so I did do it, and had a wonderful time!

What ballets or roles have you particularly enjoyed recently in the PNB season and are looking forward to doing in the near future?

I loved getting back to "Swan Lake." I like dissecting roles and find this ballet to be a good mental and physical challenge. Certainly Artifact II -- where I feel I become a human extension of the music. I enjoyed working with stager Glen Tuggle and how you can explore the boundaries of how far you can push the body and still call it ballet.

With the Balanchine repertory, I feel as if I'm in my element! I'm dancing the pas de deux in "Agon" with Olivier Wevers; the second movement of the "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet" with Christophe Maraval. I donít know about "Carmina." Of course I love "Serenade," and the divertissement pas de deux in Act II of "Midsummer Night's Dream" is like the perfect duet.

I've observed what seems to be a lot of team effort here, in a very positive atmosphere. Your observations?

Yes, PNB has retained an atmosphere in which people are willing to help others. The dancers here feel a responsibility to help pass things along to others.

How was working on the photo shoot for Eleven?

I had a wonderful time on the photo shoot. The photographer ultimately chose the final photographs, but we did collaborate on the choice of outfits. And in my case, because they didnít realize how petite I am, the clothes that had been brought in did not initially fit, so I got to go to Mario's and select some things!

Your performances to me are marked by a sense of occasion and high artistry. Where does your inspiration come from? Coaching and/or ?

Dancing is a response to the music and the choreography. The music needs to be saying something to me. I always have a story going in my head, and I translate the emotion of the music into movement. By the time I get to performance, I let the music carry the dancing. I'm blessed with indulgent and sensitive partners, as I usually don't dance exactly the same way twice, and each performance is a new experience. I like to go with how I'm feeling that night.

Please tell us about your daughter Emma and any hobbies or pets you may have.

Emma, who is a very energetic six-year old, is the love of my life! She has begged me for a long time to put her into dance classes, so this year I've started her in Creative Movement here at PNB School. I tried to put this off as long as possible, but she really wanted to do it!

We have one cat, Maxine, and I have no time for hobbies right now. I have gone back to school by participating in PNB's Transition for Dancers, where professors from Seattle University are brought in to teach us here, on site, Monday evenings after rehearsal. This is a pilot program we began last year, and it's just great! I had once thought of becoming a lawyer and did very well in high school.

Teaching and coaching don't appeal too much to me right now, although I've done a little of each. I think I'll be here as long as I'm able to perform and it will be "in the moment" as I decide what do to next!

Edited by Lori Ibay

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