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Ballerina in the Dell

A conversation with Oregon Ballet Theatre's Anne Mueller

by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin


While enjoying Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “under-the-ballet-tent” initiative, “OBT Exposed!,” we had a chance to talk with company member Anne Mueller about her career during her break. What follows is an edited transcription.

How did you get started in ballet? Where are you from? And how did you arrive at OBT?

I started in Germany in neighborhood studios. I took pre-ballet – my sister was in gymnastics. I wanted to quit, but Cindy Anderson – an ex-New York City Ballet dancer – taught in a neighborhood school in a Washington, DC suburb (where we had moved), and she “saved” me and began having me take twice each week. I went to Judy Rhodes (who danced for Ben Stevenson at the National Ballet), then to Washington Ballet, where Mary Day was my teacher. This was serious and intense training! I then went to Alabama School of Fine Arts (where American Ballet Theatre star Wes Chapman was trained) and Dame Sonia Arova was my teacher. I was very impressed and I knew she had trained many good dancers. I moved there by myself when I was only 12 or 13 and lived in a dorm, graduated, and stayed at Alabama Ballet for three years.

Then, I felt it was time for a move, artistically, and had seen an ad for OBT in Stern’s (dance directory). I had remembered James Canfield from Washington Ballet and Patricia Miller and decided to audition for OBT. That was in 1996 and I’ve been here ever since!

What was the company like under Canfield’s direction?

James ran a very tight ship! It was much different from Birmingham. It took me a couple of years to get on board – he instilled a “non-throw-away” ethic. We developed a good relationship, though I wouldn’t call myself one of his most favored dancers. I did get to work with a broad array of guests, such as David Parsons, Charles Moulton, Gail Gilbert, and got many opportunities to work with modern choreographers during that era. It was a solid group for seven years.

I was ready for something new and a different repertoire. I liked doing the few Balanchine pieces and that left me wanting to do more. Christopher’s [Stowell] arrival was exactly what I was looking for. James preferred to be very precise and structured, while Christopher prefers things to be more spontaneous and interpretive. James’ way was good for me as a younger dancer, while Christopher’s way is exactly what I want at my current stage of artistic development. A freer environment is better for more mature dancers. This takes another skill set that is not developed in dance school.

What have been some of your favorite ballets and roles?

The Dark Angel in “Serenade;” “Agon,” where I did the first pas de trois; “Duo Concertant;” Charles Moulton’s “Five;” “Calcium Light Night;” “Curipira” (Trey McIntyre); “Concerto Barocco” where I did the second violin part – I like “feisty” roles! You can guess that I like to move!! To take up space. I’m small and wiry and most of my power is in my legs and center. I like to do men’s combinations, as we get to do the steps I’m good at and like doing – and it’s how I like to move; big and energetically.

Christopher’s new piece last season I also enjoyed, “Eyes on You.” It’s my most favorite role that has been choreographed on me. Jon Drake and I were one of three couples and Christopher made use of our comic skills. The cast also had input in the creative process and I like this! Other recent favorite roles of mine are Trey’s “Just,” Julia Adam’s “Il Nodo,” and “Concerto 622" by Lar Lubovitch.

You’ve been involved with the Trey McIntyre Project. Would you describe what this is about and what’s it’s been like?

I’ve been very involved with this. I served as the Manager Director for the past two summers. In part, this project grew out of our frustration with lack of work in the summer, and so we wanted to try doing a summer company. It began in the summer of 2004 and has been built from the ground up, organizationally. There are usually 10 dancers and five venues on the tour – Jacob’s Pillow and Aspen among them. Our production staff is a prodigious two, so 13 in all!

Everyone was very receptive to our first year. It’s been great having this nurturing environment and mutual respect among the artists. I like dancing with new people and it’s had a fairly high profile. This summer (2006) we had 11 dancers, a new ensemble piece and again went to Jacob’s Pillow and also to the Vail International Dance Festival. Artur (Sultanov) came this year and we did “Just” several times. One benefit of having this summer work – and it’s great – is to come home and be in shape!

What’s on your plate for OBT’s 2006-07 season and what are you looking forward to doing?

I’m very excited to perform Christopher’s “Adin” a second time; Jerome Robbins’ “The Concert” in which I’m learning three parts; “The Four Temperaments” which is being staged by Francia Russell, with whom I adore working; and “Nutcracker.” The Balanchine version is challenging for the women, and is well suited to the current company.

I’m looking forward to dancing Helgi Tomasson’s “Blue Rose” in the upcoming rep and especially to revisiting my roles in “Eyes on You” and “Il Nodo.”

Our readers would like to know what pointe shoes you wear and about the care and feeding of them.

I wear Freeds now but used to wear Capezio. I wear a size 5 shoe but the sole is size 4, which is better for me aesthetically. I used to use stock shoes but have my own maker now, which is “R.”  I like an average square box and a light wing block, which prevents buckling. I use a 3/4 shank, as many do. I cut the sides and back down. I have tough skin and only tape my big toe. I use the product, Second Skin, which is a burn treatment, as I’ve found it’s good for toenail pain. I ice my ankles nightly.

What advice might you have for aspiring dancers?

Be determined! This counts for a lot and sometimes you just have to make things happen. Prevent self-consciousness from stunting work processes – take risks, otherwise this self-consciousness can be paralyzing. I try to set an example for young dancers in the company. Fight for things that may not work out at first. Trying to be perfect can be very inhibiting and can result in a not-very-interesting work product.

Any items of a personal nature that you might like to share, such as a hobby...

Environment is very important to me. I need and want to be close to and have nature accessible. I like to take opportunities to enjoy nature and beauty. I met my husband on a river rafting trip. We have a mini-farm of ½ acre here, not too far away from here in town. We had to get rid of blackberries and now have two goats, two dogs, a chicken and fish. We try to eat out of our garden and do our own composting. So, a cute farmhouse in the city.

Any parting comments?

Regarding the importance of arts in our society, the United States has a short yet diverse history. With our many disputes and differences, a common cultural identity is very important to our ability to forge bridges over our differences. Dance specifically and the arts in general are that bridge.

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