Interview with Pacific Northwest Ballet Soloist Mara Vinson
by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin
We met with Mara Vinson during Pacific Northwest Ballet’s preparations for their Winter and Spring repertory programs. What follows is an edited transcription.
Tell us where you are from and how you got started in ballet.
I’m from Redondo Beach, California. My mother sent me to ballet with my older sister, as I had a congenital hip condition and the doctor recommended ballet to help.
Who were your first teachers?
They were Faye Gillette and Uta Graf-Apostol at the Palos Verdes Ballet. I was there from age 10-13, and then went to the Kirov Academy in D.C., where I got to study with a really great teacher, Alla Sizova. I was there for two years before coming to PNB.
Sizova is a contemporary of Rudolf Nureyev and is very well known. What was she like as a teacher and what did you gain from them?
Sizova would show every single step and more! She has incredible turnout, jumps, feet – everything! I started at the Kirov in the “baby” class and got moved up quickly.
Tell us about your moving over to PNB and what that was like?
I began here in the Summer Program in 1995 and was offered by PNB the chance to stay for the year-round program. It was a challenging transition – for example, all classes were done en pointe, they were faster, there was more petit allegro, and less grand allegro.
Who were some of the teachers here who were outstanding to you?
[Alexandra] Danilova, Truman Finney, and Jonathan Watts were my main teachers plus I had classes with Flemming Halby and Vikki Pulkkinen. Being in the Professional Division was a healthy, good experience – we got to perform with the Company which helped make my first year in the Company somewhat less scary and certainly it helped ease for a smooth transition.
What might you summarize has been Kent (Stowell) and Francia’s (Russell) legacy for you?
Francia knew every single person in the School, which was very impressive. I feel like I grew up here and feel lucky that PNB was my first job. I respect them both so much – everything came from them – and I continue to grow from there.
What have been some of your career highlights?
Last season that had to have been ‘Aurora.’ [From 'Sleeping Beauty'] Doing this role was a big challenge. I never really thought that I would want to do Aurora, but now I have respect for it. It requires stamina and artistically you have to show different moods in each act. I felt I could call upon my Kirov training, which was helpful.
And how about this season?
I was learning “Theme” ["Theme and Variations"] but didn’t perform it. I really enjoyed Robbins’ “In the Night.” For “Swan Lake” I’m doing the ‘big swan’ pas de trois – middle girl. I’m looking forward to doing Nacho Duato’s “Rassemblement” later in March.
Who have been some of your favorite artists to work with? I’m thinking that this might be a choreographer, or stager, or?
I’ve enjoyed working with Nicolo Fonte, Val Caniparoli. It’s nice to have new and different stagers. Hilde Koch was quite good to work with. And I got to work with the very special Freddie (Frederic) Franklin here while he and Francia worked on re-constructing Balanchine’s “Raymonda” for the Balanchine Restoration Project. He’s in his 90s and simply amazing. Full of energy and demonstrating everything.
What do you do for the care and feeding of your pointe shoes?
I wear Freed’s, size 5XXX and my maker is “key.” I harden them with jet glue but don’t like them extremely hard or cumbersome.
What might you say to a young dancer-hopeful?
That I was told at the beginning that I had no potential. So believe in yourself. Work plays a big part in how successful you are.
What do you like to do outside of ballet? Any hobbies and interests?
I love to travel! Particularly somewhere new that I’ve not been to before. I’ve been to Germany, Prague, Hungary, France, and Switzerland. I’m trying to arrange a trip to Singapore to visit my sister who now lives there. I’m half Japanese and used to go to Japan in the summers but haven’t been able to for several years (due to dancing commitments).
I’m working on finishing up an Associate of Arts Degree at North Seattle Community College and have only two remaining classes. My interests are in life sciences, biology, anatomy, and physiology.
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