Herd's Happy Ballet Home:
An Interview with Pacific Northwest Ballet Principal Dancer Casey Herd
by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin
We met with Casey Herd in mid-winter to discuss his performing career. This is a summary of that conversation.
Tell us where you are from and how you got started in ballet.
I’m from Salt Lake City and started at the tender age of 10 when my mother talked me into auditioning for Ballet West’s production of “Nutcracker.” They always open up the children’s parts to the greater community. However, I was one of the three or four boys who did NOT make it! My mother suggested that perhaps with some lessons, I might get in the following year.
Shari Lane [well-known for being John Travolta’s dance teacher] was my first ballet instructor – all at the Ballet West School. I started getting serious about it around the age of 14 and moved to Washington, D.C. to attend the Kirov Academy at the age of 15, and stayed there for three years.
And your first professional job experience?
I was in the ABT [American Ballet Theatre] studio company for a year under John Meehan. Loved that! In 1997, I became an apprentice with ABT and also put in three years there, under a corps contract. I didn’t like it very much, as there was too much “spear-carrying” and not enough ballet [dancing] opportunities!
I started auditioning and looking into other opportunities and PNB was the first company to call me back. I moved to Seattle in the fall of 1999.
What did you gain from working with Kent (Stowell) and Francia (Russell)?
They gave me a lot of opportunities to get onstage and to do big roles, pretty much right away, which was great. For example, in “The Quilt,” I got to dance with Patty [Patricia Barker] who was supposed to have been paired with Stanko [Milov], but when he became injured, I was moved into that part. This was the first time I had to really step up and do something out front – this was my first year in the corps.
Building on that, what are some of the ballets or roles that have been outstanding or important to you?
“Merry Widow,” “Theme and Variations,” “Paquita” were all roles that I got to do when I was first promoted to soloist. I’d have to say that doing “The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet” with Carrie [Imler] has been the highlight so far. In terms of coaching, Kent gives you the concepts but you have to figure it out for yourself in execution. Carrie and I both like to “go for the gusto.” We had only one show of this ballet, but really worked hard on it and it felt great, but was such a brief moment.
“Fancy Free” is an important repertory acquisition. How was dancing in that and working with the stager, Judith Fugate?
I had such a great time! Judy was so much fun to work with and she put the whole thing together very quickly. Dress rehearsal was the first time we ran it non-stop. And the cast just clicked – such great energy with Jonathan [Porretta] and Rasta [Thomas]. It was fun doing a show with Rasta. We had known each other from the Kirov Academy where he was in my class.
That program was a busy one for me, as I was in all three ballets, and had been promoted to principal rank just the week before! I did one of the “demis” parts in “Theme” as that had been cast before the promotion.
Preparations are clearly well underway for “Swan Lake.” How is that going and who are you dancing with?
Preparations are going slowly and carefully. I’m cast with Carla [Körbes] and we are being coached by Elaine Bauer and are working on lots of details, piece by piece, before putting it all together. This will be the first time for both of us – Carla as Odette/Odile and myself as the Prince.
What else are you looking forward to this season?
There are lots of new works coming up that should be great but at this point, I don’t know about the casting.
Have you given thought to or do you already teach or choreograph?
I don’t think too much about life beyond performing right now! And I haven’t yet thought about teaching, choreography.
What words of wisdom might you have for young, aspiring male dancers?
There is a need to continually evolve. Dancers complain way too much, but rarely appreciate what they have right now. We need to appreciate what’s been given us.
What are some or your hobbies and interests outside of dance?
I have a massive “thing” for Italian motorcycles! I like psychology and have come to realize that I have much more influence over my own life than I thought; rather than thinking of myself as the victim of outside circumstances. I’m a big football fan and watch the pros every Sunday with James Moore [another PNB dancer].
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