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Moving Passions:

Pacific Northwest Ballet Soloist Lesley Rausch

by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin

We interviewed Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Lesley Rausch in late summer 2007, as PNB was just back from their tour to Vail, Colorado for the Vail International Dance Festival and as the Company was preparing for its fall season opener and Gala (PNB’s “First Look”).

What do you like about ballet?

I’ve been dancing since I was three. Ballet has always been part of my life – and it’s always been there for me. It’s a huge comfort and a huge challenge. There is always something to improve. You are trying to achieve an impossible level of perfection – and I like the constant challenge of reaching for another level of achievement. It never gets old.

How did you get started in ballet?

My mom stuck me in ballet class. She was good about putting me and my sister in a variety of activities – including one season of co-ed soccer where I was the only girl! My first lessons were in a small competition studio in Ohio. The Dance Extension was the second studio I attended and the director, Tony Calucci, did more lyrical movement – more ballet-type movement.

During my freshman year of high school, I was fortunate to study with ShirLee Wu at Columbus Youth Ballet and she really pushed me toward summer intensives. I did two at SAB [School of American Ballet] and two or three here at PNB School, and one summer at BalletMet.

I really liked it at PNB and [former principal dancer] Patricia [Barker] was a big inspiration. [Former Artistic Director] Francia [Russell] even told me that I looked like a young Patricia – she thought I had nice line and feet. I stayed for the year-round Professional Division program when I was 17 and was able to graduate from my high school in Ohio through correspondence.

My parents bought a condo in 1999 down the street for me to live in. I think it’s been a good investment for them! [Laughs] I stayed in the PD program for two years and then was offered a corps contract in 2001 and was made a soloist in January 2007. I had been doing double duty – corps roles as well as soloist and sometimes even principal roles. It has been an exciting couple of years.

How are you adjusting to your new rank?

I’m suddenly not dancing as much. It’s a different approach; more comfortable. It’s a constant struggle being a woman in the corps – you do get to dance a lot but you’re also wanting to feel reassured of getting at least a few nice roles too. Everyone works so hard, and it can be competitive. There is a level of acceptance from peers and colleagues as we are promoted.

Has your approach to your dancing changed? Are you doing anything differently?

We are allowed the artistic freedom of figuring out things on our own. I watch others a lot and I like to find my own way in parts – it’s part of a process. Earlier in my career, I hadn’t thought a lot about artistic expression, but having the additional responsibility makes you analyze and evaluate why some dancers win a lot of response from an audience.

[Artistic Director] Peter [Boal] has given me a lot of opportunities, considering he didn’t know me much at all when he came here. I feel fortunate that he has taken such a chance on me.

For example, he cast me in “Red Angels” which has become one of my favorite parts. You’re only as good as the parts you get to dance and you learn from each one – and this one was a good challenge for me and helped me grow as an artist.

Speaking of parts, what have been some of your career highlights thus far? Favorite ballets or persons you’ve worked with?

I got to do Patricia’s [Barker] part in “In the middle, somewhat elevated” and the first theme in “Four Temperaments.” I loved being in “Concerto Barocco” and “Serenade” in the corps, as Balanchine’s choreography is so rewarding for the corps. “Agon” pas de trois (two women, one man) was another. I did Francia’s [Russell] part and felt very honored. [former Artistic Director] Kent [Stowell] and Francia took a chance on a “weak” dancer – I probably would not be here without their assistance. This season, I’m learning the pas de deux.

Peter saw me in Paul Gibson’s “Piano Ballet” and this was also a favorite role and one of the first times Peter saw me dance. Maybe it was a role that helped me get some of the opportunities Peter has offered.

Many of our readers are “dance people” and I know they would like to hear about your pointe shoes – what kind do you wear, and of your “care and feeding” of them.

I use Freeds, size 5 ½ X and my maker is Key and Bell. I cut down the material on the sides and use a 3/4 shank. I like to play with the length of the shank myself. Patricia [Barker] helped me with my conversion to Freeds.  I used to wear Grishko’s and before that, wore Gaynor-Minden’s for two years. I tape all of my toes and use paper towels to soak up the moisture. PNB likes a uniform look and that contributed to my switch to Freed.

What are you looking forward to doing this season?

First off is “Ballet Imperial.” It’s a challenge to make it look nice and clean and it requires a lot of straight-up ballet technique – it’s refreshing to do. I’m also looking forward to “Agon”, “Fancy Free”, Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room”, which has a score by Philip Glass. I enjoyed doing her “Nine Sinatra Songs” before; although when I first did it, it was uncomfortable at first having to get used to dancing in high heeled shoes – and it’s ballroom, so it wasn’t entirely organic.

I’m currently rehearsing and working on Ulysses Dove’s “Vespers.” It’s very much modern dance – we cannot rely on our ballet technique – and we are all very sore! [Laughs] It’s different and a very beautiful piece. I don’t know the technique, but we’re finding a path to make it work.

What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of ballet?

My husband recently moved to Chicago for a Master’s program in Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. It’s a three-year program and I plan to spend a lot of free time in Chicago. I follow basketball and college football – Go Ohio State!, Formula One Racing, which uses cutting edge technology.  I enjoy reading, and spend a lot of time at the gym.

I’m learning to cook, as my husband did the cooking in our household. I find that the gym is a good refuge for me – I can blow off steam. I always used to take class during layoffs, but now I find myself in the gym more. We’ve found that our interests are actually quite compatible: I’m a professional dancer which means I’m an artist moved by music and athletics; he’s into architecture which for him means that he’s moved by design, math, engineering, creativity, and working with people. It’s great to see him passionate about something, similar to what I feel for ballet. He used to be a computer programmer and really hated it.

What advice might you give to someone aspiring to be a dancer?

Follow your passion – class is hard sometimes – but it pays off in the end. Performing is your reward, so enjoy it.

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