Pacific Northwest Ballet Soloist Chalnessa Eames
by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin
We interviewed Pacific Northwest Ballet Soloist Chalnessa Eames in late August , while PNB was preparing for their Fall Season. This is an edited version of that conversation.
I hear observations and comments about your work like, “That looks like Chalnessa.” or “...moving like Chalnessa.” I’m sure you’ve heard this too. How does Chalnessa move? What makes your dancing outstanding and unique?
I like being “in” the piece and moving with intensity, emotion, and passion. It takes me a long time to get comfortable in a ballet, but once I have it I feel like I can just let go and perform. I like to put a lot of emotion into how I move. I don’t like counting for counting’s sake. I prefer to let the music guide me – which is not always right. I like jumping and am more of a jumper and less of a turner. I believe these are some of the things that make my dancing look different from everyone else’s.
I am curious about your background and how you arrived at this place artistically.
I was born in Los Angeles and we moved to Bellingham (Washington) when I was three. My sisters were skaters but I went to ballet class! I started with Nancy White, who is still teaching there, and then later studied with Isabel Morca. One of the great things she taught me was how to act a role. I then moved to Eugene (Oregon) to work with Kathleen Smith Epstein, who taught using the Vaganova syllabus. Classes were very strict and for a year it was just me in class! We would beginat 7:30 a.m – before school! I worked with her for two years, from ages 12-14, and then felt I needed to move on for high school.
I auditioned for Harid Conservatory [Boca Raton, Florida] (auditions were held at PNB) and received a two-year scholarship. I was among a pool of 30 students. This scholarship paid for everything related to our training. We were fortunate to have some great teachers including Marjorie Tallchief, Tina Santos (from San Francisco Ballet), and Olivier Pardina (from Paris Opera Ballet).
Did you live at the Sheraton? [Harid students used to live at a local hotel in Boca Raton, paid for by the founding sponsor.]
No, I was in the first class to live in the dorms that had been built; at the time we thought we were in jail due to the alarms they had put on the doors in the dorms! But being much older now, I realize how fortunate we were to have such amazing facilities. It was my first time being surrounded by so many others who had the same goal as I did. This is where I decided that a dancing career was what I wanted.
Gordon Wright took over the school and brought in teachers from Royal Winnipeg Ballet. I went to Summer programs at both PNB and RWB but decided upon RWB for my final year of training – and was offered a contract. I spent one year as an apprentice and then spent three years in the corps.
Things changed drastically between William Whitener’s tenure as Artistic Director and that of the current director, Andre Lewis. John Meehan ran the company when I joined it. Then Whitener for a year. 13 people left – it was just chaos. Then Lewis took over.
Kaori [Nakamura], Olivier [Wevers], Evelyn Hart, Alex Ratmansky, Laura Graham – there was a lot of talent on display at RWB. At the time, there was a very good repertory; it was a very diverse company. It was the opportunity to tour widely that kept me there. I got to dance in Europe (for five weeks), Asia (for eight weeks), Mexico, and all over the U.S. and Canada.
Olivier came with us on our Asian tour to partner Evelyn [Hart] in Romeo and Juliet. He suggested that I try PNB. I auditioned and was accepted the same day. I had to go back and film the ballet “Dracula” before starting the season, but since coming to PNB six years ago I haven’t looked back.
What have been some of the outstanding things for you here at PNB?
I really enjoyed the process of learning Dominique Dumais’ “Scripted in the Body.” It was my first non-ballet casting. Also, that same season, being able to perform “Jardi Tancat,” Nicolo Fonte’s second ballet for us, “Within/Without,” Forsythe’s “Artifact II” and his “In the middle, somewhat elevated.” So much intensity! The pas de trois in “Swan Lake;” “Nine Sinatra Songs;” and Ulysses Dove’s “Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven.” I don’t like to look like someone else (such as in the corps), so the contemporary works help give me the freedom to be myself.
Our readers would like know about your pointe shoes – and the care and feeding thereof.
I wear Freed and my maker is Maltese Cross. Size 4XXX. I cut down the sides and cut the “popsicle” stick in half.
As with previous seasons, this season is full of interesting ballets. What’s on the bill for you and what are you looking forward to doing?
I get to do one of the soloist parts in “Ballet Imperial.” And in Francia’s [Russell] staging of “Agon” I’m doing the first pas de trois. “Agon” is a good challenge for me as it’s not the type of role I’d put myself in. Twyla Tharp’s “Upper Room” is like doing aerobics – very athletic. Other ballets that I’m looking forward to are Paul’s [Gibson] “Sense of Doubt” and [Ulysses] Dove’s “Vespers.” Olivier [Wevers] is making a new ballet for the comedy festival next spring that should be fun.
What else would you like people to know about you?
I’m into health and fitness. I do yoga and I go to the gym. I like good restaurants and enjoy travel. After my performing career, I’d like to be a personal trainer. I’d like to help dancers learn how to keep their bodies in shape and healthy which will ultimately prolong their careers. Cross-training and a healthy lifestyle have helped me prevent injuries and keep my overall strength when we are in and out of our dancing season.
My husband has a clothing business [www.mpgsport.com] that keeps him traveling much of the time. MPG is a new line; he was inspired by the dancers and our movement. He uses the dancers as design models and makes the clothing very movement friendly. I dance, exercise, and live in MPG clothing! Our time together isn’t a lot right now but what we have is quality time – which means we’ll probably stay married longer! [Laughs]
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