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Portland's Parsons

Oregon Ballet Theatre Principal Dancer Chauncey Parsons

by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin

We met with Oregon Ballet Theatre Principal Dancer Chauncey Parsons a few hours before he was to perform in Balanchine’s “Square Dance,” during OBT's concluding weekend of its repertory run of the 2010-11 season. This is a summary of that conversation.

How did you get started dancing?

My mother sent me to ballet class at the age of 12 – I had a bad slouch – kicking and screaming. Santa Barbara Ballet Center had five or six boys and I had to work harder to get into class with the other boys. The RAD and Cecchetti techniques were taught and I feel like this was a good preparation, as I knew what teachers were talking about – and the names of the steps – as the dance vocabulary was emphasized.

I danced there for three years and began to get accepted into Summer programs – Houston Ballet (Bruce Steivel), ABT (Alabama), and the Bolshoi Academy (New York). I was accepted into the Kirov Academy (Washington, DC) program year-round at the age of 15 and stayed until 18. My family was fairly artistic and supportive and during this time I also played the ‘cello, piano, and violin. One of my major influences was teacher Vladimir Djouloukhadze, whose excellent schooling, and during a period of growing pains, with the very Russian training he provided, made me come out a “real” dancer.

My biggest performance step was tested outside of the Kirov Academy at the New York International Ballet Competition. Olga Checkashova at State Street Ballet in Santa Barbara had just had her partner "bail" on her and needed someone for the pas de deux competition. I was introduced by the State Street Director and rehearsed for two weeks. I told the Kirov Academy that I would not be back and took a high school proficiency exam. The competition repertory included the “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux” – we were 13th in line for presenting this -- then Ailey’s ‘In The Rapids’ from his “The River. The third round included the third act pas de deux from “The Sleeping Beauty.” We did well but I got a notion to use hair mousse in a major way, which left me looking like Bozo the Clown – some insist that this is the reason that I did not win a medal!

I danced with State Street Ballet after the competition and did a Summer program at San Francisco Ballet but didn’t like the restrictions. State Street’s director, Rodney Gustavson, offered me a job and I stayed for two years. It was a good place to start and I got a lot of stage experience that would not have happened at SFB. We performed at the Regional Dance America Festival in Salt Lake City.

My next position was with the Colorado Ballet where the director at the time, Martin Fredmann, hired me. My debut was in Wheeldon’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Colorado Ballet made me – with Meelis Pakri, a retired principal who was ballet master – from being a talented kid to being a real dancer. I learned how to partner. I took over parts from an injured principal – the first test of this was “Don Quixote” when I was a soloist --and by the end of the season, I had been promoted to principal.


What about your approach to these roles?

Through the process, you learn to become “the guy” whether it be Albrecht, Basilio or whoever. A lot is due to the pressure – where nothing can go wrong. It becomes less about what you do and more about how you do it. I credit Meelis for this. I learned how to direct the attention of and enthrall an audience without “doing” anything – an audience’s attention must be captured before the dancing starts. I learned to pull back from extreme tricks.


How did you end up at Oregon Ballet Theatre?

I danced at Colorado Ballet for six years. Not artistically but organizationally, things got nasty at the end with Fredmann being fired which was totally unexpected by the Company and the timing was bad. I danced for the new director, Gil Boggs, for one season. He wanted and caused people to re-establish themselves and I decided to do that at a different company. I went to Washington Ballet but this was not helped by the fact that my wife was still at Colorado Ballet. I did a lot of auditions. I was visiting my younger brother who was dancing at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School (ABT) and told me that OBT was auditioning the next day. I didn’t realize that Christopher Stowell was the director. I decided to take the audition and got the job.


What is your assessment and awareness of yourself as an artist?

Self image comes in waves – I try to keep it on the level of self-respect and to keep my self, my ego, in check, as you always realize you could be so much more. It’s always an emotional roller coaster and a fine line that is hard to find at times. I always try to be collegial, supportive, and never say anything bad about anyone else.


Let’s discuss your role in the upcoming “Square Dance.”

“Square Dance “ is a high point for me of this season. I’ve not been a real Balanchine fan and have done “Four Temperaments” before. Julia Rowe, a former SFB student, is my partner. I’m happy to help pass along what I know and mentor the younger generation, as was done for me.


What are you hobbies and interests outside of ballet?

I play a lot of video games. I read a lot of fiction – Edgar Allan Poe -- and am learning about method acting. Plus, I’m into science fiction and fantasy.


Any parting comments?

Technique alone is not very interesting. It is what you cause the audience to feel that is important.

Makino Hayashi, my wife, and I like Portland and are not fans of really big cities; Portland seems just right!

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