The Portland Ballet gears up for annual Thanksgiving shows

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: VIRGINIA WERNER - Andrew Davis, 8, dances as Pinocchio during a rehearsal for The Portland Ballet's upcoming premiere of 'Tales from Mother Goose.'Talk to nearly any dancer, and you’ll get quite familiar with the term “self-discipline” by the end of the conversation.

“Challenging” will be a common utterance, as well.

“Perfection” slips itself onto nearly every tongue, though none will think they’ve reached it.

Talk to any dedicated ballerina, and by age 8, he or she is likely to describe the craft with one of those words. At The Portland Ballet, as the dancers of both the academy and youth company prepare for their annual Thanksgiving-weekend production, those words are all at the forefront with just a few weeks left before opening.

“You could go through your whole life and not know everything about dance,” said Cyrus Biehl, a 16-year-old dancer from Beaverton. “That’s how dancing is. You’re never gonna be perfect at it. The goal is perfection, when you really can’t reach perfection — you can get close, but you can’t reach perfection.

“That’s where the discipline comes in, too. Because if you don’t have discipline, you can’t reach any of your goals.”

One benefit of dance, said Artistic Director Nancy Davis, is that these life lessons are learned early and can be applied to anything. Regardless of whether the young dancers go on to pursue professional ballet careers or an entirely different genre of work, what they learn through dance can, and most likely will, help them succeed.

“I see that they have a passion for what they’re doing — it’s contagious,” she said. “Whether they end up doing this or not, it helps them feel what it’s like for something to really mean a lot, and that will carry over into whatever they decide to do in their lives.”

As The Portland Ballet’s artistic director since 2001, Davis has seen many dancers grow up through the program before going on to future endeavors. She also has the joy of seeing dancers start as young children with small roles, who eventually dance leads for a production. This year is no different, and for the Thanksgiving performances, “The Enchanted Toyshop” will be performed for the ninth time, and a brand new production, “Tales from Mother Goose,” will see the Portland stage for the first time.Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: VIRGINIA WERNER - Dancers, including Yasmin Husted of Beaverton, act out their roles as members of the Matrushka Corps during a rehearsal of 'The Enchanted Toyshop.'

“It’s nice sometimes when you’re performing, you get to almost put on a mask and pretend to be someone else,” said Nick Jurica, 17, a Beaverton dancer. “I think those moments when you’re on stage and people are really enjoying what you’re doing, they’re really short. We’re doing all of this for those really short moments. Sometimes, if you focus so much on the steps and being right, you miss that. Your career is short, but those are the moments you live for.”

Family affair

Having been a dancer for years, Nick will be joined in the November performances by two of his younger sisters, who are following in his ballet footsteps. Another trio of Beaverton siblings will also perform, the Davises, whose parents Jason and Michelle are instructors with the company and former dancers for the San Francisco Ballet.

“Sometimes it’s hard for me because I know I don’t want to take dancing into a professional career, but I love doing it as a hobby,” said 12-year-old Ari Davis. “But for a career, I think I’d rather be an architect or a pediatrician, so sometimes that gets on my mind. But I think it’s worth it still. Being at this age, where you don’t have to make that choice, you can just dance for the fun of it and making people smile with your performance.”

Her siblings, Issy, 8, and Andrew, 10, held similar sentiments about why they love the craft.

“Ballet inspires me to dance,” Issy said. “It’s just really fun and challenging, and it makes me want to do hard work.”

“It’s fun,” Andrew said when answering a similar question, a shy smile stretching across his face. “I like learning new stuff.”

For the younger dancers, “fun” tended to be one of the first adjectives used to describe why they like ballet. For some of the more seasoned dancers, “challenging” more often came up first — because of the challenge, ballet is fun.

“Every time before a show, for me at least, it gets really rough. I’ll be like, ‘I want to quit. I never want to dance again.’ And as soon as the show happens, I’m back in it,” said Haruka Weiser, a 17-year-old student at the Arts and Communication Magnet Academy in Beaverton. “It really is a rush. There really is nothing like it, and it is so short. To people who maybe are more logical than me, it’s not worth it. But somehow that cycle of it just keeps happening over and over again and keeps you going.”

Love of the art

With the amount of time dancers spend in the studio, ballet has to be something they love, otherwise they couldn’t continue with it. On top of everything else they have, they dance nearly every day of the week.

“I think it’s worth it, but it is really hard with all the homework you get,” said 12-year-old Mary Jurica. “I have to get ready for school; I have to do my homework; I have to go to dance; I have to go to bed. It doesn’t really feel like you have time for anything else sometimes, but it still feels worth it because it’s what makes you happy.”

After months of hard work, it all comes back to the performance, which is something the dancers each look forward to, and is what makes the long hours of training bearable.

“After you practice and practice it, it becomes part of you. That role becomes part of you. When you go on stage, you can just let loose and act the way that person would have acted in real life,” said 13-year-old Ethan Myers of Beaverton. “I’m just ready to perform. I’m ready.”

The students’ leader is ready for the performance, too.

“I’m just looking forward to seeing the performances because the kids really come alive,” said Nancy Davis. “To see that these kids who started out as little peanuts, little children in our opening scene, are now doing the leads in this production, it’s what this business is about.

“One of the many joys of being in this profession is seeing the growth among the dancers — to see them succeed and to see them become such wonderful human beings and dancers.”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: VIRGINIA WERNER - Ari Davis and Mary Jurica rehearse for their French Poodle roles in 'The Enchanted Toyshop.'

Catch the show

What: The Portland Ballet performs in the Portland premiere of John Clifford’s “Tales from Mother Goose” and his “Enchanted Toy Shop.” Live music from Portland State University Symphony with each show.

When: Nov. 28-30; 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Where: Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 S.W. Park Ave.

Cost: $35 adults; $15 youth; $90 family pack (two adults, two youth, $10 for additional youth) 1 p.m. performance on Nov. 28 is $5

More: Buy tickets online or call 503-725-3307

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