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Instructor, dancers from local company travel to Dominican Republic for cultural exchange

COURTESY: BLAINE TRUITT COVERT - It'll be quite an experience for Nancy Davis, The Portland Ballet's founder and artistic director, as she accompanies two dancers to the Dominican Republic.The Dominican Republic and ballet are two things you wouldn’t normally associate with each other.

But, as a couple teenagers and a longtime instructor will soon find out, the Caribbean island country and the centuries-old European dance form are very much familiar with each other.

Nancy Davis, a founder and an artistic director of The Portland Ballet, will teach classes, and TPB dancers Lauren Kness and Henry Winslow will take part in the Ballet Concierto Dominicano’s “The Nutcracker,” Dec. 16-18, in the capital city of Santo Domingo. It’s the main reason for an 11-day trip to the country, as part of an informal cultural exchange that started when The Portland Ballet played host to Carlos Veitia, artistic director of Academy Ballet Concierto, in the spring of 2015.

Veitia had contacted The Portland Ballet before his planned visit to Portland to observe classes and rehearsals, and Davis obliged wholeheartedly.

“We’re always welcoming of people in the profession,” says Davis, who founded TPB, based at 6250 Capitol Highway, with husband/executive director Jim Lane in 2001. “We have a lot in common, we speak the same language — ballet.”

The relationship developed into an idea for an exchange, and Veitia invited Davis and some dancers to take part in “The Nutcracker,” as TPB doesn’t put on the production itself.

COURTESY: BLAINE TRUITT COVERT - Lauren KnessThe two worked out logistics, and “it’s been a really fun adventure,” says Davis, as she and the two dancers prepared to leave.

John Clifford choreographed the dancers’ parts in the Dominican Republic. Clifford is the founder and artistic director of the original Los Angeles Ballet and former dancer and choreographer with New York City Ballet; he is considered to be George Balanchine’s choreographic protege. He has worked with The Portland Ballet before, several times.

“He was here anyway for a rehearsal of our ballet over Thanksgiving,” Davis says. “We had him choreograph the Arabian dance for two, and Carlos was thrilled because of the caliber of John Clifford’s work.”

The two teenage dancers were selected to go to the Dominican Republic. The 18-year-old Kness is from Hillsboro and a senior at Wilson High School. The 17-year-old Winslow is from Bellingham, Wash., and he takes classes at Whatcom Community College through the state-run Running Start program. Both take online classes. Both are pre-professional Career Track students, meaning they plan to make ballet their careers. They both performed leading roles recently in “The Enchanted Toyshop” and “Gift Box.”

COURTESY: BLAINE TRUITT COVERT - Henry Winslow“We figured it would be a good experience and something for their resume,” Davis says, “and a good fit for the choreography.”

So, what will be “The Nutcracker” be like in the Dominican Republic, which sits adjacent to Haiti in the Caribbean?

“The school has been around for awhile. Carlos’ mother was the director of the professional company,” Davis says. “They’re building brand new sets and costumes, and (Kness, Winslow) are lucky to have costumes designed for them.”

The dancers will go through rehearsals and performances, and Davis will teach. And they’ll get to relax for a couple days in Las Terrenas, swimming, snorkeling and having fun. Davis jokes that the three Northwesterners will stand out among the Dominicans “and have to wear sunscreen."

Davis also says that they'll stick out as they play the dark-skinned Arabians in "The Nutcracker." “Carlos asked, ‘Do you want to use spray tan?’” Davis says.

“I’m proud to have been able to get this off the ground,” Davis says. “I think it’ll be the beginning of this, a back and forth (relationship).

“No matter where you are in the world, ballet connect us.”

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