Burton relishes OBT promotion
For six months during the COVID-19 pandemic and era of government restrictions, Eva Burton would practice en pointe on a makeshift dance floor and with a chair to simulate a studio bar in her dining room, as well as communicating with fellow dancers and instructors via Zoom.
"That got old quickly," the Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer said. "It's nice to be back in the studio. Even now, when back in the studio, there are only, at most, six total dancers in the big studio. And, we have to keep our distance, so it's still odd. This is a job where we're normally touching each other all the time."
Burton's patience and practice paid off, however, as she received some good news recently. OBT and Artistic Director Kevin Irving have promoted her to principal dancer. She joins Xuan Cheng, Peter Franc and Brian Simcoe as principal dancers for OBT, a smaller group than usual, but understandable given the current circumstances.
Burton said it's always been a goal to be a principal dancer and be one by the age of 30. Well, it didn't happen — missed it by two days, being named principal dancer two days after her Saturday, Oct. 17, birthday.
"But, my physical therapist said she knew on Friday that I would be promoted. In my head, it happened before my 30th," Burton said.
The pandemic has upended the lives of many, including Burton, who had an indication that she would be promoted earlier in the year but "when you're stuck at home … I came to terms that it wouldn't happen."
Burton, who's from Los Angeles, was hired out of San Francisco Ballet School 10 years ago as a company artist and rose to soloist in 2016.
She shined in many works, including as the lead in William Forsythe's "In the Middle Somewhat Elevated" and as the Waltz Girl in George Balanchine's "Serenade," as well as performing as Cinderella in Ben Stevenson's production, the Sugar Plum Fairy in Balanchine's "The Nutcracker" and most recently as Aurora in Christopher Stowell's "Sleeping Beauty."
Said Irving: "Not only is Eva a proficient, expressive and beautifully musical dancer, but her consistent commitment and dedication through the years, in good times and in bad, are the qualities of a true prima ballerina. Particularly now as we face this most challenging season, her combination of grit and beauty is what uplifts the company."
OBT has moved forward with its season, "OBT Moves," which includes virtual and some in-person performances planned. In addition to Burton, OBT has welcomed Mathilde Lambert as company artist and elevated Zuzu Metzler and Bailey Shaw to company artists.
Burton said being promoted to principal dancer comes with higher expectations, whereas being a soloist "you're stuck between where you're getting more opportunities but you have to do some lesser roles and you're still fighting to prove yourself — not that I'm going to stop trying to prove myself."
She has danced with Franc and Simcoe and shared roles with Cheng.
"We all help each other out," Burton said.
On Cheng, she added: "She teaches a lot, and she has a really good eye for fixing things that are wrong, which is nice. We do share advice and ideas with each other."
The closest fellow dancer to her is soloist Thomas Baker, her friend since their teenage years. They met in San Francisco and moved to Portland together. He even served as a bridesmaid in Burton's wedding a couple years ago.
"He has the biggest imagination in the world," she said. "When you're taking a company class … he loves to throw ideas at you and see what you do. He's helped me a lot through all the years emotionally with dancing and life."
She's thankful to Irving for giving her the soloist and now principal dancer opportunities.
"I realized this the other day: I used to not be able to jump — jumping was not my forte — and Kevin is the person who actually helped me find my jump," Burton said. "I never thought I was coordinated in that way.
"He gave me a lot of attention his first few years as director, pushed me and helped me find confidence as a dancer. I think we have similar personalities, and he knew how to push my buttons to get what he wanted."
So, Burton is a principal dancer at age 30, and feels great — except for the effects of the past six months basically relegated to her home.
"I felt (great) in February," she joked. "But we had six months of lockdown and it's been a challenge to come back and not feel like I'm in the best shape of my life. I'm just trying to get my coordination and physicality back."
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