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Alison Roper in George Balanchine's "Serenade," 2004.
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Alison Roper, age 10 (left); preparing for a performance at age 12 (right)
I have a joyous style of dance. I just love moving so much. I couldn’t stop dancing even when I wasn’t dancing. When I was a youngster I would crash around the kitchen trying pirouettes and jumps and driving my family crazy.
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Alison Roper in George Balanchine's "Agon," 1999.
Over and over, people would say, “How do you have such amazing classical ballet technique? I thought OBT was a contemporary company?” We took really serious ballet class every day (we still do). I like rules and order. So ballet works really well for me.
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Alison Roper in Trey McIntyre's "White Noise," 1998.
This is one of my favorite all time photos. It’s from a ballet by Trey McIntyre that he created while he was Resident Choreographer at OBT. The ballet, “White Noise,” has never been done again, primarily because there wasn't a good quality video and no one notated it when Trey made it, so no one remembered it very well. I LOVED this piece. I flew my Mom from Maine to Portland just to watch me in it.
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Alison Roper in James Canfield's "The Nutcracker" in the late '90s (left); as the Sugarplum Fairy in George Balanchine's "The Nutcracker," 2006 (right).
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Alison Roper and OBT founding artistic director James Canfield on the cover of the Oregonian's A&E section, 2000.
When I talk to young dancers I say it’s a special thing to find your place, to find a director who is interested in you, and helping you improve. If you find that, stay … because it may not happen again. There were very good dancers came through during Oregon Ballet Theatre’s James Canfield years (1989-2002) but if they didn’t invest—didn’t bring their energy and focus and passion—then he wouldn’t invest. I invested.
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Alison Roper with Paul Destrooper and Damian Drake in James Kudelka's "Almost Mozart,” 2006.
Some people think of ballet as very old-fashioned. But many pieces are very real and very edgy. "Almost Mozart," which is done almost primarily in silence, got my sports friends into ballet: “It was amazing,” they said. “We could hear you breathing, we could hear the bodies smacking.” And, you know, the skimpy costumes don’t hurt.
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Alison Roper with partner Artur Sultanov in Christopher Stowell's "Swan Lake," 2006.
I get really fascinated with the work it takes to partner together; what partners bring out in each other. Dancing with Artur frees something up in me…maybe because we’ve danced together a zillion times. It’s like, if something isn’t going to work we almost know it before it happens.
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Alison Roper with Artur Sultanov in Nicolo Fonte's "Bolero," 2010.
I loved the process of making "Bolero" with Nicolo Fonte. He stays in a classical vocabulary but he twists it and tweaks it.
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Alison Roper with Chauncey Parsons in George Balanchine's "Apollo," 2012.
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Alison Roper with Artur Sultanov in Christopher Wheeldon's "Rush," 2008.
My big struggle is nerves before shows. Sometimes I can conquer it, and sometimes it gets the better than me. The first time I danced at the Kennedy Center in DC there was this extra level of intensity, like, “I gotta not suck.” I came to the first pirouette in "Rush"—a turn I should be able to do by myself, in my sleep—and it was really bad. Artur could hear my breathing; it was panicked and shallow. I guessed we danced beautifully, but I was having a full-on anxiety attack.
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Alison Roper with Paul Destrooper in Jerome Robbins' "The Concert," 2006.
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Alison Roper with Adrian Fry in Trey McIntyre's "Like A Samba," 2010.
What dance fits me best? "Like a Samba" allows me to live in a lot of different parts of my personality. In the opening and finale it’s like you are with friends, sharing a great joke or going out dancing. Then there’s a pas de deux that’s a little forbidden, a little sexy—but not too sexy. (I love that.) The long trio that comes at the end of the ballet to “The Girl from Ipanema” is a lot of who I am. Just a beautiful girl, walking along, she’s just doing her own thing. You’re just … yourself.
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Alison Roper as Odile in Christopher Stowell's "Swan Lake," 2009.
Dancing until you're 40 and having two children is a little abnormal. I danced the lead in Swan Lake when I was five and a half months pregnant. It was hard but I made it through the fouette turns. [Former artistic director] Christopher Stowell was wonderful. When I told him I was pregnant, he said, that’ll be no problem … “just really hold your stomach in as much as you can.”
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Alison Roper at Yale Union, February 2014
Roper will dance a pas de deux from choreographer Nacho Duato among other farewell works in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Celebrate program, Apr 17–26 at the Newmark Theatre. obt.org
Image: Andy Batt
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