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Ballerina Heather Wallace leaps from “Swan Lake” to “All You Need is Love” this season. -- Photo by Ari Denison

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Spotlight

The well-traveled ballerina

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

EUGENE, Ore. — From “Swan Lake” in Spokane to the Beatles and “All You Need Is Love” in Port Angeles, Heather Wallace dances across the lines.

Rehearsing new works, taking ballet class, performing and then driving to the next town — these are all tests of her will and spirit. Wallace has learned to keep turning her focus back to one thing: She still loves to dance.

“Ballet can play mind games with you if you let it,” said Wallace, who has been dancing since she was 2 years old.

At this point in her career, 25 years later, “there are a lot of challenges. You have to stay healthy, not just physically, but mentally,” Wallace said in an interview from Eugene, Ore.

Wallace is in her eighth season with the Eugene Ballet, a relatively small, yet well-traveled, company. The dancers from Eugene tour the Northwest regularly, and co-founders Toni Pimble and Riley Grannan have taken their dancers to more than 100 cities in 32 U.S. states and to India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Syria, Jordan, Tunisia and Taiwan.

Amidst all of this, “you have to take charge of your life,” Wallace said. “The days are long. The rehearsals are intense.

“I find it’s important to remind myself why I do it.

“This is my dream job, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

This month, Wallace is dancing in “All You Need Is Love,” the evening-length ballet featuring a variety of Beatles songs as well as contemporary and classical ballet pieces. “Love” is on tour, with Port Angeles and Redmond, Ore., among the stops.

Also in February and March, Wallace is performing in Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” in Eugene, Corvallis, Ontario, Bend and Salem, Ore.; Nampa and Idaho Falls, Idaho; and Casper, Wyo.

“Sometimes, we drive all day, then get up the next morning to go to the theater. Then we have class. Sometimes, we’ll drive after the show” to the next city.

Wallace practices yoga and does Pilates exercises in addition to her daily ballet classes on the road.

She grew up dancing in Ventura, Calif., joined Ohio’s BalletMet as a trainee in 2004, then came to the Eugene Ballet in 2005. She has danced the role of Tiger Lily in Bruce Steivel’s “Peter Pan,” portrayed the Roasted Swan in “Carmina Burana,” the Bluebird in “Sleeping Beauty,” the Fairy Godmother in “Cinderella” and Polythene Pam, among other roles, in “All You Need Is Love.”

To rise in the world of ballet, “you have to be a perfectionist,” Wallace said. “It’s very competitive,” in larger companies especially. Cliques can form.

“That can drive you crazy, if you let it,” she added.

But for this dancer, the Eugene Ballet is different. Choreographer Pimble “is great. She sets the tone for everything else,” said Wallace. Pimble and artistic director Jennifer Amy-Cordero respect each performer’s individual artistry, “and we support each other. That’s really important when we’re on tour.”

Like so many ballet companies, symphony orchestras and other arts organizations, the Eugene Ballet has faced financial challenges. But the 21-dancer company will mark its 35th anniversary this year. It is based at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts Center in Eugene, and receives grants from the center’s foundation as well as from the National Endowment for the Arts.

This spring, Wallace will dance in the Eugene Ballet’s latest creation: “Mowgli: The Jungle Book Ballet.” Based on Rudyard Kipling’s book and choreographed by Pimble, it will premiere at the Hult Center in April — with Wallace dancing the role of Bagheera, the panther.
PORT ANGELES — Dancing “Here Comes the Sun” feels like floating on light.

Moving through “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” with your partner, though, is more rough and tumble —like a scene from the most torrid love affair.

And “Light Rain,” well, “you’ve never seen anything like it,” says Heather Wallace, one of the 21 ballet dancers soon to arrive here.

The Eugene Ballet Company brings an evening of highly unusual dance in “All You Need Is Love,” a Beatles-and-then-some ballet at the Port Angeles High School auditorium, 304 E. Park Ave., this Sunday.

The 4 p.m. performance will travel through the Beatles’ songbook, from the “White Album” to “Abbey Road” and beyond, from “A Day in the Life” and “Blackbird” to “Let’s Do It in the Road” and “Across the Universe.”

“Love” also will take steps outside the Fab Four’s catalog, into a classical piece, the “Black Swan” pas de deux. Then there will come a comical work, “Channel Surfing,” a rapid-fire survey of 40 kinds of sport.

“Light Rain” a contemporary piece choreographed by Gerald Arpino, is also on the program. It has a way of electrifying audiences, Wallace said. “We’ve actually heard people gasp at the end,” the dancer said of “Rain.”

Much to her delight, she has heard people exclaim, “Oh, my,” as the dancers moved off stage.

With “All You Need Is Love,” the Eugene Ballet company members seek to enchant not only those who regularly go to the ballet, but also those who love popular music.

In addition to classics such as “Swan Lake,” the company has performed with the Portland, Ore., band Pink Martini and created a piece with Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” music.

The Juan de Fuca Festival of the Arts is hosting the Eugene Ballet, which presented “Romeo and Juliet” here in October 2011. Tickets to “All You Need Is Love” are $20 to $25 for adults and $14 to $19 for youths age 12 and younger at www.JFFA.org; Port Book and News, 104 E. First St. in Port Angeles; and Pacific Mist Books, 121 W. Washington St. in Sequim.

Toni Pimble, the company cofounder who choreographed “Love,” grew up with the Beatles. She was born in England, 30 miles outside London and remembers discovering, and then following, the evolution of the four lads from Liverpool.

Like the Beatles’ music, many of “Love’s” dances “are just fun,” Pimble said. Others reflect the history the Beatles explored, from the loneliness that followed the carnage of World War II in “Eleanor Rigby” to the civil rights struggle in “Blackbird.”

“Love” starts out with the strains of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” with dancers portraying John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Soon, “A Day in the Life” dawns, and the dancers are off on the Beatles’ creative journey.

“We have nine men in the [ballet] company,” Pimble noted, “and they certainly get a workout” in “Love.”

In addition, eight of the men dance in the 11-minute “Channel Surfing” piece, evoking dozens of athletic events to music by Michael Torke.

“We reference the different sports very, very quickly,” Pimble said. Often, the audience recognizes the various events just as the dancers exit. “They get it, and they laugh a lot.”

Such laughter and applause are all welcome all the time, added Wallace. With the music in “Love,” she said, “it’s a different energy. Even with the serious pieces, there’s that backbeat going.”

No stiff tutus nor attitudes required for this outing, Wallace added.

“Ballet should be enjoyable,” she declared, “for everybody.”

Last modified: February 14. 2013 7:47PM
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