OREGON BALLET THEATRE

 

Photo: Michael Linsmeier.
Photo by Joni Kabana.

 

ANNE MUELLER

Anne Mueller

WHIP SMART. WEEKEND FARMER. STEPS LIGHTLY.

BY LINDA BESANT, February 2006

For a college paper, Anne once figured that she burns 2400 calories a day.  That’s what it takes to fuel her versatility as a dancer and her wild wit.  Never mind that she’s also a skilled teacher of ballet, and well along towards a degree in Liberal Studies with an Arts Administration focus.  And that’s not everything . . .

Are you really an urban farmer, with your own goats and chickens?
I am.  My husband Lars and I choose to live where we can have animals, even though it’s a bit far from OBT.  We have two goats, but one of them refused to play the day we were shooting the “Who’s Your Dancer?” photo.  We have goats because our property was totally overrun with blackberries.  We didn’t want to use chemicals and discovered through research that goats will eat the greenery, making the vines easy to eliminate.  Lars bought them from a newspaper ad, and sure enough, the goats cleared the lot of blackberries.  Now they mow the lawn.  We have two chickens and we eat their eggs.  It’s all part of our desire to move toward living sustainably.  We compost.  We try to be very conscious with our use of water.  Two summers ago, I participated in the Village Building Convergence to learn about clay-slip construction while building cabins at Dignity Village.  We have two dogs too, one very big and one medium sized.  Gunter, the big one, screamed in terror when he saw the chickens.  We had to have a dog trainer come help him learn to live with them.  The animals are a huge stress-reliever when I’m under a lot of performance pressure.  I love watching the goats spar every day.  The chickens are hilarious.  Their running is the best part.  It feels really good to be a central character in the lives of six other beings, and I think I’ve learned a lot about human behavior from the dogs.

Congratulations are in order because this is your tenth season with Oregon Ballet Theatre.  What attracted you to Portland?
After three years at Alabama Ballet, I wanted to find a company that had more resources and a more interesting repertoire.  I opened the Sterns Performing Arts Directory and circled companies in every city where I was interested in living.  I ended up auditioning for five companies, and coming to OBT.  I love Portland.  In some ways it reminds me of Germany, with the climate, and the city feels like it has a little bit more of a European sensibility in urban design and public transportation.  It’s a perfect mix of urban and rural living.  I love living in such close proximity to so much beautiful scenery, and in the spring I sometimes feel swept away by the beauty of the green.  I’m happy to live in a vibrant city with lots of interesting, creative people, but it’s not so big that there’s a feeling of anonymity.  I also love feeling a sense of community with artists of other disciplines.  I’m stimulated by exposure, it makes me a better artist to see good film and hear good music.  I’ve used local musicians for several pieces of choreography I’ve made for OBT, and thrive on contact with other artists.

How did you get started in ballet?
My Dad was in the service.  When I was seven, we were living in Germany.  My older sister was 14, and she was very serious about gymnastics.  She would stretch at home, and I wanted to join in with her.  We discovered that I was very flexible, so I started gymnastics too.  When we moved back to the states, my mother was excited to take advantage of all the opportunities here.  I took piano lessons and played soccer and continued gymnastics.  Eventually, my Mom said, “If you’re going to be serious about gymnastics, you have to take ballet.”  I didn’t like it at first, because we had to wear scratchy tights.  I wanted to quit and take jazz instead.  A new teacher arrived at our school—Cindy Anderson, who had retired from New York City Ballet—and my Mom talked me into giving it six weeks with the new teacher.  In six weeks, Cindy Anderson changed my mind.  She brought the discipline of classical ballet into the classroom, and the continuity of building skills from day to day.  I was really captivated. After about a year, Cindy encouraged my parents to find me a better school.  They were really amazing about trying to inform themselves in an area they knew nothing about.  My Dad found a community dance program run by Judy Rhodes in Arlington, Virginia.  She had danced with Ben Stevenson at the National Ballet.  She accepted me as a student because she thought I was “incredibly determined.”  All of a sudden I was on pointe and dancing six days a week.  My parents basically bribed my brother to drive me back and forth.  They supported me unequivocally.  After a year with Judy Rhodes, I moved to the Washington School of Ballet with Mary Day.  I got release-time to be out of school early every day and studied more hours a day at a higher level.

Since your father was in the service, your family moved frequently.  Did that affect your ballet training?
Absolutely.  I was happy at the Washington School of Ballet, when my Dad was transferred to Atlanta.  I wanted to stay in D.C.  We checked out a ballet school in Atlanta and I was not pleased—there was bubble gum on the barre.  At Washington Ballet, they had posted a New York Times article on the wall called “Where the Stars are Born.”  Baryshnikov, who was then directing American Ballet Theatre, said some of his favorite dancers had trained at the Alabama School of Fine Arts.  I auditioned there for Dame Sonia Arova.  She gave me such a demanding audition.  In the attempt to do what she asked, I did more than I ever thought I could.  I really wanted to study with her.  I moved from home to board at the Alabama School of Fine Arts at the age of 13 and stayed there for five years, through high school.  If Dame Sonia wanted to use you for a solo role, she would just appear and take you away for private lessons, which were absolutely terrifying.  The school required all the dance students to take dance history and music appreciation, which meant studying the music of the ballet repertoire.  We also had to take piano class until we could sight read at a certain level, and play of piece of music to accompany a combination in ballet class.  Alabama School of the Arts is a state-funded school.  Residents only have to pay a fee to live in the dorm.  I had to pay out-of-state tuition, but it was still very cost-effective. Alabama Ballet was affiliated with the school at that time.  I started touring with the company in The Nutcracker when I was in the eighth grade, and for other performances, like Swan Lake, when I was in the tenth grade.  You really had to be responsible for yourself.  I loved it.  I’m going back there to do some teaching during OBT’s break in March, and I’m really looking forward to it. 

You’ve worked extensively with Trey McIntyre during his previous engagements at OBT and as a dancer with the Trey McIntyre Project.  Talk about Trey and about Christopher Stowell as choreographers . . . Christopher has a way of capturing your individuality when he creates work for you.  He encourages you to be daring and exploratory as you grow with the work.  I feel challenged to entertain and surprise him a little bit, a challenge that I find exciting and enjoyable. Trey’s work requires a unique psychological commitment.   He dreams up movements and positions that sometimes defy a classical dancer’s concept of what is aesthetically beautiful.  To successfully interpret these moments depends on a commitment to defy our usual sensibility.  If you allow yourself to feel uncomfortable mentally while attempting these moments, this reads in your physicality and robs the phrase of its impact.  In this way, his work is a personal journey that urges you to push beyond the safe and comfortable.  For me, it’s a metaphor, a rehearsal for living life the same way. 

Who's Your Dancer? 

OBT / National Endowment for the Arts Oregon Arts Commission Regional Arts & Culture Council Work for Art Portland Monthly Oregon Community Foundation Jerome Robbins Foundation
Work for Art