BY GAVIN LARSEN
THROUGHOUT HER 15 YEARS WITH OBT, Candace Bouchard has defined herself as a sort of renaissance ballerina. Her classic, iron-clad technique, spliced with Balanchinian speed and attack, have brought brilliance to the company’s most challenging repertoire, while her ability to portray every type of onstage persona — from spritely to regal to comedic — has lent a warmth and humanity to her performances of even plotless, contemporary ballets. It is as if she is inviting us to join in her joy.
Candace’s steady, practical — yet adventuresome — openness and curiosity naturally contributed to her uniquely (for a ballet dancer) broad world-view, all without diverging from the freeway speed of her ballet-dancer life. In fact, for nearly the entirety of her career, in addition to her full-time soloist position at OBT, she’s allowed her instinct for playing on a larger stage to flourish: when the company initiated efforts to expand its reach in the community, she founded “Uprising,” a pop-up company she conceived of to put ballet in untraditional venues (and for which she produced, directed, fund-raised, and choreographed several critically acclaimed performances, many in collaboration with popular local musicians), she’s served as Director of Special programs at North Portland’s Falcon Arts community, and, for a period, was Marketing Coordinator for OBT itself. For most dancers, the time and energy management (not to mention readiness to focus-shift from one all-encompassing task to another several times a day) required to pull off such diverse responsibilities would mean compromising one passion for another. But Candace not only relished the pressure, it fueled her artistry.
And now, characteristically, she’s looking at all the experience she’s accumulated and wondering in what new direction it can take her. After roughly 600 performances of nearly 100 different ballets and countless hours in the studio and on stage, Candace will be stepping off stage at the conclusion of this year’s run of The Nutcracker. There is no injury forcing her to retire, no life event pressuring a change, no sense of having passed her peak. Simply that insatiable urge to keep moving, exploring, and growing. “I reached a point where I was more excited about who I get to be next than I was about continuing to try to perfect this dancer role I’ve been in since I was 20,” she says. “When I realized that, I thought, ‘what am I waiting for?’”
Her many fans — audiences and colleagues alike — will wish they could convince her to wait longer, to stay on stage and keep thrilling us with her seemingly infallible, astonishingly breezy, “this is child’s play” pirouettes, fleet and precise petit allegro, and soaring grand jetés, so beautifully on display in what has come to be one of her signature roles: Dew Drop in The Nutcracker, which Candace will dance for her final performance.
I was lucky enough to dance alongside Candace for the seven years our careers at OBT overlapped. In zillions of company classes, I can’t recall a single time I saw her flub a step, flag during jumps, or give less than 100% energy. I used to watch her discreetly from the back of the studio, trying to analyze how she made things look so easy and wondering how I could copy the effect. Nothing seemed hard; she never looked tired. But it was her light laugh, quick smile, and modest confidence that were most reassuring to me — this dancer with technique I could never hope to emulate, who flew higher than imaginable, could (and frequently did) calm my own anxieties and insecurities with a single, quiet, warm glance and word of camaraderie. She seemed to single-handedly reinforce the magic, essential ingredient in a company of dancers: a true feeling of community.
Dancers are frequently asked what their favorite ballet is, but we all know this is an impossible question. Candace is hard pressed to pinpoint a highlight for herself, but mentions one that seemed custom-built for her, body and spirit. “Doing The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude (by William Forsythe, which OBT premiered in 2007) was a big turning point for me. I had loved that ballet ever since I first saw it and just couldn’t wait to try those steps. I ended up getting to do every show and just had a blast, pushing my body to the absolute limit every single time, pouring my heart out on stage and feeling like maybe, just maybe, I could fly. It made me start to realize what I was capable of, and just how much I loved being on stage.”
Candace proved herself capable of flying on stage many times, but she wanted to invest in OBT’s well-being by doing more than merely dancing. In 2012, she was elected by her fellow dancers to represent them on the company’s board of directors. At the first meeting she attended, then-Artistic Director Christopher Stowell announced his resignation, and Candace suddenly found herself playing an instrumental role as OBT navigated through a transitory time. “I learned so much from the process of Christopher leaving and Kevin (OBT’s current Artistic Director Kevin Irving) coming in,” she says. “I was on the search committee and began working in marketing around that time, so I got to help craft the messaging around honoring where we’d been while being excited to move forward. As it all unfolded over a couple of years, it was exciting to me to feel so involved with understanding both our history and our future and form a bridge between the two. I felt really lucky to be in that position.”
The weight of these multiple responsibilities — and, likely, the stress of recognizing their potential impact on her fellow dancers — did take a toll, and as OBT’s transition settled, Candace stepped away from her marketing role. That in itself was revelatory. “I did need to recover — I’d been burning the candle at both ends — but after two months of ‘just’ dancing, I felt really… well, small. I thought I would have all this energy to put back onto dancing, but I felt like I was boring and was struggling to find my voice as an artist. I think it proved to me that I have always felt enriched by the other things I did, and I needed that.”
Candace will doubtlessly find her artistry guiding her as she peers through the many doors she’s already cracked open. Well-aware that a lifetime in ballet can lead naturally into related fields, she’s resistant to rushing ahead and refuses to rule anything out. “Who knows? The world feels enormous right now. I obviously love the arts, but I have all this experience in marketing which I could leverage into another sector and expand my skill set. I’m sure I’ll be back in the art world at some point, but for now, I just need to step away from dance for a while. But I know in my heart, I’m an artist.”
Until the final curtain falls on December 24, Candace and her fellow dancers will relish the weeks they have together in the theater, backstage, on stage and in the wings. For her, it’s the perfect way to say goodbye. “You know what I really love? Doing Nutcracker. It’s this time of camaraderie for the whole company, we’re all exhausted together, doing this thing that we love, we have the orchestra with us, it just feels like one of the fullest moments of the year.”
Join OBT for one of Candace Bouchard’s farewell performances. Bouchard will be performing either Dewdrop or Sugarplum Fairy in the following Nutcracker Performances:
12/9/17 – 7:30 PM – Dewdrop – live orchestra
12/10/17 – 2:00 PM – Sugarplum Fairy – live orchestra
12/16/17 – 2:00 PM – Dewdrop – live orchestra
12/17/17 – 7:30 PM – Sugarplum Fairy – recorded music
12/23/17 – 7:30 PM – Sugarplum Fairy – live orchestra
12/24/17 – 12:00 PM – Dewdrop – recorded music