sara stockwell

Snow Queen 5: Esprit de corps

Two dancers from Eugene Ballet’s corps de ballet seize their chance at the spotlight

Story and photos by BOB KEEFER

Editor’s note: Eugene arts journalist Bob Keefer is tracking Eugene Ballet’s creation of a new version of The Snow Queen.  ArtsWatch will repost the series here after each installment appears on Keefer’s Eugene Art Talk blog.

The hierarchy of traditional ballet divides dancers into principals – the stars of the show – and corps de ballet dancers, the ones who get the supportive roles. That’s not true of a small company like Eugene Ballet, which mixes corps dancers – which it calls “company dancers” – into top roles for many of its productions.

Two young company members who will be performing in the ballet’s new Snow Queen when it opens here in April are Sara Stockwell and Isaac Jones, both dedicated dancers at the beginning of promising careers.

Sara Stockwell and Isaac Jones

“What’s so great about Eugene Ballet is that being a small company, the company dancers can be highlighted in principal roles,” Isaac says. “Though there are some rankings, company dancers still do principal and soloists roles, and sometimes principals will be a part of corp work. (Artistic director) Toni (Pimble) really gives all her dancers opportunities to be in the spotlight, and that has really been a blessing. To experience corps work in some shows and soloist/principal roles in others has given me a lot of room to grow.”

With nearly a quarter million dollars in funding from the Richard P. Haugland Foundation and the Hult Endowment, the Snow Queen will be an all-new production, with a new score, created by Portland composer Kenji Bunch, new costumes, by Jonna Hayden, and new set, by Nadya Geras-Carson.

Both Midwesterners, Sara and Isaac each began their ballet training at what the dance world derisively calls “Dolly Dinkle” schools, which, to put it most charitably, means a small school that is more suited to recreational dancers than to aspiring professionals. Both young dancers are smart and ambitious, and both convinced their supportive parents that serious ballet study was more important, at least at this point in their lives, than college. And both, unusually, managed to land jobs in Eugene without an in-person audition.

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I met Sara and Isaac for coffee one morning last week to learn about their careers, their families and what they hope to do in Snow Queen. The pair of them were just back from a performance of EBC’s annual Nutcracker in Corvallis, and were headed out on the road again a few days later for 30 more performances around the West of the perennial holiday favorite.

A native of Rochester, Minnesota, Sara, 23, is beginning her sixth season with the ballet. The daughter of a computer programmer and a mother who home-schooled two children, Sara – at least by family lore – fell in love with ballet at the age of two when she happened to see Hans Christian Andersen, the 1952 Danny Kaye movie, on television. She announced right then she wanted to be a ballerina.

“I watched the movie again recently,” Sara said. “When I was two I must have been enamored by the costumes and sets; the spectacle of it all was enchanting and I wanted to be at the center of it!”

Sara begged her parents for ballet lessons until they finally enrolled her in a class that was half ballet and half tumbling. When she was 10 she was in her first “Nutcracker,” in the starring role of Clara. An experienced male dancer brought into the show saw her technique and suggested to Sara that she needed a better ballet school.

Two years later she auditioned for a professional intensive program at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Manitoba – and was accepted – and then put the school off for a year because she thought, at 12, she was too young. At that point her parents asked which she wanted to do – college or ballet?

“I was like, ‘This!’” she said. They agreed to help her out with ballet.

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