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An Interview with Patricia Barker
Principal Dancer, Northwest Pacific Ballet

by Azlan Ezaddin

August, 2003

From the PNB web site, "Patricia Barker has been a principal dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet since 1986. She joined PNB as an apprentice in 1981, became a full company member in 1982 and was promoted to soloist in 1984. Barker trained with Lynne Williams-Mullins prior to studying at PNB School on scholarship. She was born in Richland, Washington."

I understand you started with PNB when both you and the company were young. Can you give a brief chronology of your time at PNB, beginning with the first contact through your promotion to Principal?

The first time I went to PNB to dance was for a summer course in 1979 – I was in the advanced class; Perry Brunson and Francia Russell were my teachers. I was invited to stay the fall semester and was offered a full scholarship that I happily accepted. I continued to train in the school for another year and was offered an apprenticeship with the company for the 1981-82 season. For the following season I was made a full corps de ballet member, I was in the corps for two seasons. I was then promoted to soloist in the 1984-85 season. I was also a soloist for the 1985-86 season. PNB filmed Maurice Sendak and Kent Stowell’s Nutcracker in the summer of '86 in which I danced the role of Clara. After filming was completed on Nutcracker, I was promoted to principal dancer.

What was the first experience with PNB like? Were you in awe? If so, of what and whom?

It was scary – it was as if I had been studying the language of another country for years and still not understanding a thing when I stepped foot in that country. When I showed up at PNB and got over the shock, I knew this is where I wanted to be. That this is what I was going to be. That this is what my life is.

Both you and the company "grew up" together, so to speak. Do you at times feel your relationship with the company is deeper than that of employer-dancer and perhaps more like that between siblings, with PNB an older sister maybe? How would you describe that relationship?

Yes – the career of PNB and mine run in parallel – from adolescence to maturity. The benefit of joining PNB at the time I did was to be part of shaping the character and personality of what PNB is today.

Being so intimate (or perhaps familliar) with the company and being a long time muse and confidant of Kent and Francia, do you feel your role in the company is beyond that of a Principal Dancer? Can you list some of those responsibilities?

Of course - having been involved in the company for over 20 years has created a greater burden and responsibility – not just to the company but also to the community – and also to ballet itself. I feel a responsibility towards the dancers coming into PNB and in the teaching I do – I want to teach and pass on those things I have learned from so many – I need to accept these responsibilities and do my best to give to others that so many have given to me.

What makes PNB PNB? What's unique about it? What are its strengths?

A great arts organization that takes an active role in the community. That enriches lives in the community. PNB has always tried to be an ambassador for the US Northwest. We have accomplished these things under the helm of Francia and Kent, who have created an enthusiastic audience and a dedicated board, and has encourage the construction of three wonderful facilities and the hiring of beautiful dancers that dance an exciting repertory.

Having had the opportunity to "spy" on Francia coaching the company in "Theme and Variations," I was struck by how both helpful and reassuring she was. I left with the feeling that this woman could coach anything she applied herself to, including teaching physics to rocket scientists. Would you agree? What inspirations have you drawn from Francia?

Francia has always been an inspiration to me, through her caring about my dancing (I believe caring is what makes a great coach), her enthusiasm for our art form and the excitement she gives to each generation of dancers. My favorite time with Francia is in my private variation rehearsals, especially when it is with my favorite pianist Diane, Francia and myself. These are the moments I will miss when I retire.

Barker is set to appear in the lead role in Pacific Northwest Ballet's signature production, Swan Lake, that runs from September 25th through October 5th, 2003. See the PNB website for more information.


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