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About the London Tour - A Chat with PNB Principal Dancer Patricia Barker

By Dean Speer & Francis Timlin
June 2002

During a break from rehearsals in preparation for PNB's upcoming Rep. program, Principal Dancer Patricia Barker met with us to discuss her participation in the upcoming tour to London and to field questions about her career. What follows is a summary of that conversation.

Are you doing anything special, if anything, to prepare for this tour? (Such as special coaching for roles.)

I'm currently working 6 hours a day with Donald Byrd, learning his new Seven Deadly Sins. I've already performed the London repertory, so this will be a matter of rehearsing these pieces later, after the bulk of the work for the upcoming Rep. is done. I do feel that each performance is very special right now, as I never know how long my performing career will continue (knocks on wood). I'm reviewing tapes of former performances to see what I can do better with the roles that I am preparing for; to work on all the "clutches." Certainly the fouettés in Corsair are always a challenge...

You've performed in London before. How different have you found the audiences to have been?

We were told that they would be reserved. However we found that they became "friends" of ours fairly quickly. A good example of this is their enjoyment and laughter of the duet between Titania and Bottom in Midsummer Night's Dream.

What are some of the highlights for you doing this kind of tour?

Performing at Sadler's Well Theatre is a highlight. It's nice to dance in a real, beautiful theatre with history. It makes me feel different and I believe it has this effect on the audiences too. That as they come in, this beauty of surroundings puts them into a different and good place.

Tell us what a typical day on tour looks like.

A "typical" day is difficult as we don't know where to eat! The time change is rough for me. At PNB we are fortunate to have our own, wonderful crew along and they help make the transitions as easy as possible.

What are some of the challenges? Do you, for example, feel under scrutiny or is it class and rehearsal as usual?

There is a lot more going on while on tour, with a lot of people coming in and out, and we don't always know who they are. It might be critics, or directors from other companies, or other dancers.

Performers on tour are often called "cultural ambassadors." Do you feel like this is correct? And are you asked to do things outside of dancing, such a giving a masterclass or coaching?

I feel that the performing itself is the best representation of being a cultural ambassador. The schedule is usually too tight to be able to do much beyond it, as we need our normal routine like rest, to be fully ready for the shows. However, I will go to post-performance receptions and that kind of thing as it's important to connect with people in this way too.

How does touring affect the Company after all of you have returned?

Touring can either boost the ego or tear it down. When it goes well, it's a great builder for the Company.

If you have time to do touristy things, what are your plans?

I love to go shopping! I enjoy the museums as much as possible, and I have a thing for old buildings, especially doors. Just looking around a major European city like London can be fun.

How do you prepare for a role? What's your approach?

Each role is very different. I like to visualize the performance. I listen and go with what's happening, rather than think that a performance HAS to be a certain way. This is without, of course, changing a single step or the choreographer's intent. This is the very nature and essence of the art and of it's being live and in the "now."

What are some of the ballets that you're looking forward to doing?

Divertimento No. 15 as I get to go back and do my favorite variation in it. Corsair is always fun. For next year's season, I'm looking forward to Concerto Barocco, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, and Theme and Variations. I find that the roles made for Diana Adams fit me so well and are great to do.

What's fun in ballet for you?

Performance! Working one-on-one with Francia on variations.

How do you feel you've changed as a dancer and an artist over the course of your career?

I don't hide behind technique as much as I used to and don't worry about peer acceptance as much. This has allowed me to open up on stage more. Everything I've done has pushed me and every experience has helped me become a better dancer. For example, being coached by Irina Kolpakova on Don Quixote was very difficult as I've always been the "princess," never the village girl. We worked on character for over 20 minutes and the only step I did during that entire time was "sous-sus." This was a big challenge!

Kent and Francia have been such great mentors for you. What other dancers, choreographers or artists have you particularly admired and have learned from as well?

Kent and Francia have been are very special to me. The Company has gone through so much change over the last 15 years. I started out as a very young Principal dancer with a very young Company. I was able to grow along with the Company. I'm really pleased to have been a part of Kent's creative process; one of his "muses." It was great working with Glen Tetley. He picked me to do the opening night of Voluntaries and I got to work with him again when he set his Alice on us a few years ago. I really liked working with Annette Page and Ronald Hynd in Sleeping Beauty. She was someone who helped me work on characterization and we explored approaching and interpreting a scene from more than one angle. I like to work on technique in the studio and develop interpretation later. Annette on the other hand, liked the personality aspects right away in the studio, so this was different for me.

Tell us about your line of design wear.

BK wear is fashion design for ballet dancers, catering to the "favorite" leotard. I choose the designs and make the textile selections. Manufacturing and production happens right here in Seattle! My older sister Julie, handles all the day to day business. We currently produce all the leotards for PNB School and Pittsburgh Ballet School. I've always made my own dance wear since I was an apprentice, so it's been an easy and natural step for me to take. I worked with Bloch for 5 years, and I learned from this experience too.

My video, Patricia Barker on Pointe Shoes has been doing very well. It was fun working with Freed on this project and I've felt good about doing something that is educational and potentially very useful. The hardest part was having to talk! It's also a little scary to know that everything you have ever done to your shoes is going to be scrutinized and evaluated!

A future possible project is making a class CD with accompanist Stephen Barnes.

What might you tell an aspirant dancer?

To keep trying! Nobody thought I was going to be the next Principal, absolutely no one! So believe in yourself and keep trying!!

PNB will grow to the extent that Seattle supports it. We don't like to think of ourselves as a "big city" but we are. Our new theatre will make a big impact.

Touring is important to any Company. It's great to be appreciated in a different forum. It can help a company get good dancers. And, it creates excitement on stage!

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.

Source: Pacific Northwest Ballet Website

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