Finding a community made for dancers

Edward McPherson was in Helena last year, on contract with Ballet Montana, when he followed up on a lead for performance opportunities with Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker. This year, OBC’s production of the ballet was marked on his calendar.

The Cavalier in 2011, McPherson rejoins the company this year for Arabian and the role of Mr. Stahlbaum, father of Marie and Fritz. He returns to a professional performance schedule for the parts, taking a break from his current day job as business manager for Midland Festival Ballet.

“I had a lot of fun last winter,” said McPherson, who was one of the few company members new to the Bay Area dance scene and quickly felt at home with OBC’s culture.

OBC 2011 Nutcracker rehearsal

McPherson in 2011 Nutcracker rehearsal. Photo by Rachael Jensen.

“One thing OBC has done,” he added, “is create a community around and for dancers. The company brings people together who know each other, and each other’s work, but who otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to work together.”

McPherson got his start with the corps de ballet at Ballet West in Salt Lake City before going on to Ballet Austin in Texas and then several freelance appearances with dance groups like the National Choreographers Initiative in Corona del Mar, California.

To hear him tell the story of his performance career, his success seems to stem from his easy-going personality. Just don’t mistake his sense of humor or lightheartedness for any kind of lack of commitment to his work.

As a kid growing up in Davis, California, a self-described “late bloomer,” McPherson turned to ballet at 14. While he doesn’t recall that first class being “love at first sight,” the rigors of ballet training soon drew him in.

“I grew up in a family that if you weren’t taking your body beyond limits, then what were you doing?” explained McPherson, whose triathlete father set the example for him and his four younger siblings.

McPherson in fact back skated into ballet from hockey – one of the more physically punishing sports, after being cut from his high school’s JV tryouts.

By the start of his junior year, McPherson was hooked. He transferred to the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan to up the ante on his training while completing his high school degree.

That move McPherson calls “the beginning of the end,” in terms of staking out a career in a dance. (As for his athletic siblings? The four younger McPhersons “wouldn’t touch dance with a 10-foot pole,” he laughed.)

With an impressive performance career to his name, McPherson has recently refocused his interests within the ballet industry. His calling these days is less to the stage and more to the administrative offices, but he started last year wanting to complete one more tour of freelance work.

When he put the word out to friends about looking for contracts, several, including OBC dancer Rachel Speidel Little, came back with a recommendation for Oakland Ballet Company. He particularly liked what he heard about the company’s dance culture and artistic staff.

“I’m now more motivated by the process, and the group experience, and having a learning opportunity,” said McPherson of how he’s come to base his career decisions.

In rehearsals last winter, McPherson noted Artistic Director Graham Lustig’s ability to relate to the dancers and help them with creating their characters for The Nutcracker.

“He shares the process with me,” said McPherson of learning the role for Cavalier, one of the male leads. “Through that act of sharing, it creates a value that I admire.”

While his time with the company will be shorter this year, McPherson is excited to be back in the studio and continue the relationships he built last December.

For the role of Arabian, McPherson said he wants “to bring as much honesty to the performance as I can.” He also fessed up to looking forward to sharing the stage with a “fantastically beautiful woman.”

It just wouldn’t be ballet if it weren’t a lot of hard work and also a whole lot of fun.

– Kate Fratar

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