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Eugene Ballet still dancing 25 years later.

Byline: Fred Crafts The Register-Guard

Twenty-five years ago Toni Pimble and Riley Grannan came to Eugene with the dream of starting the Eugene Ballet Company. Starting modestly, they gradually built their company until now it is one of the centerpieces of the area's cultural scene.

Getting to this point, says Pimble, the artistic director, has taken "a lot of hard work, and a lot of wonderful ballet."

Adds Grannan, who gave up dancing 15 years ago in order to concentrate on the company's business matters, "Who would have thought? You don't plan for 25 years in this business. I'm delighted that we've come so far, and still do it with pretty good humor."

In the beginning, the Eugene Ballet Company had six dancers; now it has over 18, with a budget that has grown to $1.4 million. It is Oregon's oldest ballet company and serves audiences throughout the west. In fact, its extensive touring program has taken the dancers to 32 states and several foreign countries.

"The remarkable thing is we've been able to produce some things that embrace the classical tradition at the same time do some mighty innovative stuff," says Grannan, citing works like "The Skinwalkers," "Little Tricker," "The Bluesman," "Children of the Raven," "Rah Rah Mura," and others.

"This is not just a retread of somebody else's stuff. It's our stuff, and it's good," Grannan continues. "I don't think I look through rose-colored glasses. Generally what people are seeing on the stage has turned out to be a far cry from when I was out there thrashing around."

Pimble, who now shares her time between her home in Eugene and her office at Ballet Idaho in Boise, says the company's longevity "represents an enormous commitment from the ballet community. A lot of hard work and sticking power."

"We started out years ago with a little tiny tour of 'Nutcracker,' doing three dates. This year, we're doing 32 performances, ending in Victoria BC. This speaks volumes about the commitment and the amount of work everybody has put into it," she says.

At the beginning, Pimble says they had the support of "a very small nuclease of people - Susan Zadoff, Larry Sutton, Tim and Nickie Foster - who gave a lot of time for a zero amount of money. Really, they are as responsible as Riley and I are for getting the company going.

"Over the years, so many dancers have given so much for so little, because they love it and they believe in it, and we love it and we believe in it."

And Grannan has done his job because he believes in Pimble's talent.

"Toni's development as a choreographer has been really remarkable," he says. "I'm really proud of the fact that she has been, in some ways, liberated from some of this stuff in order to concentrate on those things she does best. I really get enthusiastic about it."

While Grannan is grinding away at fund-raising, Pimble is off creating new dances. She has, she says, "the better job.

"I have the job where I go out and take all the bows and get all the kudos. He doesn't get that. And he deserves that because he's in there every day fighting to keep the company afloat. He would cut off his right arm to keep Eugene Ballet going. He really would. And he gets far too little recognition for it."

Over the years, the Eugene Ballet Company's talent base has improved to where Pimble believes she has "the strongest company we've ever had. We have some men like we've never had."

Which is a rock solid foundation for the next 25 years.

Looking ahead, while Pimble never expects her company to grow into a huge company, she does hope it might expand to 22-24 dancers. Beyond that, she wants to add to the 50 ballets the company now has in its repertoire, possibly by working with other local arts groups.

"It's very wonderful that there are people in the community that understand that a vibrant arts community isn't about each little company doing its own thing and having turf wars with the other arts organizations, but it's about sharing the art form as it crosses those boundaries," Pimble says.

"We are all after the same things. We believe in art. We believe in the performing arts. And we want to give the audiences of Eugene, and of Oregon, the very best quality we can give them. I think the hardest thing is having patience and saying to yourself, 'This will happen, eventually.' '

Fred Crafts can be reached at 338-2575 or
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Title Annotation:Arts & Literature
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 2, 2003
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