In the Bag: Mueller quits OBT for new top post

Passed over for the top spot at Oregon Ballet Theatre, the former ballerina switches to theater and the fast-rising Bag&Baggage

Ty Boice and Mueller in "Kabuki Titus," 2012. Photo: Bag&Baggage

Ty Boice and Mueller in “Kabuki Titus,” 2012. Photo: Bag&Baggage

 

Anne Mueller’s back on top.

And it didn’t take long. Less than a month ago Mueller was passed over for the artistic-director post at Oregon Ballet Company when the ballet’s board chose the other finalist, former Goteborg Ballet leader Kevin Irving, instead.

This morning the small but adventurous Bag&Baggage Productions announced that Mueller will become managing director of the Hillsboro theater company. She’ll work side by side with founding artistic director Scott Palmer.

“This was very much kismet for us,” Palmer said. “Anne’s a remarkable human being independent of her work as an artist. She is singularly focused, and we’re thrilled she’s decided to singularly focus on us.”

Mueller’s move ends a long association with OBT, which she joined as a dancer in the 1990s. She retired in 2011 as a principal dancer and shifted to administration as artistic coordinator under artistic director Christopher Stowell. When Stowell abruptly announced his resignation last December, Mueller took over as interim artistic director, shepherding OBT through the rest of its season and fashioning the 2013-14 season.

Palmer and Mueller. Photo: Bag&Baggage/Lars C. Larsen

Palmer and Mueller. Photo: Bag&Baggage/Lars C. Larsen

She joins a company with a much smaller annual budget – a little under $400,000, compared to roughly $5 million at OBT – but also one that’s growing rapidly along with its part of Washington County, near the epicenter of the Silicon Forest. Bag&Baggage, which began as a touring company, has settled in as the resident company in downtown Hillsboro’s historic Venetian Theatre. And the company’s become known for its provocative approach to the classics. It’ll open an all-woman outdoor production of “Julius Caesar” on August 1, then settle in for a run of five more productions in the Venetian – an adaptation of “The Great Gatsby,” a genre-bending “Twelfth Night of the Living Dead,” a slapstick-style “It’s a (Somewhat) Wonderful Life,” Palmer’s own lean adaptation “Lear,” and, on a more traditional note, Noel Coward’s “Private Lives.”

For Mueller, the leap from ballet to theater might not be as big as it seems. She was noted for her technical precision as a dancer but also for her theatrical approach to the ballet stage, particularly her comic range. And last summer she made a vivid guest-starring appearance at Bag&Baggage in “Kabuki Titus,” Palmer’s fluid Japanese-style adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.”

That performance bowled over audiences and critics, and it began a relationship of mutual respect between Mueller and Palmer. Palmer is Christopher Stowell’s domestic partner, and he and Mueller had met several times socially. But “Titus” deepened the relationship. When OBT bypassed her for its top job, Palmer let her know Bag&Baggage’s managing-director posting was still open, if she was interested in applying. She was, and did.

At Bag&Baggage, Mueller’s duties will include fiscal oversight and company management, and development and advancement. Her background is mainly on the artistic side, but she’s already shown adeptness for this sort of management role. She was a co-founder of the touring dance company the Trey McIntyre Project and served as managing director 2004-06. And OBT insiders say she did a remarkable job of steadying a company in turmoil during her emergency stint as interim artistic director.

Mueller liked the challenge, and wanted the permanent job badly. “I found great satisfaction in managing a team of people, and in creative problem solving, and I hadn’t expected how much I’d enjoy that,” she told A.L. Adams in an interview published just a week ago on ArtsWatch.

By losing Mueller, OBT loses both a person who was loved during her dancing career, and a deep part of company history. Mueller joined the company under founding artistic director James Canfield and remained through the Stowell years, as a dancer and then an administrator. Until the shakeup of the past several months, she was widely believed to be an OBT lifer. Principal Alison Roper is the only remaining company dancer who also danced during the Canfield years. She will probably retire from the stage relatively soon – perhaps after the 2013-14 season – and has been widely expected to then move into a managerial role at OBT.

Mueller as Livinia in "Kabuki Titus." Photo: Bag&Baggage

Mueller as Livinia in “Kabuki Titus.” Photo: Bag&Baggage

 

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