Lauren Lane

DanceWatch Weekly: Nancy Davis and Portland Ballet

The artistic director of The Portland Ballet talks about the winding road that led to this weekend's concert

I’ve been trying to write DanceWatch for about five days now without much success, until now of course. I seem to function best under great pressure, kind of like how a diamond is made. Take Jamuna, apply an intense amount of heat, and pressure, and voilà DanceWatch is written! A kind of stressful and undesirable scenario to create under but sometimes unavoidable. You see, I am mostly a full-time, stay-at-home mom, but, also a dancer, choreographer, and dance writer, and sometimes everyone’s else’s needs take over and I can’t quite find the time to sit down and write.

This week’s disastrous attempt to write (I’m exaggerating a bit for theatrical effect) was partly due to post-performance fatigue (I performed with Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre this past weekend, which Elizabeth Whelan reviewed for ArtsWatch), a traveling husband situation that turns me into a single parent for a few days, and a myriad of other crazy events that included an emergency trip to the vet, calls from my son’s principal, the cats, the stuff, the whatever. Right now, as I write this, my 55-pound boxer/lab puppy is standing on my chest panting in my face demanding to be scratched and walked. It’s a circus, and I love it. It’s because THIS is my life that I’m always curious as to how other dancer/teacher/choreographer parents “do it” and stay artistically focused.

I recently became friends with Portland Ballet’s artistic director Nancy Davis on Facebook, and suddenly I was seeing gorgeous photos and videos of Davis as a young dancer in my news feed. Then I saw a photo of her beautiful daughter Lauren Lane on a poster for St. Louis Ballet, and I realized that I didn’t know Nancy Davis at all, and I definitely didn’t know she had a daughter who had also grown up to become a professional dancer.

I only know Davis as I see her now, as the artistic director and founder of The Portland Ballet academy. But how did she get here, what influenced her artistically, and how did she manage to raise a child in the midst of it all, I wanted to know. So, in between her rehearsals for Portland Ballet’s upcoming show Current/Classic, which opens May 4-5 at Lincoln Hall, and my performances, we got a chance to speak on the phone.

The Portland Ballet studio dress rehearsal of Us by Josie Moseley. Photo courtesy of The Portland Ballet.

Davis, who is from California, began her ballet training with one of Los Angeles’s most flamboyant characters, Madame Etienne. Madame Etienne was born in Greece but raised in Paris. Kathryn Charisse was her given name, and she ran a studio called the Hollywood Dance Studio that catered to movie stars. She was the one time sister-in-law of dancer-actress Cyd Charisse, toured the vaudeville circuit with her parents and her ten siblings as a child, and always dressed in a flamboyant outfits. She frequently wore a tiara and full makeup, according to accounts on a blog called lastcappuccino.com.

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