Anne Mueller: Goodbye and hello

Anne Mueller with Jon Drake in Christopher Stowell's "Eyes on You," 2005. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

By Bob Hicks

This afternoon’s top story comes from ace reporter Cole Porter, who broke the news  this way:

You’re the nimble tread
Of the feet of Fred Astaire,

You’re an O’Neill drama,

You’re Whistler’s mama!

You’re camembert.

In plainer English, Oregon Ballet Theatre announced today that principal dancer Anne Mueller, who has been with the company 15 years, will retire in May after OBT’s spring program, Song and Dance.

Anne Mueller and Lucas Threefoot in Trey McIntyre's "Speak." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.The company also announced that Mueller, who has been preparing for her post-dancing career for several years, will remain at OBT as its artistic coordinator, following the behind-the-scenes lead of another fine dancer, Gavin Larsen, who retired from performing last year and joined the OBT School’s faculty.

Porter’s song You’re the Top (and Blaine Truitt Covert’s photo above of Mueller perched on Jon Drake’s shoulder, rising above the crowd in Christopher Stowell’s ballet Eyes on You) seems apropos for Mueller, whose ebullience onstage has helped make her one of OBT’s most popular performers.

Porter’s lyrics also include the line You’re the nose on the great Durante, which seems especially apt to describe Mueller’s carbonated comic spirit, which audiences will miss mightily. They’ll also miss, even if they aren’t fully aware of it, the hard-earned and impressive technical skills that have made Mueller a dancers’ dancer and allowed her to show off that personality so well.

Mueller is one of a disappearing handful of dancers who have spanned the James Canfield and Christopher Stowell years at OBT, thriving both in Canfield’s decidedly contemporary, pop-oriented repertoire and in Stowell’s more rigorous neoclassically centered approach to the ballet. When Stowell became artistic director one of my principal questions was whether his more traditional approach would dampen the expression of individual dancer personality that had been the best part of the Canfield years. In fact, Stowell has significantly improved the company’s technique at the same time that he’s allowed the dancers to express their own personalities, and Mueller, I’m sure, has been a key part of helping that happen. She’s been more than a fine and talented spotlight performer: She’s been good for the company.

Like athletes, dancers tend to have relatively brief careers: the aches and pains get to them, and the bones and muscles begin to rebel. Mueller has the instincts and intelligence of a catcher or a shortstop — she’s a student of the game — and those are the ones who tend to become coaches and managers after they’ve stopped playing. She’s been choreographing pieces since the Canfield days, when her first works with co-dancer Vanessa Thiessen hit the stage, and has spread out from there, with works in the repertoires of several companies. She’s one of four choreographic collaborators on a work premiering next Saturday, February 26, in OBT’s all-Stravinsky program. She was a co-founder of the notable Trey McIntyre Project, also touring with it as a dancer during summers. And she’s branched into a career as a repetiteur — the person responsible for setting someone else’s dance on a new company of dancers — setting ballets for McIntyre, Stowell, and Nicolo Fonte.

In other words, she’s created her options, and now it’s time to start employing them. Retiring’s not the bottom. It’s the next step to the top.

*

ILLUSTRATIONS, from top:

  • Anne Mueller with Jon Drake in Christopher Stowell’s “Eyes on You,” 2005. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.
  • Anne Mueller and Lucas Threefoot in Trey McIntyre’s “Speak.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

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