FASHION FORWARD. SHOPAHOLIC. HITS HER SPOTS.
BY LINDA BESANT, October 2006
Ansa Deguchi comes all the way from Nagoya, Japan to dance with Oregon Ballet Theatre. She’s a dancer with a certain girlish elegance and expressive eyes; a fearless fashionista who dresses as boldly for the bus ride home after rehearsal as she does for dinner at Sushiland.
What sparked your interest in ballet back in Japan?
My Grandmom, she used to dance. My older sister started dancing first. I liked watching her ballet, so I asked my Mom . . . I want to dance. I was four years old. I liked it because I just wanted to wear the cute dress.
Damara Bennett, now the Director of The School of Oregon Ballet Theatre, taught a summer workshop in Japan for several years. Is that how you learned about OBT?
I was taking this workshop every summer. I loved Damara’s classes. Sometimes Christopher was teaching too. The method was very different. My teacher, she showed us, we watched and copied her. She gave us some examples, and I also had to think myself about how to do it. Damara explains things very well. When I took variation class in Damara’s workshop and I tried the Balanchine style, I discovered a whole new world. I had never experienced anything like that. After I graduated from high school, I had to decide how do I live my life . . . what will I do? I was going to go to the university, but it wasn’t interesting for me. I took some classes, but . . . I knew I wanted to do ballet for my job. So I started to go to San Francisco to study with Damara, but she was moving to Portland. Then I was very lucky. Christopher and Damara invited me to be an apprentice at OBT.
After one year as an apprentice, you were made a full member of the Company. You’ve been here for three years now. Do you like living in Portland?
Yeah! The city is not too big and it’s not too small. I take the bus and the streetcar. I don’t like the weather . . . too much rain. I hate when it is cloudy for a long time, but I like all the trees here. I am Japanese, and sometimes I want to eat the Japanese food. Portland has good Japanese restaurants.
When you came to Portland, it was the first time you had lived away from your family. Were you frightened?
Yes. The first years I shared with my friends. They took care of me a lot. I have my own apartment since last January. It is the first time I have to do everything myself. I wish Portland had more stores for cute furniture. I need furniture. I went to IKEA in Seattle and got a few things.
You are such a high-energy dancer. Ballet Master Lisa Kipp describes you as “irrepressible and whimsical. Ansa has sparkle, and she’s up for anything.” What do you do to relax?
I don’t like to relax. I like to be busy.
When you’re not dancing, what are you busy doing?
Something creative. I used to do oil paint. In high school, I made fans. (In Japan it is a beautiful traditional art to make fans.) I made contemporary design on my fans. Also, I used to make costumes for my dance performances. I like sewing. But right now I am mostly busy dancing. I concentrate just on ballet now.
Each summer, you return to Japan to see your family and to work. What was your job this past summer?
I was working with apparel, in a shop. Casual American-style clothes. I would coordinate the outfits for the customer. I enjoyed it very much.
Here at OBT, people enjoy the way you dress. Do you like shopping?
Actually I like watching the people downtown, how the people dress up to come shopping, I just want to watch . . . what are you wearing? I want to see their fashions, how they put clothes together. I watch people at the coffee shop too. I get ideas. I like looking for cute or cool stuff, I go anywhere, I don’t care which store. I used to design clothes but I can’t make them yet. In the future I want to design and make clothes myself.
Life is very different for dancers in Japan, isn’t it?
Yes. We cannot concentrate just on dance, so we have to teach. Everyone must do dancing and teaching or have another job, because dancing doesn’t pay enough money. Also, I think the companies don’t provide the pointe shoes for the dancers, so we would have to get them ourselves.
And is it true that for all but the largest and best-established companies, dancers are required to sell tickets to their performances?
Right. If you don’t sell all your tickets, you have to pay the money. That’s terrible. I don’t want to sell the tickets.
What do you enjoy about dancing at OBT?
I respect Christopher and Damara. I enjoy working with Christopher. He is fun and funny, in a natural way. He makes me laugh. And he has a very clear style of movement.
I’m happy that OBT dances many kinds of ballet. We get to do Balanchine pieces, and contemporary ballet. I still like classical ballets, like Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, but I’m interested in modern pieces now, like Eyes on You and Concerto Six Twenty Two. I can act more free. Classical ballet is about the character. If I’m doing Sleeping Beauty, I have to be a different person. In Eyes on You, I just enjoy the dancing. It’s fun. I don’t like class. Performing is better. I can show my dance to the audience. And I like wearing costumes.
Do you have something you would like to tell audiences about ballet that they may not realize?
I just want the audience to watch our art—a beautiful stage and a perfect performance. Maybe it’s more enjoyable for them if they don’t know about all our hard work.
“I’ve known Ansa for years,” says Damara Bennett, Director of the School of OBT, “and I’ve never seen her in a bad mood. What you see on stage—that’s Ansa. It’s rewarding for me to see her grow up into such a generous performer.”