Fabrice Lemire working with OBT dancers. Photo credit: Larisa Owechko

“I may have a new approach now,” Fabrice Lemire warned the room of Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers in his thick Parisian accent. “And tell me if you cannot understand anything I am saying.”

A change in approach seems inevitable: though Lemire danced for OBT from 1993-96, his career later led him down a very different path—the one that led to the circus. But the Paris-born-and-trained dancer recently returned to his former haunt to lead a workshop, in his new role as an artistic director with the acclaimed Cirque du Soleil, the world’s largest theatrical producer.

Watching Lemire lead a master class of OBT dancers, it became clear that he hasn’t lost his connection to ballet and the city in which he danced almost 20 years ago.

“Yesterday I wasn’t sure what this would be like because so much has changed,” he said after the class, “But being here, working with the OBT dancers like this, it feels like I just left here yesterday. Dance is in my roots.”

Lemire left OBT in 1996 to pursue alternate dance opportunities, which included acting as rehearsal director for the Harlem Nutcracker, dancer-in-residence positions at various institutions of higher learning, and assisting the renowned choreographer Donald Byrd. He was working on a Celine Dion show in Las Vegas when he was first approached by Cirque du Soleil, eventually leading to a role as dance master and assistant artistic director for the show ZAiA, in 2008, and later as one of the artistic directors for Quidman.

John Davis Costumes: Eiko Ishioka ©2010 Cirque du Soleil

Lemire joined the current show, Varekai, in 2012 as artistic director and says the experience has been challenging, rewarding, and extremely different from his experience as a dancer with OBT.

There is no typical day when you work with Cirque du Soleil,” he says. “We have to be open to surprises at every level of production. When you work with a ballet dancer and an injury like a headache or a sore foot comes up, you can talk and decide that maybe they can still dance and work with it. When an aerialist performer is injured, there is no gray area. There is not much leeway with aerial performance.”

Watch Cirque du Soleil's Varekai—a blend of myth and Romani tradition, all coated in otherworldly playfulness and performed in acrobatics, dance, and drama—at Portland’s Veteran Memorial Coliseum May 6-10. Tickets can be purchased here.

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