In George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is a moment for a ballerina to shine. It’s a favorite role of Oregon Ballet Theatre soloist Candace Bouchard, and this year she brings her expressive grace to the Sugar Plum Fairy (and to Dew Drop, the leader of the flowers) for the last time. Fifteen years ago, Bouchard, a Midwest native, moved to Portland to begin her career with OBT, dancing over the course of her time there in everything from William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude to Helen Pickett’s Petal.

The 34-year-old, who’s danced since age 4, hangs up her ballet slippers for good (at least professionally) after her final Nutcracker show on Christmas Eve. We caught up with her to hear about dance as a day job, shattering princess perceptions, and what comes next.

How did you get started with OBT?

I was living in New York as a student at Ballet Academy East and had a friend that was auditioning for OBT and asked if I was doing the audition. Christopher Stowell was about to take over the company. I was familiar with him being a student at San Francisco Ballet School for the summer. I don’t know if I wanted to move to Oregon—I knew nothing about it and I’d never been out here. I talked to some people who had been to Portland and they were just like, "That’s the perfect city for you! I can’t believe you don’t know that already." I came for a one-year contract [as an apprentice] and got offered a position in the main company after that and just have loved it ever since. Everyone was totally right—I fell in love with Portland.

What are some misconceptions you think people have about ballet? 

I love meeting people and telling them I’m a ballet dancer and they look at me like I said I was a princess or a unicorn. I think some people don’t realize that this is a real career path. Especially when I was younger, a lot of people were like, "Oh, so you do ballet—but where do you go to school?" Or, "What do you want to be for real?" It has been my real job for 15 years now, and it’s been great.

How does it feel to retire from OBT? 

I’m lucky to be surrounded by people that care and love what they do, and I love what I do. It’s so positive and warm and everyone has been so supportive backstage. [The Nutcracker] is the one show that we do every year...this is the only thing we regularly come back to, so there are a lot of memories wrapped up in this. 

What's in the cards for you now? 

I’ve done some work in marketing and communication in the past and I’m looking to do that kind of thing outside the arts sector for a while. I love the arts and there is a place for me somewhere in this world, whether as an artist or as an administrator or even just as a supporter. For now, I just want to work in a different field and shift my perspective a little bit.

Any advice for the next generation of dancers?

I think what I most enjoy sharing with kids is that it’s so much about what you bring to [ballet] with your love of the art form and your sense of joy. It’s really hard work, and it is easy to get bogged down in self-criticism and that drive to be perfect. Sometimes that can shadow over the real reason you started dancing in the first place. Hold onto that joy, even when it seems like the work is really tough.

The Nutcracker

Various times thru Dec 24, Keller Auditorium, $23–105

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