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Can we discuss those fouettes? Seattle's Carrie Imler is fierce

Reporter's note:  A ballerina’s career ends when most of the rest of us are just getting good at our jobs. Professional dancers are usually 18 or 19 years old when they’re hired for their first jobs. Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Carrie Imler, who came to Seattle as a 16 year old, retires this weekend after 22 years at PNB.

As you’ll read in this story from 2014, Imler has earned a reputation for strength and technique. She can jump and spin with the best of them. Imler isn’t one to toot her own horn, but her good friend and fellow principal dancer Jonathan Porretta says of her, “She’s an athlete, she is fearless, she’s an artist.” And a fan favorite. I guarantee there will not be a dry eye at McCaw Hall when Imler takes her final bow.

—Marcie Sillman

Original story:

Quick! What's the first word that comes to mind when you hear the word ballerina?

Graceful, delicate?

Would you believe fierce?

That's how friends and colleagues describe Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Carrie Imler.

"I would honestly describe her as fierce in every definition and example of the word," says Jonathan Porretta, Imler’s good friend and fellow principal dancer. "She is an athlete, she is fearless, she's an artist."

"I kind of like fierce," Imler says with a demure chuckle.

At first glance, Carrie Imler looks anything but fierce. She has long dark hair and bangs (which she pins back when she's onstage), wide-set dark eyes and the elegant carriage of a longtime dancer.

On this particular afternoon she's wearing a stiff white rehearsal tutu that's stained in spots, and a pair of tattered pink tights. She has replaced her pink pointe shoes with a pair of flexible slippers. She tops the ensemble with an oversized gray fleece jacket.

Imler is soft spoken, but quick to laugh – particularly when you point out how many men in the audience describe her as their favorite PNB dancer.

"I see," she answers slowly. "Maybe it's because I am a strong athletic type. I'm not your rail thin ballerina."

At 36 (an elder stateswoman when it comes to professional ballet dancers), Carrie Imler seems fit and ageless. Her boss, PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal, says not only is she strong, she's also versatile.

"Carrie has broken the mold in some ways, because of the whole range of roles she can do,” Boal says. “She's a jumper, and a turner, too."

Porretta says that when he joined the company 15 years ago, he instantly noticed that Imler could jump as high as some of the men.

“And she can turn,” he says. “I mean, can we discuss her fouette turns in “Swan Lake,” with the swan arms? Nobody does that!”

Check out Imler’s epic fouettes:

Imler recently wowed audiences and national dance critics with her performance in the classical story ballet "Giselle." Imler was cast as Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis; a band of dead women who have been jilted at the altar. New York Times chief dance critic Alastair Macauley called Imler’s performance “shimmering.”

Despite that kind of praise, Carrie Imler isn’t PNB’s version of Felix Hernandez, its star ballerina. Imler has been mostly content in her role as the dependable third starter in PNB’s version of the pitching rotation.

“I think I’ve always been a behind-the-scenes kind of girl,” she says. “You know, the media sees opening night, but there are 3,000 other people that see you every other night. So whether or not you’re doing opening night or an afternoon show, or the one in the middle of the week, somebody’s seeing you, and you’re making somebody’s day.”

Porretta is more candid about what it’s like to be passed over for opening night.

“I don’t think it feels good,” he says. But Porretta agrees that whether dancers are in the opening night cast, performance is the whole point of a ballet career.

“In the end,” he says, “It’s about what you put out on stage, and what you get back from the audience.”

Carrie Imler starts her 20th season in Pacific Northwest Ballet this month. She has, at most, another 10 years before her body won’t be able to sustain the rigors of the daily hours of rehearsal. She pauses when asked about her legacy to her colleagues at PNB.

“I would like to think I’m a role model,” she says. “Somebody who worked well, did their rehearsals, acted well, behaved well.”

Porretta believes his friend has given more than that over her two decades at PNB.

“She’s the heart and soul, the ballerina of this company,” he says. “She is the senior-most dancer, the longest out of everybody. She is PNB.”

Seattle-area audiences have a chance to see Carrie Imler this weekend in George Balanchine’s “Jewels” at McCaw Hall.