Friday, February 26, 2016

Rachelle Butler Retires from the Stage

Butler (center) as the Dewdrop in Madison Ballet's 2013 Nutcracker © SKepecs

CulturalOyster: How old are you now, at retirement?

Butler: I am retiring at 29, two months before my 30th birthday.

CulturalOyster: How old were you when you started ballet and where did you start?

Butler: I did pre ballet and level one when I was four to six years old.  But then I
Butler, age 4 or 5
stopped to pursue sports and other interests.  I began dancing again when I was 11, taking jazz classes at A Step Above, which was a Madison school directed by Melanie Kuzma.  Eventually I joined “A Step Beyond Competition Team” there, for which a requirement was to take ballet, and I fell in love.

CulturalOyster: What, or who (or both) inspired you to fall in love with ballet, to stick it out and make a career out of it?

Butler (right) at age 11, with sister Vanessa: their
first jazz performance! 
Butler: Having to work hard and really push myself throughout my training and career definitely made everything worthwhile. In addition, I was inspired by the support of my family.  When I got hired at Sacramento Ballet in 2007 my sister Vanessa moved there with me in order to supplement my income with her own so I could afford to dance.  I was also inspired by Artistic Director of Madison Ballet W. Earle Smith, who every time I doubted myself found a way to remind me of my love of ballet. Although sometimes it seemed like pulling teeth for him I'm sure, he was always there for me and continues to be there. In addition, the wonderful friends I've made throughout my career have helped me through thick and thin.

CulturalOyster: Where has your career in ballet taken you — where have you danced, as a student and as a professional? 

Butler: My career in ballet has taken me all over the US. I began my training in Madison at A Step Above, and then I met Earle and joined the Wisconsin Dance Ensemble studio company, which later became Madison Ballet.  I continued my training at The Rock School of the Pennsylvania Ballet, Miami City Ballet School and Ballet Chicago.  As I mentioned, I started my professional career at Sacramento Ballet, which increased my work ethic and ability to keep pushing even when I was exhausted. Finally I ended up at Madison Ballet, coming full circle to work with Earle again and to dance with some of the most giving and caring dancers I’ve ever known.

CulturalOyster: Tell me a little about a few of your very favorite career highlights – they don’t have to be “favorite roles.”

Butler: There have been countless great moments during my career. I've enjoyed
Butler, rehearsing the Mina
role in Smith's Dracula, with Matt Linzer
© SKepecs 
dancing a lot of amazing roles. At Madison Ballet I loved doing Mina, the lead female role in Earle’s Dracula: A Rock Ballet – and also dancing with Jason Gomez as the young lovers couple in Earle’s jazz ballet piece, “Expressions.”  I’ve done multiple principal roles in Balanchine ballets, during my training at all the places I already named and later, as a professional.
Some other great moments don't have to do with my roles but rather the pride I take in helping train two of the most wonderful Madison Ballet students, now company members, Annika Reikersdorfer and McKenna Collins.  I’ve also loved watching one of my best friends, Shannon Quirk, blossom into a rather exceptional artist, if I say so myself.  All of these experiences have allowed me to take my final bow with, not a feeling of sadness but, a feeling of utter appreciation for having been given these opportunities.

CulturalOyster: Retirement from the stage is a big step. How do you feel about it?

Butler: I am retiring from the stage with a sense of enlightenment, a feeling of joy and
Butler in Smith's "Expressions"
© Kat Stiennon
appreciation. Without all of the teachers, dancers, artistic directors, managers, registrars, family and friends who’ve been there for me along the way I couldn't have had the career, or the life I've led so far.  As dancers we live in a world that’s not just endless good days – there are days of loneliness, days when just making it through class is tough enough, days when you feel like you've not only let yourself down but everyone around you as well.  But I wouldn't change a single one!  The tough days are the ones you grow the most from, and I wouldn't give that up for anything in the world. So, to say it in one word, I feel grateful.

CulturalOyster: What’s next for you?

Butler: I plan to continue teaching and be a part of the Madison Ballet and Madison arts community.  I was born and raised here, and I hope to be a part of the growth of the arts here.  I have every faith that Madison Ballet will once again thrive, and I hope to be able to be part of that and give to others at least a fraction of what has been given to me.
                                                                                                   ------ interview by SK

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