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'Cocktail Hour' features former Ashland dancer

Emily Anton is living a dancer's dream right now. This former Stillpoint Dance Studio dancer, who spent her middle and high school years in Ashland dancing at various studios in the area, is now a member of Ballets with a Twist company in New York City.

Anton will be featured in several of the dances that make up "Cocktail Hour," a modern ballet based on a cocktail menu, to be presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. Tickets cost $27, $30 or $33; $19, $22 or $25 for ages 18 and younger; and can be purchased at the box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., online at www.craterian.org or by calling 541-779-3000.

Anton and the company's director, Marilyn Klaus, recently spoke by phone from the company's New York studio as they prepared for their West Coast tour.

"I think I always had it in my heart that if I truly wanted to be a professional dancer that I needed to move to New York," Anton says of her 2011 leap of faith. "I got a one-way plane ticket, packed two suitcases and said, 'OK, I'm moving.' I had a place to stay for three weeks. And during that time I did tons of auditions."

One of those was for an off-the-beaten-path ballet company founded by Klaus in 1996 called Ballets with a Twist.

"I was auditioning for dancers, and Emily sent in her resume and along with that came video," Klaus recalls. "She sent two of the most beautiful classical variations — they were just amazing — from 'Aurora's Wedding.' It was like seeing something from the Royal Ballet, definitely an English style, and I was very taken with the video."

Klaus invited Anton to the studio along with several other dancers to begin work on the company's repertoire, knowing she'd hire only one or two.

 "Emily was the last one standing," Klaus said. "I couldn't have been more impressed.

 Since then, Klaus choreographed a new cocktail for her menu of ballets in "Cocktail Hour" specifically for Anton — "Bloody Mary" — in which Anton plays Mary Tudor, the infamous queen of England.

 "I love that era in history. So when Marilyn was creating that piece — and it has an amazing costume that was being created around the same time — I thought, 'This is a person I can jive with,' " Anton says.

 Now she's jokingly called Maleficent by her fellow dancers when she's in character. "I surprise myself how evil I can pretend to be."

 She's also a large part of the newest cocktail, "Eu de Vie," which features eight dancers, as well as the finale, "Spirits and Chasers," based on a gospel and Motown feeling and featuring the entire company.

 Klaus debuted "Cocktail Hour" in 2009. "I keep adding more cocktails and different cocktails to the show," Klaus says. "It's like 'Superman I' and 'Superman II,' because we now have enough material to do two separate shows."

 A dozen cocktails will be in the touring show.

 Anton, who also works in the studio's front office, had a hand in bringing the company to Oregon. They previously performed in California only during West Coast tours. But Anton called friends who put her in contact with the Craterian management, who jumped at the fun, offbeat show.

 Anton says she's thrilled that her parents, who still live in Ashland, and especially her long-time ballet teacher and coach Sylvia Bolton, will be able to see the show in all its costumed glory. Other relatives and friends are coming from around the Pacific Northwest.

 As a youngster in Los Angeles, Anton took various types of dance at a studio that taught a variety of genres.

 "From the very first lesson of ballet, I was drawn to the grace and the beauty of ballet and the elegance of it," Anton says. "When I put on my first pair of pointe shoes, it was all over. It was beyond anything I could have imagined. Pointe shoes take ballet up many notches, the level of challenge as well as the feeling that, when you get up all the way on your pointe shoes, you're flying."

After the family moved to Ashland, she found Bolton's studio and specialized in ballet, dancing and taking classes with several Rogue Valley companies, including Stillpoint in Grants Pass.

She was part of three of the studio's "Nutcracker" ballets, in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

 "That was a fun experience, the Grants Pass arts center," she said, adding that the spring shows were a favorite. "That's when Sylvia brought out her classical repertory. Every year she picks out one variation for us and also we'll do group pieces. That was an amazing experience."

 She credits Bolton's work with her for her start in dance as a career. "It wasn't until we moved to Southern Oregon and I got the training with Sylvia that I really tangibly felt, 'Oh, this is something I could do professionally.' "

 She went to college after her 2007 graduation from Ashland High School and eventually took a dancing contract with the Oakland Ballet and the Peninsula Ballet Theatre.

 She tried several colleges with dance programs, including Butler and Southern Oregon University. Either they weren't for her, such as Seattle's Cornish College of the Arts, with an emphasis on modern dance, or teachers felt she didn't fit into their programs.

 But she finished her "not very ordinary" move through college just this past June when she graduated from a program from the State University of New York, designed for those who had college behind them, but were having difficulty finishing up a bachelor's degree. She did her final year of classes online and worked with a mentor to get credits for the dance she was doing as a profession.

 "Education is so important, and in doing that (getting her degree), I realized I'll never stop learning."

 Reach Grants Pass Daily Courier reporter Edith Decker at 541-474-3724 or edecker@thedailycourier.com.

Emily Anton as Bloody Mary in Ballet with a Twist's 'Cocktail Hour,' showing Sept. 13 at the Craterian Theater. Photo courtesy of Nico Malvaldi