Oren Porterfield: Flying to Something New

Written by Matthew Gattozzi

Oren Porterfield moves across the studio as if she is flying. Her movement is full of grace and beauty. She opens her heart in her movement, and the more you watch Porterfield dance, the more you feel like you know her.

Porterfield is in her ninth and final season with Ballet Austin. She will be retiring this weekend. Porterfield will actually be flying as she dances the role of Tinker Bell in Paul Vasterling’s Peter Pan. During a very busy time, I was able to sit down with Porterfield to talk about her career and what is next.

Gattozzi: Can you give me a brief history of how you started to dance and your career as a dancer?

Porterfield: I am from Dallas, and I started at Tuzer Dance Center. They had a romance about dance that I fell in love with. I moved to Austin when I was 15 years old to live with my dad. I auditioned for Ballet Austin Academy and was in Level 8 before becoming a trainee, which is now the Butler Fellowship Program. At the time I was a trainee, Truman Finney was my teacher, and I would not be the dancer I am today without him. I soon was given a contract to join Ballet Austin II. During my first year in the second company, Ohio Ballet came and visited and eventually offered me a contract for the following season. I had never been to Ohio, but I loved Ohio Ballet and the people I danced with. Unfortunately, this was during the financial crisis and factories were shutting down in Ohio, and Ohio Ballet ended up folding. That was really scary, but that was one of the biggest lessons as an adult. I had no idea if I was going to dance again. Luckily Dayton Ballet saved me from waiting tables. I danced there for two years, but home was calling. I was nervous about being turned down by Ballet Austin, and the night before (the audition) I almost decided not to show up. But here I am nine years later with Ballet Austin.

Oren Porterfield in rehearsal. Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood

Gattozzi: You have danced with so many people and companies, what will you remember most about the art form of dance?

Porterfield: I would say the intimacy of dance. Given the repertoire that you are dancing, you are in that world of that production for some time, and you end up getting deep into your character or the themes of the dance. It feels like a break up when you work on a ballet for so long and then you move on — same with a choreographer.

Gattozzi: Do you have ideas of what you want to do next?

Porterfield: When anyone is going through a weird time in their lives, I tend to comfort the person of who is asking me by giving them a nice answer, which I still do, but I know it will be weird and hard. I am trying to lean into the difficulties of the transition. I do not want to rush into something. Being a ballet dancer has been my identity for so long. I am trying to give myself time to dabble in a lot of different things. I say all of that to say, I am looking at doing my certification in yoga, continuing my online clothing business, and styling for photo shoots and movies. It feels weird to be moving on at 34 years old, but I feel like I have a lot to offer as a person, and now it is a matter of convincing someone to take a chance on me, just like directors in dance have given me opportunities.

Gattozzi: Have you had time to think about how you feel about changing your identity from being a dancer?

Porterfield: I have thought about that a lot, and the reason I felt like I was ready to retire was, as a dancer, you are continually auditioning. You are constantly trying to get roles for a show, and life can be hard when your identity is caught up in dancing and constantly trying to impress others. It can be draining after some time. As I have been growing up, I have seen that I need to take agency. I want to pursue something that is my idea, and I am looking forward to not getting my self-worth from how I perform and look on stage. When I go to a party where I do not know people, I ask them what they do. A lot of people do work that does not define them. It is almost exotic to me to think about doing a job that I might not be as passionate about, but I would just be curating my life. Also, I am just a diva (laughing); I have liked the attention of being a dancer.

Gattozzi: You are taking on one of the female lead roles, Tinker Bell, in Peter Pan this weekend which is exciting. How do you feel about going into your last week with Ballet Austin and the show?

Oren Porterfield during a stage rehearsal for Peter Pan. Photo by Jordan Moser

Porterfield: I have been feeling this since I decided I would retire. I feel this weight lifting off of me, but that I need to pull some of it back down to stay focused and do a good job. I have huge imagination, and it is easy for me to spend a lot of time daydreaming about my life after ballet. I have been trying to stay hyper-focused, but I am trying to indulge in the special moments.

Gattozzi: If you had any advice for the younger generation, or you were to advise your younger self, what would leave them with?

Porterfield: First and foremost, you have to trust yourself and your instincts. At times, I tried hard to impress people versus giving myself time to deepen my understanding of the production and confidently showing that. When I was younger, I felt like I was expendable. I was worried that if I was not perfect, I would lose every opportunity, which I think took away from my process as an artist. I feel like I am dancing my best now because I do have that confidence in my own internal process.

Peter Pan

May 11–13 | the Long Center

Choreography by Paul Vasterling

Music by Claude Debussy, Georges Bizet, Gabriel Fauré, Maurice Ravel

Join the conversation! Share on Facebook or Twitter a time when you witnessed someone choose courage and tag it with #PeterPanATX.

This article is written by Matthew Gattozzi (@therealgattozz) who dances as an apprentice for Ballet Austin.

Oren Porterfield on stage. Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood