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By Ben Mitchell
The Enterprise
Photograph by OBT
December 20, 2011

When Jennifer Strelkauskas saw her six-year-old son, Collin Trummel, dancing around the house, she knew she had to do something about it. “I was mostly just dancing to music,” explains Trummel, who is now nine. “Mom said maybe I should go and try ballet.”

It turned out to be a good suggestion. Trummel, who is currently performing in the illustrious Oregon Ballet Theatre’s production of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” has been invited back year after year by the OBT to perform with the company’s troupe of seasoned dancers. He has also received hundreds of dollars in scholarships from the OBT to help offset the cost of tuition for the classes Trummel takes when he is not busy practicing for a performance.

Although his mother first suggested he try ballet, Trummel opted to enroll in gymnastics, but soon found himself at odds with the sport. “It was pretty hard,” he recalls. “I didn’t like it.”

Strelkauskas then looked for opportunities for Trummel to dance in the Gorge. Lessons were available at the Columbia Gorge Dance Academy in Hood River, but not for the summer when Trummel wanted to take them.

The decision was then made to take classes at the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre in Portland, Ore., a professional institution that dubs itself “one of the pre-eminent ballet schools in the country.” Trummel had to audition for the school, which deemed the youngster worthy enough for its instruction.

However, accepting the offer meant that three times a week, Trummel and his mother would have to travel over 2.5 hours roundtrip to Portland to attend the hour-long class. Trummel says that he has no problem with finding ways to occupy his time on the commute. “I like reading a lot, so it wasn’t bad,” he says. “Sometimes I couldn’t get out of my book and get my ballet clothes on fast enough.”

Trummel’s schedule requires that he leaves school about 30 minutes early on Mondays, Fridays, and the occasional Wednesday that is not early release. However, this has not interfered with his schoolwork, as Trummel will go in early or use his lunch period to complete assignments, as well as participating in Whitson’s Talented and Gifted after-school program.

Strelkauskas praises the teachers and other staff members at Whitson for their willingness to accommodate Trummel. “We are incredibly lucky with how amazingly supportive the school has been.”

Trummel’s fourth grade classmates have also been generally supportive of his artistic endeavors. Every once in awhile though, he says a student will deride him for his interest in ballet, particularly because he is male.

“Some people kind of tease me about it,” he admits. “I tell them ballet needs male dancers, because they have to pick up and hold the female dancers.”

However, Trummel is quick to point out that most get a hoot out of his ballet prowess. When he told one of his friends about his hobby, the friend laughed but replied with “that is awesome!”

Whitson students got to decide for themselves last year when the PTO furnished transportation for every member of Trummel’s class to see him peform in OBT’s 2010 run of “The Nutcracker.” Strelkauskas was able to help procure individual tickets for the students at a paltry $5 a pop.

Preparing for these performances takes a large degree of dedication and attention, particularly for an elementary student. Strelkauskas explains that the OBT’s production of “The Nutcracker” uses the version laid out by the late choreography virtuoso, George Balanchine. Considered intellectual property, dancers must perform the copywritten steps exactly as outlined by Balanchine decades ago. Additionally, Trummel says even if there is an act currently being rehearsed that does not require him to be on stage, he still must sit in the audience and pay attention in case a correction is made for the performance. During the weeks of the actual performance, Trummel is required to show up already in light makeup hours before the show even starts.

Despite all the hard work, Trummel says he absolutely loves performing with the OBT and the dancers. “It’s really fun to watch them dance,” he says, “because they’re professionals.”

In “The Nutcracker,” Trummel plays the role of Fritz: the unruly brother who smashes the titular Nutcracker, which is a toy of his sister, Clara.

Trummel says that his brother believes it is a role he was born to play. “He thinks it’s perfect,” Trummel laughs. “He says, ‘Oh yes, that’s the perfect thing for Colin. He makes a good bratty brother.'”

After the play closes at Keller Auditorium on Christmas Eve, Trummel plans on continuing with the OBT and would perhaps like to have a career as a ballet teacher or a vet, like his mother.

Both his mother and his grandmother started ballet when they were five and Trummel hopes to pass this love of dance onto his own children, just as it has been passed down to him.

“Ballet blood is in the family,” he says. “I hope my kids have ballet blood too.”

© 2011 Eagle Newspapers, Inc.

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