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By Rosie Gaynor
Margaret Mullin unfurls a luxurious développé in the middle of a pas de deux. This brief moment of unhurried classical grace comes as a surprise amid the fast, fierce, contemporary angles of Jirí Kylián’s Sechs Tänze. Yet Mullin makes it feel all of a piece, and it becomes clear she not only understands classical and contemporary vocabulary, she can make them work together.
That suits Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic director Peter Boal, who cast the 22-year-old corps member in eight soloist roles last season. He points to her successes in such varied ballets as Sleeping Beauty (Bluebird), The Four Temperaments (demi-soloist), and Victor Quijada’s oozing Suspension of Disbelief (ensemble). “With Maggie, it’s all been surprises. I expected her to do well, and she did better than expected at many different turns.”
Mullin grew up in Tucson with her mother and grandmother. She took her first dance class at age 4. At 9, she moved to Ballet Arts, where she stayed through high school. She spent five summers at the PNB School, a year in its professional division, and joined PNB’s corps in 2009.
It was not a straight shot, however. Helping her were other students’ parents, who drove her to class when her mother was struck by a longterm illness, and her dance teachers Mary Beth Cabana and Chieko Imada. At 16, Mullin was sidelined by an ankle injury for nearly a year. She spent her downtime choreographing. The months off showed Mullin how committed she was to dancing. And she realized how crucial it is to know your body and take time as you learn. “Everyone gets injured; it’s just a part of what we do,” she says. “It’s important to not punish yourself for that.”
It’s easy to trace certain aspects of Mullin’s dancing to Ballet Arts, where the curriculum incorporated many styles. Variation classes—even for the little kids—emphasized artistry. Technique was not ignored, however. “Everything was very, very clean,” says Mullin.
The results were apparent even at the start of her 2008 apprenticeship, when she danced in Benjamin Millepied’s 3 Movements. She showed her strong stage presence, musicality, clean lines, and ability to fly across the stage. (“Her traveling is beautiful,” says Boal. “She lets the music help her jump.”)
Mullin works hard in class (even her tendus are a dramatic performance, strong feet slicing fast and clear). And she has performed challenging roles this spring, including Butterfly in Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Peasant Pas de Deux in Giselle. If Ballet Arts gave her what Mullin describes as “the raw material,” she says her years at PNB have been about “putting it into motion in the right way” with the help of Boal and the company’s ballet masters. Her control, refinement, and sophistication have increased so much so that Boal nominated her for a Princess Grace Award.
As for her interests outside of dance, Mullin says that she loves drawing, writing, and watching old movies. She also goes to lots of concerts with her boyfriend, who is a musician. Even at the symphony she catches herself choreographing in her head. Part of Ballet Arts’ curriculum, choreographing is something Mullin has continued to do at PNB for its annual choreographers’ showcase. Boal says this has helped her grow as an artist.
Watching Mullin set a piece on some poised Professional Division students, one can see how already she is passing down some of what she appreciates so deeply from teachers like Boal and PNB’s Elaine Bauer (who coached her on her Princess Grace Award submission). Bauer says that Mullin “has the fertile mind of an artist, taking the seed of an idea and making it grow before our eyes.” This bodes well for Mullin’s dream of someday dancing Juliette in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. Character, motivation, and musicality are key in this role—a role made for those who understand both contemporary and classical. It could be a perfect fit.
Rosie Gaynor is a Seattle dance writer.
Mullin in Paul Gibson’s The Piano Dance. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.