Lisa Sundstrom, who directs the training company of the Oregon Ballet Theatre, didn’t always love ballet.
In fact, when she was first taking classes her mom signed her up for in Astoria as a kid, she didn’t like it very much at all. She was shy, and wasn’t a huge fan of leotards and tights.
“It made me feel exposed,” she said.
But as she progressed, Sundstrom began connecting with and taking more of an interest in dancing.
Before she knew it, she was spending all of her free time in the studio, traveling to summer intensives and eventually attending ballet school in California. She was on track to become a professional ballerina.
“I felt like I was with my people for the first time,” Sundstrom said of going to ballet school her senior year of high school. “I never fit in with Astoria. I always felt like I was different, going to the studio every day while everyone else was playing sports.”
Astoria was the beginning of that dream. So it was particularly special for Sundstrom, who is now the director of OBT2, the theater’s training company, to come back to her roots on Saturday to collaborate with the studio that trained her.
Over the weekend, OBT2, composed of dancers who are on the cusp of a professional career, came to Astoria as part of an outreach program where dancers perform at schools and libraries. The professional dancers then collaborate with local dancers.
“I like to break through the snobbishness and open up to the beauty of (ballet),” Sundstrom said. “It comes from the royal court ... and I kind of want to work toward changing that culture and opening the doors so everyone can enjoy it.”
Sundstrom has been the director OBT2 since its inception in 2016. Before that, she spent more than 10 years touring as a professional dancer for ABT2, the training company for American Ballet Theatre, the Pennsylvania Ballet and then again as a dancer for American Ballet Theatre. She starred in leading roles in famous works such as “Swan Lake” and “Romeo and Juliet.”
After retiring in the mid 1990s, Sundstrom began teaching across the country at small ballet schools.
“I wanted to teach all kinds of dancers, not just the talented ones,” she said. “I just wanted to teach the dancers who wanted to learn.”
Eventually, Sundstrom came back home to Oregon to direct the Portland Festival Ballet. She decided to take the job with Oregon Ballet Theatre to give back to the next generation of dancers in the state that started her career.
She hopes programs, like the one in Astoria, will help more dancers pursue the art of ballet like she did.
“I know the very first time I was on stage with professionals it was a very inspirational moment for me,” she said.