In a darkened photographer’s studio on Portland’s Eastbank, Lucas Threefoot is jumping so high, his torso nearly clears a tall backdrop. That athletic artistry is also vaulting his career as a ballet dancer known for his classic and contemporary hybrid style. “I’m riding a wave right now,” Threefoot smiles. “A good wave.”
The 23-year-old Oregon native is the new soloist with Oregon Ballet Theatre (OBT), an organization that has trained him, remarkably, since age 4. Threefoot—originally Dreyfuss, translated from German by his great, great, great grandfather who was a cobbler in Mississippi—is proof you don’t need a New York City Ballet or Joffrey pedigree to succeed. You can train right here in Oregon, live ten minutes from your high school (Lincoln High) and learn to perform world-class ballet.
Threefoot’s promotion to soloist comes after exemplary performances as Bluebird in Sleeping Beauty; leads in Trey McIntyre’s Like a Samba; Speak, a hip-hop pas de deux; Rush at The Kennedy Center; and as Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These are the foundation for future breakout roles. “When someone like Lucas comes along—particularly a male with a classic physique—and gets a good teacher early, has drive, ambition, intelligence, coordination and musicality, well, it just doesn’t happen very often,” says OBT artistic director, Christopher Stowell. Threefoot grew up a kind of cultured Huckleberry Finn. His mother, a nurse, and father, a cabinet maker, encouraged their only child to excel in languages, music, even karate. He ran unfettered through the woods and fields surrounding their Beavercreek home. Then in 1992, watching the summer Olympics, Threefoot began cartwheeling through the house. “I was afraid he was going to do serious damage to his head on the brick hearth,” laughs his mother, Eileen. “I had to find a way to channel that energy.” She found it at OBT’s Dance Movement class.
Soon enthralled, young Threefoot, gave up basketball, karate, prom, even college for the rigorous demands of ballet. “There wasn’t a singular moment when I said I wanted to be a ballet dancer,” explains Threefoot. “If I had gone to college, I’d want to be on the cutting edge of technology, to discover something new. It’s interesting because science and technology is exploring what’s out there, and with dancing, you’re exploring what’s within—the intention behind the steps.”
Audiences witnessed that last season when Threefoot took the male lead next to Anne Mueller in Rite of Spring, Stravinsky’s provocative ballet that, in 1913, unleashed riots at Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris. “Oh man, so intense!” says Threefoot. “The music is just so weird and powerful. You have to match that in your intent, and Anne is just such a powerful dancer.” Threefoot not only matched Mueller’s level of artistry, says Stowell, but also “joined her in being a wild animal on stage,” a performance Stowell likens to sprinting for fifteen minutes. Ballet as an athletic art form for both women and men, is something Threefoot and OBT want to promote. “The first thing I tell people is, ‘Hey, I get to dance with beautiful women all the time,’” says Threefoot, described by a staff member as “the mischievous flirt” who charms every pretty girl walking through the door. He sees the irony that most people identify ballet with tutus and tiaras, yet King Louis the XIV was one of the world’s first danseurs. And the only ballet dancer—male or female—most people can name is Mikhail Baryshnikov, Threefoot’s hero. “I want his kind of power and confidence,” says Threefoot.
Of course, all that confidence comes from negotiating tough life passages—like middle school, not always an easy place for a “smart, goody two shoes,” let alone ballet student. “That was a formative time,” reflects Threefoot. “I know how it is to be picked on, to be the odd man out, and I never want to make anyone feel that.” Last season, Threefoot triumphed over a grand faux pas during the first night as Bluebird in Sleeping Beauty. “I wasn’t completely comfortable in myself, and I put my hand down. That sucked,” Threefoot confesses. “But it helped me be a better dancer. I realized—and it seems like a paradoxical thing—you have to overcome it in your mind before you overcome it on stage.”
This fall finds Threefoot with what he calls a “comfort I’ve never felt before, more confident relating to people.” Fresh from starring in The Nutcracker in Seoul, South Korea, and preparing for a November performance of Alex Ballard’s Noesis and Noema in Lyon, France, he can’t wait to translate that comfort to the Oregon stage. “My challenge this season is to bring more of my intent and personality to the audience. There are so many aspects to me. This is why ballet is not a sport. We don’t dance just to show cool tricks, we dance to show what’s inside us,” he says. “Whatever it is you’re feeling, you have to fill 3,000 seats. You have to feel it and magnify it.”