Local Legends

After 22 Years, Carrie Imler Says Goodbye to Pacific Northwest Ballet

Days before her final performance, the longest-tenured principal dancer at PNB reflects on her storied career and what it means to retire so young.

By Darren Davis June 7, 2017

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Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Carrie Imler in Kiyon Gaines’ Sum Stravinsky.

In 1995, a teenage Carrie Imler moved from her native Pennsylvania to join the Pacific Northwest Ballet as an apprentice. From there she ascended the ranks: promoted to a soloist in 2000, then a principal in 2002. For the next fifteen years Imler would become one of PNB's most recognizable and celebrated dancers, now the longest-tenured principle in a company full of talent. And on Sunday, June 11, she will give her final performance.

Imler took a quick break from Pictures at an Exhibition rehearsals to talk endings, new beginnings (she will return to PNB as an instructor), and some of her favorite past performances.

Why is this the right time for you to leave?

Twenty two years of dancing—and, you know, I never got to do the lyrical roles. I always had the men's jumping roles, the quick roles, and it has taken its toll on my body. When things are more rough during the day than they are good, it's time to hang up those shoes and reflect on what you've had.

It's strange to say "retire" when you're still so young. At what point did you start thinking about life after ballet?

I really started thinking about it [in 2007] when I had a seven-month hip injury. It really put things in perspective. Around that time I started taking classes at Seattle University. I was thinking physical therapy, which is still maybe in the works. I just understand dancers' bodies. But as far as the teaching goes, I'll get to spend some time with my son during the day, possibly go back to school, then teach at night. It seems like a really good place to start.

Twenty two years is a long time to do any one thing, let alone something so physical. How did you keep from burning out?

Of course I love to be out there and show off my stuff, but that's not what's driven me. It's always been about the audience. It was for everyone else to forget about their day, forget about family emergencies and things like that, just for a night, and enjoy something beautiful.

You also stayed in one place, one city, your entire career.

I had so many opportunities here, I never needed to leave. I was always being challenged. And Seattle is a great city. I came from a small town. This isn't a big city like New York so it wasn't overwhelming to me.

You and Batkhurel Bold are the two longest tenured principle dancers, and you're both saying goodbye this year. What has your relationship been like with him?

I would consider Bold to be like a long lost brother. We pick on each other, we have the best time. It's a very easy friendship, an easy dancing relationship. We know each other so well that when something doesn't quite work in rehearsal one day, it's a fluke. I trust him to always be there for me.

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Imler with Batkhurel Bold, who will also retire this year, in Diamonds.

Sunday, June 11 rolls around. What's going on in your brain?

Oh gosh, I don't know. I have sixty family members coming, most from the East Coast. Even my 85-year-old grandmother who has never made it past Illinois. I keep telling people I am 95 percent sure of what I'm doing. I know it will be a joyous occasion, but definitely an emotional one.

Looking back on your career, what are the standout productions—the ones that reminded you at the time, or in retrospect, why you chose this life?

My favorite time in the studios are the story-length ballets. I'm a little dramatic. My mom always said I used to love putting on plays for her when I was little. So being able to bring that dramatic side and dancing together has been a lot of fun. So pieces like The Merry WidowSwan Lake, and Don Quixote. 

Are you looking forward to having more of a personal life?

I'm looking forward to not telling my husband I can't go hiking this weekend because I hurt. He's such an outdoor person and I desperately want to be. But I'm always like "Oh my calf is really tight," or "But we have shows coming up." I've said no to him a lot. I'm looking forward to saying yes.

PNB Season Encore
Sun, June 11, McCaw Hall

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