By William Kennedy

Eugene Ballet artistic director Toni Pimble co-founded the company with Riley Grannan in 1978. At that time, two landmark Eugene performing arts buildings didn’t exist: the Hult Center, which opened in 1982 and where Eugene Ballet is a resident company, and the new Midtown Arts Center (MAC), a parting gift as Pimble prepares to retire after the 2024-25 season.

All combined, the Midtown is a 128,000-square-foot, seven-story structure on the corner of East 16th Avenue and Willamette Street. It houses the Eugene Ballet and seven other nonprofit arts organizations, and has condominiums on the first four floors. Three additional condo floors extend skyward on the other side of the L-shaped structure. Midtown broke ground in 2018 and opened three years later.

Pimble recalls that over the decades, her organization made do with rehearsal space, costume shops, and set storage and construction facilities spread around town. That created less-than-ideal circumstances to mount a production, she says, but the company persevered. In 2006, after a 14-year partnership with Ballet Idaho ended, Eugene Ballet started searching in earnest for a local space of its own.

“We realized, not only did we not want to keep renting, we needed a first home,” Pimble says. The vision for the Midtown emerged as the solution, offering Eugene Ballet a versatile, state-of-the-art facility with ample space for choreographing and rehearsing shows, housing the Eugene Ballet Academy, and accommodating their offices — consolidating all their needs under one roof.

“Most ballet companies of any standing have invested in a building,” Pimble says. The Midtown is unique, she adds, as money from the sale of the condominiums helped support construction.

Other nonprofit arts organizations, like the Lane Arts Council and the Eugene Opera, with offices on the ground floor, can also grow and thrive at the MAC, and there’s room to serve roughly 300 Eugene Ballet Academy students. At the same time, the privately owned condos, swiftly purchased by local arts patrons, aim to secure a financially stable future for the Eugene Ballet. Paul Dustrud of Dustrud Architecture, who designed the Eugene Ballet’s symbiotic new home, also has offices on the Midtown’s first floor.

From its new home, Eugene Ballet will use its 2024-25 season to honor Pimble’s long tenure through several special events. But she isn’t walking away entirely. “I’ll still be engaged as an artistic advisor,” Pimble explains, especially in costume design and when her previous works are restaged.

“While I won’t be here every single day, I still will be a part of Eugene Ballet,” she says. “I still will share with our community what a fantastic organization we are, so people feel a sense of ownership and are inspired to support our mission.”

Pimble says it’s especially important to create space for the next generation to step in and pilot Eugene Ballet toward the future. “I’ve been doing this for a very long time, and I need to make room for other people to get involved on an artistic level,” she says. Pimble’s longtime associate artistic director, Jennifer Martin, will assume Pimble’s role, while Suzanne Haag, a veteran Eugene Ballet choreographer, will become the associate artistic director.

“I felt that it was really important to have people who are committed to this organization,” Pimble says, especially female leaders. Women founded several well-known ballet companies, she notes, but when they retired, their posts as artistic directors were taken over by men. “Women got edged out of that position,” Pimble says, and she was concerned that an outsider could come in and use the leadership transition to wedge their way into a smaller company.

Plans for a bright future aside, Pimble calls her pending retirement after 46 seasons bittersweet. “On the one hand, I’m now 70,” she says. “I can’t keep this up much longer because I choreograph a lot, too. And that gets harder and harder.”

Eugene Ballet is also in good hands because the Eugene arts landscape is “extraordinary,” Pimble says. “I think that in a lot of cities our size, you won’t find anything like this,” referring to the Midtown project, “or the support for the arts that we have.”

SEASON 2024-25

Toni Pimble’s Tribute Season begins in November with “Mowgli,” followed by “The Nutcracker,” “Carmen,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “Silk and Steel.” The

Toni’s, an evening of tribute, highlights three of her iconic works: “May Dances,” “Two’s Company,” and “Concerto for Seven Dancers,” plus a brand-new work, “The Lark Ascending.”