Pacific Northwest Ballet: A Farewell To Boyd Bender
By Emma Love Suddarth
There is only one partner who has danced alongside every PNB company member over the past 37 years, one partner in whose hands we daily and wholeheartedly place our trust, one partner without whom we wouldn’t have made it on stage night after night, show after show-that partner is Boyd Bender. He doesn’t receive thunderous applause from audiences, and he doesn’t bow at the end of the performance (although if you happened to catch Ariana Lallone’s last Peacock in the Stowell & Sendak Nutcracker, you might have spotted a particularly focused Pasha’s attendant standing opposite Jordan Pacitti), instead during each performance he can be found working faithfully and tirelessly at his therapy table in the green room. Early in your career his table may be a tool of physical healing, but, if you’ve ever met Boyd, you know it quickly becomes much more than that-it is a refuge, a haven of warmth and security. “Even before diagnosis his voice, hands, and manner started the process of reassurance and healing,” explains Peter Boal. Not only does Boyd adjust stuck backs, laser iffy calves, and pull endless ankles, he also cares about every single dancer. That moment comes when you’re sitting on the floor feeling the tired, the pain, the frustration setting in, and he comes over and gives a simple hug before finally heading home for the evening. We’re a lucky bunch who’ve danced at PNB, and I think I speak for all of us when I say thanks for getting this swan through.
Before 1987, Boyd had seen Nutcracker one time. It was a chance meeting with pioneering PNB ballerina Deborah Hadley, who proceeded to invite him backstage, that brought Boyd in. Amazed at what he saw, and upon learning that there was no regular physical therapist for the company, Boyd volunteered his time to Kent Stowell and Francia Russell. Hundreds of past and present PNB dancers are thankful they took him up on it. At PNB’s first home, the Good Shepherd Center, he’d clear a random table-or sometimes even Francia’s desk (followed by a stressful reorganization game of “now where did that go?”)-to mend every hurting body that he could. At performances, he’d be there as long as anyone needed him, and when his table seemed done for the night, he’d tuck himself out of the way in a wing, laying on his stomach with his chin on his forearms, just to watch. He unassumingly volunteered his time and expertise that way for seven years. With the construction of the Phelps Center in 1993 Boyd’s therapy room, which the PNB dancers currently frequent, came to be. Over the last many years his wife and skilled PTA, Lori Brewington, has joined him at the theater, doubling up the unmatched care. For my husband Price Suddarth and I, our “couples therapy night” sessions with the two of them over the years are some of our most treasured PNB moments, both for body and heart.
At the theater, the dry-erase board sign-up on the green room door is the first stop of the night for the majority of company dancers-quickly jotting down your name (or your board nickname…for me personally, “M-uh”) hoping that it gets you to the table quickly. His expertise is undeniable-“If your ankle is bothering you, there’s no given it’s your ankle. It may be the back-the strength in the foot isn’t not there because you’re weak, it’s because there’s some interference in your back. You can’t take anything for granted.” Boyd doesn’t, and he checks it all. And while he’s worked on PGA tours, the Seattle Sonics, Seahawks players, tennis stars, Broadway legends, and so many more-over these 37 years he’s chosen every day to care for us. The whole time, he modestly throws the credit back: “I could not be the therapist I am today without the experiences I’ve had with each and every dancer. It was the right place at the right time. I have to pinch myself sometimes.” Well, Mr. Bender…so do we.
Fun Fact: Besides a dancer fave, Boyd is also the all-time leading scorer in a local basketball game. A weekly matchup in its fifth decade.
Emma Love Suddarth danced with PNB from 2008-2021. Her writing appears in Pointe and Dance Magazine, as well as for PNB.
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