Andrew Bartee can’t help it.
Like a finely tuned radio, his muscles and limbs pick up music through the air. Then he transforms the notes into movement.
With grace, skill and athleticism, Bartee, 19, swoops his legs, bends his back and moves his arms like ribbons on the wind.
“It’s the music that takes me there,” he said. “You are the physical representation of what’s happening musically.”
The Everett native is a rising star in the Pacific Northwest Ballet. This weekend, he’s scheduled to perform in the company’s season opener, “Director’s Choice,” four dances selected by artistic director Peter Boal.
Bartee’s story is a bit like that of Billy Elliot, the fictional boy dancer from a northern England mining town who stumbles unexpectedly into a world of dance. Unlike the Broadway story, Bartee didn’t have to overcome adversity, but he shows the same abundance of passion for the art.
About age 10, Bartee saw a family friend dance in a Christmas pageant. He was enthralled.
“I was really taken by it,” he said.
He started dancing around the house and soon the friend took notice of the boy’s abilities.
She encouraged Bartee to try lessons and he signed up for an Everett Parks and Recreation class at Forest Park.
“I really loved it,” he said.
The youngster quickly outpaced his classmates. He started taking lessons at a private studio and was encouraged to aim higher still.
By 2002, at 12, he was auditioning at Pacific Northwest Ballet, the region’s premier dance school.
“They made me wear tights. I was upset about that,” Bartee said.
Less shy about his body today, he says he’s performed in all kinds of attire.
“This is our livelihood,” he said. “You don’t have the option of being uncomfortable.”
Bartee’s talent caught the attention of Bruce Wells, a faculty member at the Seattle ballet school. Wells said he’s enjoyed watching Bartee progress, joining the professional company as an apprentice in 2008, and now as a full-fledged member.
“His body wanted to do it,” Wells said. “He was a complete sponge, of course. He just took all the information, and his body accepted it beautifully.”
In 2008, Bartee gained national attention when he won the prestigious Princess Grace Foundation Award and traveled to New York. There he met dance luminaries and Hollywood celebrities. He shook hands with James Earl Jones and rubbed shoulders with George Lucas.
The recognition reinvigorated his passion.
“People believe in me,” Bartee said. “They know I can do this, so why not believe in myself?”
For nearly six years, Bartee rode an early morning Community Transit bus from his parents’ home in Everett to Seattle for his daily grind of lessons, rehearsal and performances. He’s now moved into an apartment on Queen Anne Hill.
His days are still full. Each morning he begins in the gym, lifting weights. Then he takes a 90-minute class, going through the fundamental moves of formal dance. Bartee’s afternoons typically are spent in up to six hours of rehearsals, often repeating the same moves for months before the curtain goes up before an audience. He doesn’t get home until late at night.
“It’s very all-consuming,” he said.
The young dancer also has begun to choreograph dances. He’s collaborated with a classmate on two pieces, both of which have been performed in front of paying audiences.
“I like creating. My mind is always coming up with things,” he said. “I can’t stop.”
A versatile dancer, Bartee said he’s more at home dancing in contemporary and modern pieces. Still, he has a fondness for the popular classical pieces that are demanded by the repertoire.
“He’s going to dance for another 15 years,” Wells, the instructor, said. “In time he will dance the leads in all the big romantic, classical ballets.”
Seattle is lucky to have Bartee, Wells said.
“He’s just one of those people that God smiled on and said, ‘You’ll dance.’”
Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447; firstname.lastname@example.org.