Whether serving at Hugo’s or dancing for Portland Ballet, each move for Eliana Trenam is carefully choreographed.

It’s not unusual for an artist to take a second job working in a restaurant.

Painters, actors and writers spend their working lives waiting tables, preparing drinks and cooking food so they can use the rest of their time making art.

It’s less a labor of love and more a matter of necessity.

Not so for Eliana Trenam, 25, who sees her job serving food at Hugo’s restaurant in Portland as complementary to her work as a professional dancer at Portland Ballet. She uses the same athletic skills developed over a lifetime in dance when she balances plates laden with food and moves gracefully across the restaurant floor.

In both jobs, she surrounds herself with collaborating artists who push the boundaries of their fields. At Hugo’s, the creative team prepares brash and innovative dishes that challenge and reward the dining customer. At Portland Ballet, they’re making new dances and reinterpreting classics to stimulate and satisfy the contemporary dance crowd.

Food and dance – and all the performing arts, for that matter – are the result of practice, trial and error and passion. Both balance tradition with innovation, and both delight our senses.

“For me, they are very complementary spheres,” Trenam said. “When I present a dish, I’m giving those movements the same consideration I’m giving my movement when I dance.”

She arrived in Portland in summer 2013 to dance as an apprentice at Portland Ballet. The apprenticeship was an unpaid position, and Trenam used her experience as a cook and server at a fine-dining restaurant in Princeton, New Jersey, to land a job as a server at Hugo’s.

This fall, Trenam joined the company of Portland Ballet, which means she gets paid when she performs. She’s on stage this weekend and next in “Jack the Ripper” at the Portland Ballet Theater on Forest Avenue.

Like many working artists, she has to work outside her field to support herself.

Hugo’s provides an opportunity to make a living, eat well, stay fit and satisfy her love of the culinary arts.

She’s always been passionate about food and has worked as a server and chef in restaurants in California and Iowa as well as New Jersey.

Those locations mark stages in her professional development as a dancer. She grew up in Petaluma, California, just north of San Francisco, and began dancing at age 2. She studied in Iowa and came east to dance after graduating from college in 2010, first as a trainee with American Repertory Ballet in New Jersey, then in Portland.

At each stage, restaurant work has supported her dance.

She works five nights a week at Hugo’s, beginning at 3:30 p.m. The first two hours of the shift are warm-ups. Just as she prepares her body and mind for an evening of dance, she takes a mental and physical stretch to prepare for an evening in the restaurant. She talks with the kitchen staff about the menu and food prep, so she is prepared to discuss the menu with customers. She shares a meal with the team, building bonds.

Dinner begins at 5:30.

Hugo’s employs a team approach to its dinner service. Seven or eight servers cover the 40 seats in the dining room and bar. Another six work in the kitchen.

Trenam is a back-server, which means she delivers meals to diners.

The arrangement of the plates on her arms, her navigation of tables and chairs and how she places meals on the table are part of a gracefully choreographed routine that is rehearsed and honed with the single purpose of making the customer feel relaxed, at ease and satisfied.

“We want people to feel taken care of,” she said.

There’s drama in a meal. It’s exciting to watch as it’s prepared. There’s the anticipation of its presentation and satisfaction in its consumption. She enjoys talking about the nuances of the ingredients, both their flavors and character, as well as their preparation.

She sees her job as tour guide and navigator. To use an art term, she is almost a food curator. She helps interpret the chef’s vision. She explains each stage of the meal to help diners better appreciate the totality of the experience.

It’s the exact approach she takes with dance. Each performance is an opportunity to enlighten someone with a new experience or stimulate a sense of joy or wonder, she said.

“Each performance and each meal is irrevocable. Each experience is unique, and the moment is fleeting,” she said.

Trenam has always loved food and dispels a notion, left over from dance scandals of the 1980s, that dancers must starve themselves to keep working.

Just the opposite is true, she said. Dancers must understand nutrition and sensible eating in order to stay fit, flexible and energetic. Muscles and bones need nourishment to function properly.

The benefit of working at Hugo’s is the opportunity to regularly eat locally sourced food and balanced meals, she said.

“I eat amazing food all the time,” she said.


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