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Oregon Ballet Theatre: Body, Mind, Spirit Program

'The Impending Hour,' 'In the Night,' 'Concerto Grosso'

Triunity of Intent

by Dean Speer

March 5, 2005 -- Portland, Oregon

The changes visible to the audience that Oregon Ballet Theatre's Artistic Director Christopher Stowell has been making over the course of his tenure of a year and a half were in evidence with the three ballets he presented to an enthusiastic audience on opening night.

His latest choreographic creation, "The Impending Hour," set to three movements of Ravel’s String Quartet in F major, begins with Karl Vakili on stage who is soon joined by three other men. A lyric duet with Yuka Iino ensues and this section concludes with the couple lying downstage, boardinghouse-style (feet-to-feet) and during a blackout, they are replaced by Alison Roper and Artur Sultanov who give us a heartfelt adagio, backed up by a trio of couples upstage who provide a reflective backdrop to this extended pas de deux. The full cast returns in a lively tutti finale.

Stowell’s father, Kent, once commented to me – when we were both at a Diablo Ballet concert in Walnut Creek to see a new ballet by Stowell fils – that his son’s ballets get better every time with each effort. I would have to especially concur this round. I thought his use and handling of his motif material to have been particularly conscientious and visually interesting and showed courage in tackling challenging choreographic problems. He’s clearly become more familiar with his dancers and more comfortable in making use of their dancing talents, perhaps asking more of them and of himself.

"Impending Hour" is a strong piece that deserves repeat showings in subsequent seasons. And I also look forward to these future outings being with live music. It was a little disappointing and surprising that a work requiring only four musicians was not performed live. Part of my surmise was that maybe the “live” digital raindrop and water backdrop creation of James Buckhouse had to be timed just so to the music. Buckhouse, a Corvallis native, also designed the costumes, with dance dresses for the women that were particularly lovely and moved well. My “group” thought that his backdrop was just about right. Not too much movement to distract from the dancers but enough to provide atmosphere.

Speaking of live music, the next ballet was done with a pianist (Carol Rich) to four of Chopin’s nocturnes for piano. I’d heard about Jerome Robbins’ 1971 "In The Night" and was very much looking forward to it. Comprising three pas de deux and one group section, "In The Night" is similar to his earlier 1969 "Dances at a Gathering" but different. Whereas "Dances" is sunny, open, and reflective, "Night" is more contained and has walls around its emotions – even with the relationships between each couple. Emotions are expressed but have more layers.

Stager Bart Cook, talking about the work at a pre-performance gathering, reported that the first couple (Gavin Larsen and Matthew Boyes) is about first love; the second (Kathi Martuza and Artur Sultanov) is about a couple in a more mature relationship who are peasants who have become rich and “now own the palace”; and the last couple (Tracy Taylor and Paul de Strooper) have interactions that are combative but who really love each other, and this is shown in their last pose as the man gently carries the woman offstage in his arms, her head down on his shoulder, tenderly expressed.

Pacific Northwest Ballet used to do the last work on the bill, Charles Czarny’s wacky but fun beat on athletics, "Concerto Grosso", set to Handel. It’s perfect for OBT. Perfect for where the Company is right now in terms of its development; for the audiences; and for building a range of repertory that includes “serious” as well as lighter works.

Czarny has a strong modern dance background and first set this piece on Netherlands Dance Theatre when they wanted to expose their dancers to a more diverse repertory and vocabulary than they had traditionally performed. He takes movement motifs that we all associate with athletics such as Shadow Boxing, Soccer, and Skating and develops them into little dances. The seven sections go by quickly and Tight Rope is particularly clever and well worked out, telling us a miniature story.

Oregon Ballet Theatre delighted us with ballets to satisfy the minds and spirits of the audience supporters, presented by the beautiful and athletic bodies of OBT’s talented pool of dancers. OBT continues to rise up the artistic ladder and is worth the nearly four-hour drive from Seattle to see and support this progress.

 

Edited by Staff

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