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Oregon Ballet Theatre

'Opus 50,' 'A New Work,' 'Company B'

by Dean Speer

May 24, 2005 (eve) -- Newmark Theatre, Portland, Oregon

Of all of Christopher Stowell’s ballets that I’ve seen, I must confess to really liking best his "Opus 50", which he staged for Oregon Ballet Theatre this season. Originally created in 2000 for San Francisco Ballet’s “Discovery Program,” it’s structurally the strongest of his works for me.  It is filled with a great use of patterns, inventive combinations of steps, and a nice use of épaulement, particularly in the pas de deux with Kathi Martuza and Artur Sultanov. With "Opus 50," set to Tchaikovsky’s lovely, intimate Piano Trio, Opus 50, Stowell begins smartly with a theme and develops it well.  However, he surprises at the conclusion of the ballet by “going dramatic” and having it finish with the Martuza figure alone on stage, making boureés in center stage to fading light and a falling curtain. I thought it was a deft touch.

Retiring dancer Karl Vakili with his duet partner, Anne Mueller, got the initial but “secondary” pas de deux that showed off their respective strengths very well. Vakili’s bright energy, strong technique and long line will be missed from the ballet stage.

Hooray for the musicians: Carol Rich, piano; Margaret Bichteler, violin; and Heather Blackburn, cello.

When it was first announced that Yuri Possokhov was going to be making a new ballet to Ravel’s famous "La Valse," I initially thought to myself, “Oh, No!”, as I thought it would be compared to Balanchine’s well-known version and might either suffer by comparison, or, perhaps, come across as derivative. So I viewed it as an unwise artistic risk. I’m happy to report that my apprehensions and misgivings were not played out, and Possokhov’s piece is as fresh and new as a ballet can be.

"A New Work" begins with five company women on the floor, arranged in a wedge with Allison Roper in the center – each beginning with lush, undulating movement of the legs (held together) and upper body. Possokhov really choreographed to the strengths of each woman – Yuka Iino, Kathi Martuza, Anne Mueller, Alison Roper, and Tracy Taylor. Iino’s turns were most impressive. The ballet concludes with the visual and aural surprise of the women bursting through the paper streamer drops upstage and running off pel mell, while a lone, male figure comes sauntering on. End of "La Valse" and the start of the adagio movement from Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major.

The only thing I would have done differently is with the casting of the male, as Artur Sultanov was featured as the principal male in each of the central pas de deux of the first two ballets; and in terms of visual flow, it looked as if it were: mans finds and loses girl; man finds and gets a different girl. Using the elegant Artur Sultanov for both was too strong of a visual memory for me and needed the re-casting of another man in one of the parts. Doubly reinforced by each ballet finishing with a pas de deux.

"Company B" is a company marvel wherever and whenever it’s produced.  Under the sheen of a series of Andrews Sisters’ songs, it really reveals the tragic outcome of war and of the results that would have been improbable without it.  Of special mention must be retiring dancer, Matthew Boyes, as the already dead soldier in “There will never be another you.”  When Alison Roper stands up and joins him, arm-to-arm, but never looks at him, it is just devastating. You know he’s already gone and she’s longing and grieving for him. Boyes is one of those amazing artists who can seem to shed his skin from piece to piece and really change the inner self that is reflected and expressed in his dancing. 

We also have to say farewell and thanks to Tracy Taylor, who was featured in “I can dream, can’t I?”, where the girl daydreams; but it’s not dire or sad event like the Boyes and Roper duet. Taylor is dreaming of the future, while Roper dreams of the past. It was also great to see Kester Cotton back on stage, perfect as the “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B).” Also dead at the end -- clearly shot but the energy and delight of this solo in getting there, mmm, mmm!

After getting reacquainted with OBT and getting to know the dancers better, I’ll miss seeing the artistic dance contributions of Boyes, Taylor, and Vakili. They are each modern masters of ballet and nicely shown off in a program where we can easily say about them and OBT, “Bei Mir Bist du Schön.” In my eyes you are beautiful.

Oregon Ballet Theatre has announced its lineup for next season and is adding one repertory weekend – five programs instead of the four this year, and concluding with the full-length Swan Lake. In the short two years that Mr. Stowell has been at the artistic helm of OBT, he’s really given solid direction and the Company is sailing to new and exciting horizons.


Edited by Staff.

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