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Oregon Ballet Theatre - Fall Program

In the Beginning, Somewhat Elevated: 'In the Night', 'Angelo', 'Eyes on You'

by Dean Speer

October 9, 2005 -- Newmark Theatre, Portland, Oregon

Peter Boal, new artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet, reported that he received a call from the Robbins Trust to tell him, “You know, ‘In the Night’ is always done as the middle work.” He stuck to his guns about opening PNB’s “Director’s Choice” bill with this ballet and seems to have set a trend of opening programs with this intimate masterwork. Just a couple of weeks later , Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Artistic Director, Christopher Stowell, did the same thing with OBT’s Fall Program at Portland’s mid-sized theatre, the Newmark, in downtown Portland’s Theatre District. I found all three works on the bill to work well within the context of the venue – a theatre that works for intimate, chamber ballets.

Carol Rich was the sympathetic pianist for Robbins’ ballet, creating the Chopinesque atmosphere for three couples: Gavin Larsen and OBT newcomer Jon Drake, Alison Roper with one new man Ronnie Underwood, and Yuka Iino and Paul De Strooper. It was great seeing these dancers in this ballet in this venue. I think “In the Night” is one of those pieces that work better in a setting that’s not too cavernous. I’ve seen it in several other theatres, and the Newmark really helps to show off every detail. Larsen and Roper were particularly effective in their roles. Both have beautiful technique and the artistic maturity these parts demand. I saw this, for example, in Larsen’s turning over of her wrist and hand, accompanied by a nod of her head. The fourth movement when the women gather together spoke volumes. Robbins is a happy addition to the OBT repertoire and “In the Night” is a welcome repeat from last season.

I saw “Angelo” when San Francisco Ballet premiered it in 2002, and like Robbins’ “In the Night,” I found that it worked better for me this time around than in the palatial setting of the War Memorial Opera House. Julia Adam’s ballet is based on a line from Shakespeare set to the music of Vivaldi and this line delineates the seven stages of a man's life.

New to OBT’s roster of men this season is Brennan Boyer who took the lead role of Angelo. Boyer was most recently an apprentice with Pacific Northwest Ballet, and it was great seeing him tackle a lead role. Adam leads us through Angelo’s story by giving us seven, distinct scenes showing his birth, playing with friends, and finding his first love -- rather than giving us a single, seamless narrative. Effective were Yuka Iino and Ronnie Underwood as his wife and best friend who, while feel conflicted about their relationship, ultimately go off with each other, abandoning Angelo. Iino is a superb, classical dancer and this part gave her a chance to infuse emotion into her dancing. Underwood is a gifted dancer and his reading was “dead-on.” While the ballet may have been based on the seven stages of a person’s life, it really seems to me to be a journey of discovery and of love and forgiveness. Angelo’s ability to forgive his wife and his best friend’s cruel betrayal elevates him toward his own spiritual redemption and to the progress of this soul and spirit beyond an earthly existence.

“Eyes on You,” Stowell’s third creation specifically for OBT, is easy on the eyes and fun for theears. Set to 10 classic Cole Porter songs which are performed alternately between historic recordings and live performance fabulously rendered by soprano Pamela South, who was in a perfect diva mode for this ballet, accompanied by Richard Bower.

It cleverly opens with the dancers in a row of theater seats, facing away from the audience, watching what we presume to be the end of a ‘40s movie that says “The End.” Anne Mueller broke away and began the first “set” to “De-Lovely.” My only major qualm for this work is the costumes for thisnumber. I don’t think the “underwear” or under-dressed look succeeded and found that instead of enhancing the dance, they distracted me from it . Casual to indicate a hot, summer night at the movies is okay, but perhaps these can be modified, and I much preferred the costumes that the dancers wore for later sections.

One of my favorite sections of “Eyes on You,” which included Drake, was “Cast of Gentlemen” in a kind of competitive dance-off that was strongly constructed and energetically danced with the audience eating up the coupé jeté ménage and the amazing double tours en l’air of the men.Amazing because they ended the tours with their legs in second position, whilst still in the air -- a feat I can only recall seeing once or twice before. Then they concluded this by finishing snappily as the men leaped to the floor and sharply turned over to face the audience. A unique “tah-dah”!

“So In Love” with Kathi Martuza and Artur Sultanov is strategically placed before “Eyes” finale of “Anything Goes.” Throughout this ballet Sultanov played his character as a kind of goofy, insouciant roaring ‘20s star, vamping his way through the choreography. My only choreographic suggestion for “In the Still of the Night” would be to have Martuza (again with Sultanov) becompletely still at the end and not move a muscle, while Sultanov shakes and vibrates his hand over her reclining form. I think it would make a stronger and more focused ending, almost like a haiku ending. The work concludes neatly with the dancers returning to their original scene for the end of the ballet.

It’s clear that Stowell and OBT have a new audience favorite here, a winner that will continue to be popular with future ballet-goers and touring fans and that will also play well when they undertake performing in schools and other community outreach gatherings.

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