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Oregon Ballet Theatre

Eeet Was Very French
A Grand Tour 2007-08

by Dean Speer

March 1 , 2008 -- Keller Auditorium Portland, Oregon

I’ve enjoyed exercising my passport during Oregon Ballet Theatre’s current season.  We’ve enjoyed a Germanic program and now neighboring France.  Soon to come are one that returns us to our own shores, an “America” program, and then to exotic Russia in June.

Christopher Stowell’s “Zais” gave the nod to traditional French choreographic patterns of a certain era, including those based on dressage.  It opens with the dancers in lines, making precise, unison movements and builds from there.  I felt his ballet caught the right blend of technical difficulty, artistic level and spirit for this revitalized and evolving ballet company.

I was very pleased to see Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Jeffrey Stanton appear as a guest artist, presumably in the part made first for him at PNB where “Zais” premiered in 2003.  While the women of the company where shown off to good advantage, this truly is a men’s piece too with each sex having their own turn or section.  Both men and women are technically sharp and Stowell presented each nicely.

It is such a treat to get to see Jerome Robbins’ “Afternoon of a Faun.”  I first saw this lovely chamber ballet with the New York City Ballet and have liked it ever since.  Much has been written about it – its Genesis, subsequent casts, what it all means, the context, etc., but it’s really just about two young dancers discovering themselves and each other in a ballet studio - and was presented that way with two young and talented dancers: Grace Shibley and Brian Simcoe.

My only fuss with “Pas de deux Parisien” – Stowell’s creation using music from the ballet “Sylvia” – is that our ears expected the Délibes famous string pizzicato, probably for the female solo, and instead he chose something else.  Choreographically, the entrada and adagio were quite strong and really quite lovely.  The trajectory of the work lost focus, however, at the coupé jeté manège given to Ronnie Underwood.  There weren’t quite enough of these and the sequence needed to finish with some big “wow!” step flourish.  Yuka Iino’s solo was charming and met choreographic expectations.  The coda could have used a little more flash.  The audience was eating out of the couple’s hands but it felt a little flat in terms of composition.  If the coda were re-worked just slightly, OBT would have a really strong, and not just a good, addition to its permanent repertory. While I’m not at all a costume expert, I can report that Victoria McFall’s creations for this ballet, particularly Iino’s tutu with pantaloons, was the very essence of what they should be: charming, lovely, moving well with the dancer and beautiful.

While some of my more waggish students might argue that I was there at its 1928 premiere, I’ve never actually seen Nijinksa’s original choreography to Ravel’s “Bolero” but I have witnessed several other incarnations by various choreographers, none of which were satisfactory…until now.  Nicolo Fonte’s rendition goes back to Ravel’s own conception of the ballet taking place outside of a factory (great shades of Carmen?).  His version for OBT begins with a recording of factory machine noises – that kind of loud, rumbling hum and buzz - and then moves into using the musical score.It’s a nice showcase for five couples, including its principal couple, Alison Roper and Artur Sultanov.

This French balletic stopover was also a showcase for the mighty OBT orchestra, under the baton of Neil DePonte, especially the woodwinds and most especially the workout principal flute Georgeanne Ries got with two “big” flute works – “Après-midi d’un Faune” and “Bolero.”

My passport is out and ready to be exercised for OBT upcoming American bill in April.

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