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Iino's Ease

Oregon Ballet Theatre's 'Swan Lake'

by Dean Speer

11 October 2008 -- Keller Auditorium, Portland, Oregon

I’ve previously reported how Margot Fonteyn used to rate the difficulty of the roles she tackled by the level of fear-factor she experienced.  “ ‘Swan Lake’ ...was sheer terror.  Everything about it is enormous.”

We don’t know if Yuka Iino experienced sheer terror in dancing Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Opening Night “Swan Lake” as Odette/Odile but if she did, it certainly did not show.  I found her Odette interpretation fitted her quite well, and the ease with which she met the technical requirements of Odile’s assignment was quite satisfying.  In terms of acting, her Odile’s maniacal laugh at having successfully duped and deceived Prince Siegfried, danced by Ronnie Underwood, was glorious.

Yet, I’d like her phrasing in Act III to be sharper, for example, during the Pas de deux, when she does the tour jeté to the floor, finishing in èffacé to face him, to hold the shape as she comes up and reaches yearningly for him longer, and then to very sharply turn away from him, effectively rebuffing and confusing the poor sap.  As danced Saturday night, the movement was all essentially timed evenly.  She can and should keep her legato line going but give it more peaks and valleys.

I wasn’t Siegfried but I was certainly also dazzled by her fouettés – doubles right away, which continued nearly to the end when she pulled in for a clean finish.  My only fuss was that she got slightly off the downbeat, making it harder to count exactly how many she did in toto.

Ronnie Underwood’s debut as the hapless prince was noteworthy.  Underwood possesses the attributes and qualities sought in a danseur noble – length of line, strong features, facility of clean technique.  During one of his variations, his sauté à la seconde that cuts into jeté en tournant were done with amplitude of jump, ease, and control.  The depth and maturity of his interpretation will only continue to broaden over time and through multiple outings in the part.

It was great to see Gavin Larsen back on the boards after being out rehabilitating from an injury most of last season.  Her pas de trois in Act III that she did with Daniela Deloe and newcomer Chauncey Parson was quite good until the very end when, I believe, he mis-remembered and thought he was to partner her turning for a concluding duet, when in fact, she was to sit on his knee – which she did and he gamely knelt.

The marathon gold medal award, however, has to go to OBT’s mightiest mover, Anne Mueller who danced in all four acts – and not just a little bit.  Pas de Trois in Act I; a “big” swan in Acts II and IV; and the ‘Neapolitan’ dance in Act III.  Mueller’s verve, attack, and ability to shift from one kind of dance to another were very enjoyable to watch.  The ‘Neapolitan’ dance is particularly well suited and a nice match for both her and her partner, Steven Houser.

Kathi Martuza was appropriately sumptuous and regal as the Russian in Act III.  It’s become a fun piece with just the right amount of danse d’école with character-flavored steps and épaulement.  I was sorry I couldn’t attend her debut as Odette/Odile the following week.  My guess is that it was probably glorious.

A couple of unfortunate lighting mistakes happened during Act IV – the House lights came on during a critical lighting change, then were turned off but threatened to come up again a little later.  This finally seemed to get resolved.  I’m sure the stage manager and technical director were tearing their hair out somewhere.

The glory of any production of “Swan Lake” must be its corps de ballet, here finely represented by 16 cygnets in sync during Act II and appropriately morose during the concluding Act IV.  The “Four Little Swans” rendition of their iconic precision dance was letter-perfect and as always a crowd pleaser.

Artistic Director Christopher Stowell, his artistic team and support staff continue to elevate the level of OBT.  We hunger for more and look forward to each repertory program throughout the year.

The mighty OBT Orchestra was led by Maestro Niel DePonte.

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