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Oregeon Ballet Theatre's 'Song and Dance' Program

by Dean Speer

April 30, 2011 -- Seattle, WA

OBT’s season ending series of performances was designed to showcase Principal Dancer Anne Mueller upon her retirement from full-time performing. She and Alison Roper dually hold the record for having the longest tenure among OBT dancers. We have to remember that both are still young and that a dancer’s performing career tends to be fleeting.

Fortunately for OBT and the arts, Mueller is staying with them as an artistic associate and so will remain active with the company just behind the scenes.

She finished out with two ballets on the program that we saw Saturday night – Christopher Stowell’s witty and sassy “Eyes on You,” and Trey McIntyre’s “Speak.” Rounding out the program were Balanchine’s sunny “Square Dance” (done herein the version with the caller) and Nicolo Fonte’s “Left Unsaid.”

I was happy that Linda Besant included a short pictorial tribute to Anne as she wrapped up her excellent pre-performance talk. There was an image of Anne posing at age 15 as well as other samples from her performing career.

As I’ve said, “Square Dance” is Balanchine at his sunniest. It’s also filled with hard and fast petite allegro steps and sequences and jumping phrases. The juxtaposition of Baroque music with a Square Dance Caller and of classically-trained dancers doing classical ballet is unique. Tylor Neistas the Caller added verbal wit and alacrity from the orchestra pit with the musicians, violinists Margaret Bichteler and Kelly Kovalev, violist Michelle Mathewson, 'cellist Hamilton Cheifetz and keyboardist Carol Rich. Outstanding were Chauncey Parsons and Julia Rowe. Rowe, plucked from the corps de ballet, made a very impressive debut. She was clear, clean and bright. Her arabesque penchés where she has to piqué by stepping backward to her partner (Parsons) were full-fledged. It was nice she had and experienced artist to mentor and dance with her.

On a side note, Rowe’s mother heard us praising Rowe and excitedly came over to introduce herself. Obviously proud and having traveled across the country for this debut, she shared with us her daughter’s story and of how dedicated and hard-working she’s been and how thrilled she was to have this opportunity.

“Left Unsaid” is one of Fonte’s best works – it’s interesting, a bit edgy, and gives the dancers and audience a contemporary look into the rich background that he brings to his pieces. Visually striking were the Yoga poses that he inserts for the principal women that flowed from pose to pose using classical vocabulary. He wasn’t just showing us poses (which would have been trite and predictable) but using them as a springboard or place to ground his phrases. The men were used more as a Greek Chorus, seeming to have their own place in the dance yet not. Sometimes partnering the women, sometimes each other.

It was great seeing Principal Dancer Artur Sultanov on stage again. In order to direct his own ballet school, he’s assumed the mantle of guest artist and so it was nice to have him back home, even if it was too brief a visit.

“Eyes On You” is Christopher Stowell's Cole Porter romp that places the dancers in a movie palace setting, cleverly beginning and concluding with them seated in a row of theatre seats with “The End” projected up onto the screen in front of them. This ballet was a fitting conclusion for Mueller's performing career as it showcased her well – technically, artistically -- and gave us insight on her lively personality, her sense of joy and fun.

OBT’s seasons continue to build annually and next year’s announced line-up promises more enrichment to come.

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