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A Moving Experience: A Preview of Oregon Ballet Theatre's 'Giselle'

by Dean Speer
February 17, 2012

I remember being very impressed when I read, many years ago, of how the dancers and artistic staff who were observing, were so moved that they wept during a run-through rehearsal of the Ashton ballet “Marguerite and Armand” with the great Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev as the leads and, sighing, thinking this could never happen to me, and if it did, how lucky and wonderful it would be.

Well, it did.

Who would have thought it possible in the heart of Portland’s old industrial section of town, just a few short blocks across the Willamette River from the downtown culture, boxed in by Tazo Tea on one side, the Lloyd Center to the north, and re-used warehouses, apartment buildings and recycled heritage churches, dedicated trunk rail lines south and east, and the falls of Oregon City to the south?

Occupying its own recycled building – a former bank, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s work – Company and School – in this part of Portland provides its heartbeat and artistic lifeblood.

Invited to observe a day of rehearsal for its upcoming production of “Giselle,” we all were greatly moved – to tears and applause – as a result of the deeply felt and exquisite Act II run-through of principal dancers Yuka Iino and Yang Zou. As I found myself more and more touched and feeling sobs welling up within me, I tried to hide my discomfiture by putting my head down and attempting to control myself. But looking surreptiously right and left [right at the stager Lola de Avila, ballet mistress Lisa Kipp, and Artistic Director Christopher Stowell and left to School Director Damara Bennett], I found myself in good company with many a red and misty eye. Simply said, the dancers were really "into it" and our reactions were visceral and okay.

A genuine treat just a few feet away from my own feet. I could hardy believe it and knew just how lucky we were.

This first run that we were fortunate to watch included Iino and Zou plus Xuan Cheng and Lucas Threefoot in the Peasant Pas de deux; a regal Kate Oderkirk as Myrtha; Brett Bauer as Hilarion; and Makino Hayashi as Moyna and Martina Chavez as Zulma, with Bennett as Bertha, Giselle’s mother.

The second run of the afternoon featured Michael Linsmeier paired with Cheng in the Peasant Pas de deux; Julie Rowe and Brian Simcoe as the title heroine and her two-timing inamorata, Albrecht; Candace Bouchard as a commanding Myrtha; and Threefoot as Hilarion.

Hearing music other than the usual Meyerbeer for the Peasant Pas de deux, I asked the conductor whose it was. Apparently it’s culled from the end of the Adam score and stager Lola de Avila told me that the choreography too is historic and was originally a second duet for Giselle and Albrecht, dropped and not-too-many years ago reconstructed by Pierre Lacotte [of the Paris Opera Ballet]. She said she found the Meyerbeer “too bright” and felt this historic dance fitted in better.

I think viewers will be very, very pleased with its charm, fleet footwork and intricate detail and partnering.

I also liked how this production in Act I makes clear the delineation between the villager and those of the court – in terms of stage placement but also with “attitude” of the body, face and gesture.

Another good notch in the pointe shoe is that the choreography is blessedly interesting and not of the banal that you sometimes get in other versions where the dances for the corps de ballet seem watered-down and too simple. Here, while clear and not fussy, they do nevertheless provide a good degree of visual interest and development, not filler. Dances that could stand on their own two feet, pun intended.

The working atmosphere at Oregon Ballet Theatre impresses one right away with its collegiality. That of a high level of professionalism but also of calmness and reasonableness and not of tightly wound emotion. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming, which felt great – not only to us press-types but also and consistently to each other. Dancers helping dancers with bits in between, casual conversations seemed focused on business – and as hard as they were working there was also a neat sense of joy and fun – an enfoldment of family dedicated to the great art that ballet is and to a production of which everyone is justifiably proud.

Six hours of round-trip driving to Portland from Seattle and worth it by being anointed with six hours of dancing and immersion in a positive ballet atmosphere. With gratitude for the invitation, I was hyped-up at the end by this heady experience. What’s not to like?

A dramatic and moving treat, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “Giselle” opens Saturday 25 February at Keller Auditorium with the mighty OBT Orchestra led by maestro Neil de Ponte.

For more information and tickets, go to:

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