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Oregon Ballet Theatre: Nutcracker 2003
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Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Dec 05, 2003 2:28 pm ]
Post subject:  Oregon Ballet Theatre: Nutcracker 2003

In The Oregonian, Catherine Thomas previews OBT's premiere of the Balanchine Nutcracker, opening next Thursday, December 11 at Keller Auditorium in Portland:

Author:  Azlan [ Sun Dec 14, 2003 9:56 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Oregon Ballet Theatre: Nutcracker 2003

A feature on the Balanchine production:

Saving Balanchine

Preserving the integrity of our great historical dances is difficult but crucial


"Ballets are butterflies," George Balanchine famously said. Meaning, one can assume, that like the splendid orange and black-winged monarch in your lilac tree, a particular dance lives but a season. <a href= target=_blank>more</a>

Author:  Azlan [ Sun Dec 14, 2003 10:14 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Oregon Ballet Theatre: Nutcracker 2003

Well, I thought the company danced very well in this production, so much so, I could focus on my usual personal quibbles about Mr B's choreography and production instead of the dancing. Before I left the SF Bay Area, a couple quipped to me about how Balanchine's "Nutcracker" isn't their favorite. Having not seen it live in such a long time (if someone remembers when I last saw it, can you tell me? I can't remember!), all the little bits that troubled me about this production came back to me with a jolt, in particular the almost comical transitions from small toy Nutcracker to big live Nutcracker and big live Nutcracker to small nephew, not to mention that big live Nutcracker stabs the Rat King in the back! But then again these bits and others are a small price to have to squirm through with otherwise wonderful dancing especially in Act 2.

And what wonderful dancing it was! Kester Cotton wowed us in the quickfire roles of the Soldier in Act 1 and Chinese Tea in Act 2. Gavin Larsen looked like a million bucks from bonneted head to pointe toe in Marzipan. I would love to have seen her as Sugar Plum, a part which Yuka Iino finally grew into after a slightly shaky start Saturday night. I think it helped that her Cavalier, Karl Vakili, is a good partner and solid performer even if not exactly your typical danseur noble. Even though she didn't graduate from SAB, Alison Roper looked like she was born to dance Balanchine as Dewdrop. Kathi Martuza added panache to Hot Chocolate.

And the corps, which seemed partially strung together from seasonal dancers, was surprisingly tight in Snow, Hot Chocolate and Flowers. Either these are exceptionally good seasonal dancers or Elyse Borne and Christopher Stowell did an incredible job of setting and coaching (or both).

I would highly recommend this "Nutcracker," especially given the small but talented orchestra. Yes, folks, the music is live! Hurrah!

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sun Dec 14, 2003 2:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Oregon Ballet Theatre: Nutcracker 2003

I attended the Saturday evening performance on December 13. Oregon Ballet Theatre has certainly scored a coup in obtaining the rights to the staging of the first production of George Balanchine's "The Nutcracker" on the U.S. West Coast. In this case, the staging was done by Elyse Borne, formerly ballet mistress with Miami City Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, who now stages Balanchine works through the Balanchine Trust. The children's roles were staged by Darla Hoover, currently Associate Artistic Director of the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.

Balanchine's choreography for what can often be a deadly dull party scene in many Nutcracker versions (lots of milling about ad libitum, milling about, posing, random bits of movement) is refreshingly immediate and engages everyone onstage. The choreography for the children is continually imaginative. There are virtually no moments of static activity in this act, which is a marvelous achievement in itself. The children's roles (64 altogether in this production), staged by Darla Hoover, were very well rehearsed, tautly and winningly delivered.

As Herr Drosselmeier, Kevin Poe cut a figure somewhere between Father Christmas and an Orthodox monk, with his long, wispy white hair and beard. The set designs by Peter Farmer added to my impression of something remotely Russian, beginning with the Chagall-like forecurtain and the use of a deep red tinged with russet and fringed with gold -- a thoroughly intoxicating blend of color and atmosphere.

Daniela Martin and Kathi Martuza did a splendid job with Harlequin and Columbine (to the ballerina doll music); as did Kester Cotton as a soldier in white performing entrechats with flexed feet (to the Russian Bear music).

In the battle scene, the children were once again exceedingly well drilled and effective in their roles. The apogee of act one is the snow scene, and I am pleased to report that the sixteen snowflakes were very well prepared and very together in their ensemble work.

Yuka Iino, new to OBT this season, opened act two with the Sugar Plum Fairy variation -- a most difficult assignment. I prefer versions (and they seem to be increasingly rare) that set the pas de deux in the traditional sequence (adage, male variation, female variation, coda), in part because I think it is unfair to the dancer to be compelled to suddenly emerge from a narrative character and launch into a variation of this complexity and subtlety cold, in effect. In addition to this challenge, Balanchine loaded this variation with all sorts of unique combinations and patterns, directional shifts and other things rarely seen elsewhere. It's enough to make a dancer nervous -- especially when it arrives so early in the act. For the most part, I thought Ms. Iino was very satisfactory in the role -- perhaps a bit uncentered early on which caused one of her pirouettes to stray off center -- but quite strong altogether.

Paul De Strooper and Kathi Martuza led the Hot Chocolate (Spanish) ensemble with panache. Long-time OBT principal and rehearsal assistant Tracy Taylor performed a Coffee (Arabian) variation that mystified me -- a piece of Balanchine that failed to engage my attention for the duration of the music. Kester Cotton was spectacular in his jumps in Tea (Chinese), and Louis-Philippe Dionne was equally splendid in his acrobatic jumps with, around and through his Candy Cane (Trepak) hoop. This is a role that looks like it was made for Christopher Stowell (who, I don't believe ever performed in the Balanchine version), but was originated by Robert Barnett (a native of Wenatchee, Washington).

Gavin Larsen looked spendid leading the shepherdesses in Marzipan (Mirlitons), and the Mother Ginger is as big as (and shaped like) a small storage tent. Mother Ginger's children were, of course, charming and well rehearsed.

Alison Roper performed Dewdrop like a woman turned loose on choreography that she was born to perform -- wonderful to see. The flower corps (mirroring the case of the snow corps) was in fine ensemble form.

Karl Vakili was Ms. Iino's partner for the adage and coda of the pas de deux. Mr. Vakili provided excellent partnering, although I sense that "white tights" roles are not his typical or preferred metier. I hope that he will continue to develop given the availability of a partner of suitable height.

The orchestra, conducted by OBT music director Neil DePonte, performed admirably and at well chosen tempi throughout the evening.

I encourage everyone to make the trek to Portland for this opportunity to see a masterwork by a master. I am already looking forward to next season's performances.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sun Dec 14, 2003 5:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Oregon Ballet Theatre: Nutcracker 2003

Bob Hicks reviews the Thursday, December 11 opening night performance in the Oregonian:

Author:  Dean Speer [ Sat Dec 20, 2003 10:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Oregon Ballet Theatre: Nutcracker 2003

First To None – A Review of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Nutcracker
by Dean Speer

Having slipped away to play hooky from my own Nutcracker – a community production of SW Washington Dance Center in Chehalis/Centralia, Washington, I was doubly expectant and curious to see Oregon Ballet Theatre’s production of the West Coast premiere of the Mr. Balanchine’s version. I had last seen this version during the Holidays of 1988, which was beautifully done by Atlanta Ballet. So it was nice to be reminded of the charms of this edition.

I earlier wrote about OBT to the effect that Artistic Director Christopher Stowell mounted a season that was making a bold and audacious statement about the future of the Company. This is certainly true of making the step to present George Balanchine’s version, originally done for the New York City Ballet in 1954. Lovingly staged by Elyse Borne with the children’s parts set by Darla Hoover, I found, as I like to say, that the evening was “Balm for my eyes.” and food my soul.

The Saturday, December 13th evening was, as near as I can tell, perfectly cast. Singling out individual performers, I thought Yuka Iino and Alison Roper could not have been better in their respective parts as Sugarplum Fairy and Dewdrop, with Karl Vakili as a sympathetic and excellent partner. Each got through the delicious yet tough choreographic assignments with very strong technique, skill, and aplomb. It’s tempting to say that each were the price of admission, which is true, but so were the larger production picture and especially the large, group dances – Snowflakes and Waltz of the Flowers.

Rehearsed on a daily basis since 3 November, this kind of drilling, diligence, persistence and hard work clearly paid off with the level of performance the ensemble gave to each. Make no mistake, the dual-edged sword of the Balanchine work (delicious and fun to do, yet can be challenging, yea hard) was clear in the patterns and steps. A total joy to watch - and thrilling. I was warmed down to my toes.

I’ve never thought of Mr. Balanchine as being “old-fashioned” yet he has but, particularly in the Waltz of the Flowers, some patterns and work that is best described as old-fashioned and filled with charm of its own. For example, at one point he has the single line of corps women break in half and each half, with the center person staying in place, and running either forward or back, making two circling, swirling lines. I loved it!

The only thing that I artistically disagree with in this version is the use of what I think and expect of for the music that begins the Snow Scene; a pas de deux for a Snow Queen and King. Instead, we get a lot of Marie on her bed traveling around with the Nutcracker Prince in the lead. Too late to ask Mr. Balanchine why or to change it, but I do miss seeing a duet at this juncture. I don’t mind the traveling bed being used as a dramatic device. Many versions have similar things, sometimes there musically, sometimes at the top of Act II. Never the less, I found it went on too long.

Rarely, if ever, have I been disappointed by Balanchine masterful and well-composed choreography but I suppose even the best has to bomb now and then. In this case for me, it was Arabian (Coffee). Beautifully danced by Tracy Taylor, but dull choreographically; it didn’t go anywhere. I found myself loosing interest. Might there be another version out there that Mr. Balanchine did?

Former PNB dancer Gavin Larsen has really come into her own at OBT. As the head Marzipan Shepherdess, she led her troupe with authority in this dance of pointes delights.

Conductor Neil Deponte expertly supported the dancers with an orchestra, while smaller than the usual, played very well. And what a treat is was to have a Children’s Choir for the Snow Scene!

I applaud Mr. Stowell and OBT in bringing this wonderful version to Northwest audiences.

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