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Oregon Ballet Theatre: 2007-08 Season
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Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Sep 27, 2007 1:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Oregon Ballet Theatre: 2007-08 Season

OBT will appear on October 5-6, 2007 at the Laguna Dance Festival in Orange County, California. Laura Bleiberg interviews artistic director Christopher Stowell about OBT in the Orange County Register:

OC Register

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Oct 12, 2007 5:18 pm ]
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OBT opens its fall season this Saturday, October 13, 2007 with a Germanic program: Christopher Stowell's new version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," William Forsythe's "The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude," and James Kudelka's "Almost Mozart." Bob Hicks writes the preview in The Oregonian:


Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Oct 16, 2007 11:18 am ]
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Bob Hicks reviews the opening night performance in The Oregonian:

The Oregonian

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Oct 17, 2007 3:54 pm ]
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Heather Wisner reviews the October 13, 2007 performance in Willamette Week:

Willamette Week

Author:  Dean Speer [ Thu Oct 25, 2007 2:48 pm ]
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Dancing At The Speed Of...
“Germanic Lands” Oregon Ballet Theatre Repertory Program
Saturday, 20 October 2007
Portland, Oregon

by Dean Speer

When the dancers took off from the musical launchpad of Schubert in William Forsythe’s “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude,” speed and danger took on a whole new meaning. So much so, that I felt compelled to look up the title in the handy-dandy dictionary. “Vertiginous” is related to ‘vertigo’ and suggests extreme steepness or height, while “exactitude” is “making great demands on one’s endurance or skill.”

Both were quite clear – and indeed just as thrilling as the title modestly suggests. It begins with two men – Brennan Boyer and Artur Sultanov – who engage in a kind of shadow-play and iwth the women entering singly in what I might call “dinner-plate” bright green tutus. Steps like double (or more) en de dans pirouette ending in rélevé fourth position, and mixtures of other excedingly fast turns, jumps and very quick poses, left the audience appreciating the these dancers for the superb artist/athletes they are. As I mentioned earlier, there was a sense of risk and danger – of being purposely off balance and then righting oneself.

It’s often said that singers need to do Mozart for their voices. It might be said that dancers need to do Balanchine for their dancing and, in this case, Schubert/Forsythe for their fortitude. Benefitting from this was Sultanov who looked stronger, more energetic and on top of his game than I had seen him this past season. This was great to see.

I liked how Christopher Stowell cast company artists Candace Bouchard and Holly Tolbert along with veteran Principal Dancer Kathi Martuza. What a nice opportunity to showcase what they can do, alongside a more experienced artist. All three have length of line, nice attack and seem to relish deploying their considerable technique.

This piece is now 21 years old, premiering in Frankfurt by Forysthe’s company in 1996. It would be interesting to go back and find out why he chose the final movement from this glorious Ninth Symphony. It would be fun for him to “complete” the ballet and use the first three movements in addition to the fourth – perhaps his own Schubertian “Symphony in C.” The“Allegro vivace” from Schubert’s 9th Symphony is considered the weakest of the four movements, so I’m just curious why he chose it. We’ll probably never know, but in any case, as edgy as it may have been for the dancers, it was indeed thrilling for the audience – one that left us wanting more and a good opener that heightened our anticipation for the other two ballets of the evening.

Titan Too

To the “Three Bs” of Germanic composers [Bach, Beethoven, Brahms] I’d have to add Mozart as one the titans. James Kudelka took an adventurous artistic risk [speaking of making demands on one’s skills] with his made for OBT work from last season, “Almost Mozart.” The third section, a duet, is the only one that has musical accompaniment all the way through. For the rest, it’s either fragments or tacet. Quite daring – and very accepted by the audience. The other risk that he took is the premise of having the dancers stay and be in constant contact with each other.

As with “Vertiginous,” it starts with two men who make grand battement and other quick, sharp moves. Then we have a triptych of trios with the same gentlemen – Damian Drake and new company artist Ilir Shtylla who are joined by Alison Roper. Some of the fun of these trios is in the partnering and how they get in – and out – of grouping – such as the men falling to the stage floor while Roper stays vertical above them. Or how in a similar way, Roper, who is up in a lift, is “jiggled” down.

Martuza was paired with Principal Ronnie Underwood for a long, interactive duet.

In concludes with a solo for Roper that taps into her reserve of technical control, such as slides en pointe that end in solid, stationary balances.

Fall’s Midsummer

While I like to believe – and do fondly hope – that the general public came to the ballet solely on the merits on the first two pieces, I do recognize that the driver for many may have been the last work on the bill: the premiere of Stowell’s new one-act story ballet “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The costumes and scenic designs are by Sandra Woodall and are inspired by a July trip to Opal Creek which is an old-growth preserve east of the state’s capitol of Salem. OBT Dance Historian and Lecturer Linda Besant showed us slides of this trip and of the renderings that Woodall did as a result. Very beautiful and impressive – and amazing to see how these drawings are then translated into something we see on stage.

The music that Mendelssohn wrote with “Midsummer” in mind fills only about 30 minutes, so OBT Music Director and Conductor Neil DePonte made an arrangement and orchestrated some bridge pieces connecting the parts.

Stowell begins with the wedding of the human couples and uses the flashback technique for getting to the fairies and all of the silly mix-ups and fix-ups that ensue. My only real fuss is that for it to resolve satisfactorily, he needs to come back – albeit briefly – to this wedding scene. Concluding with just Oberon spinning Titania around in attitude surrounded by Fairies, wasn’t conclusive enough. We needed to be reminded too that in the human world, “all is well” as the Mendelssohn song goes. [Flashback works best only if it brings us back to where we started.] He could, for example, have the wedding scene return just before ringing in the curtain – although this would mean a very fast costume change/solution for the main couple; perhaps using cloaks or capes or ?

The strengths of the work are beyond the original costumes and set properties – it’s in the dancing, particularly in the ensemble work Oberon’s section, leading the men and Titania doing the same for the ladies were quite good, showing off the clean work of the corps. Each of the Fairy male corps had the same long length of line that complimented Underwood’s: Steven Houser; Matthew Pippin; Brian Simcoe; and Lucas Threefoot.

I enjoyed Ansa Deguchi and Javier Ubell’s delightful bits as Peaseblossom and Puck, respectively. Bottom’s tango with Titania was also fun but didn’t go quite as far as it could have with its premise. There was a good beginning but not enough development and taking it to a strong conclusion.

Alison Roper as the Queen of the Fairies, Titania, and Ronnie Underwood as the King of the Fairies are well matched. Both have technique to burn. This ballet also gives them a chance to change characters from Hippolyta and Theseus at the wedding to head-of-state fairies. Stowell’s choreography reveals all this and more as they work through several short duets and interactions as the King Fairy vies for the control of the Changeling Boy [Lucas Pitts]. I must note here Woodall’s wings for their costumes are just right – large, believable yet functional so that they move with the dancers.

Principal Dancers Gavin Larsen, Anne Mueller, and Artur Sultanov were joined by Company Artist Adrian Fry all of whom got a chance to romp through the vicissitudes of love and of Puck’s inability to keep their identities straight, ably assisted by wee Jamesmichael Sherman-Lewis as Cupid. There wasn’t a whole lot of dancing for them to do; mostly portraying the love tangle and several fun chase scenes – all neatly done.

The students from the OBT School used in the production are well trained and each had a good sense of purpose and of ensemble.

Having the mighty OBT Orchestra play for each ballet on the program added so much to the proceedings – elevating the sense of occasion and import and also giving Keller Auditorium an immediate feel of being “there” and alive.

I was pleased to learn through my ever-scientific mole sources [I read it on a backstage board], that OBT was exceeding their ticket sales expectation with this run. While this program took off from a launchpad provided by Schubert, OBT as a whole has been following an upward artistic trajectory ever since launching Christopher Stowell as its, then, new Artistic Director – he who is beginning his fifth season already.

“Germanic Lands” was the first installment in OBT’s worldwide season tour. Next after Balanchine’s “Nutcracker,” Vive la France!

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Feb 19, 2008 6:51 pm ]
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Oregon Ballet Theatre's winter program features a French theme: Jerome Robbins' "Afternoon of a Faun," two works by Artistic Director Christopher Stowell, the premier of "Pas de Deux Parisien" to music of Delibes, and a revival of "Zais" to music of Rameau; and a premier of Nicolo Fonte's "Bolero" to the Ravel score. Performances on weekends, February 23 through March 1, 2008 at Keller Auditorium in Portland. Martha Ullman West previews the performances in The Oregonian:

The Oregonian

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Feb 25, 2008 3:47 pm ]
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Martha Ullman West reviews the French program in The Oregonian:

The Oregonian

Author:  ericajones80 [ Tue Feb 26, 2008 8:19 am ]
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the Martha Ullman review is very good....short and to the point yet descriptive and informative.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Feb 29, 2008 6:06 pm ]
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Eric Bartels reviews the French program in the Portland Tribune:

Portland Tribune

Author:  Dean Speer [ Wed Apr 02, 2008 2:55 pm ]
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Eeet Was Very French
Oregon Ballet Theatre’s A Grand Tour 2007-08
Saturday, March 1, 2008, 7:30 p.m.
Keller Auditorium

by Dean Speer

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 guest, 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 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 an 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.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Apr 25, 2008 10:37 pm ]
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OBT's April 2008 program is "American" and is being performed in the more intimate setting of the Newmark Theatre in Portland. On the program: Kent Stowell's "Through Eden's Gates," Balanchine's "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue," and Trey McIntyre's "Just." Catherine Thomas reviews the program in The Oregonian:

The Oregonian

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Apr 25, 2008 10:48 pm ]
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The Oregonian's Grant Butler interviews OBT Ballet Master Lisa Kipp:

The Oregonian

Author:  Dean Speer [ Thu May 01, 2008 10:20 am ]
Post subject:  OBT's "American" Program

Mom, Apple Pie, and Art
Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “American” Program
Saturday Evening, 26 April 2008

by Dean Speer

I used to jokingly refer to units of art as coming in “hunks.” Not all hunks of art fit in the same space or should be seen in the same setting or from the same perspective. It was so nice to have a more intimate perspective from which to enjoy Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “American” program. Previously shown at the opera house-sized stage of Keller Auditorium, the first two works – “Through Eden’s Gates” and “Just” played better in the smaller Newmark Theatre on Portland’s Broadway. The concluding work, the 1968 excerpted revival of George Balanchine’s 1936 “ballet within a play” from “On Your Toes” could work in either space.

The set for Kent Stowell’s “Through Eden’s Gates” was inspired by his remembrance of the facade of a movie theatre in his home town of Saint George, Utah where he was first introduced to show business through the silver screen. It plays tribute to old-time Vaudeville by paralleling acts that might have been found then – precision dancing; a magic act; a “class act” duet.

The first section, “The Serpent’s Kiss,” is for an ensemble and uses patterns and motifs such as relevé développé arabesque, beginning with the women and echoed by the men. Alison Roper and Ronnie Underwood’s duet plays tribute to the “adagio” Vaudeville acts where a strong man would lift his female partner into various poses, although in this case, the talented Underwood certainly got to do more than just lift, lean, and lunge (the infamous three “L’s” of male dancing).

Yuka Iino got to unleash her prodigious technique – speed, precision, turns – in two sections made especially for her: a solo, “Fast, Furious” and partnered by five “Chorus Boys” in “Rag Infernal.”

Anne Mueller and Brian Simcoe’s classic and classy pas de deux gave nod to the romantic. Simcoe’s lanky line is well matched with Mueller’s and both are dance artists who are always interesting and I find myself keenly fascinated by what they’re going to do next.

Trey McIntyre’s title, “Just” for his ballet is a little inscrutable, but I take it to mean that what he’s given us and what we see is just the dancing – no portent, no pretentiousness, just the beautiful dancing. And this is what we get for the two couples, Anne Mueller and Alison Roper with Jon Drake and Artur Sultanov.

The men get special commendation medals for courage in wearing virtually nothing for their costume except designed trunks. Both the women’s and the men’s costumes were designed based on how women tie the ribbons on their pointe shoes.

Special commendation and mention must go to Artur Sultanov who has clearly whipped himself into shape after seeming to have some difficulty with stamina a couple of years ago. He looked really, really strong and in control of his game. As hard as “Just” is, even though he was sweating profusely (one of advantages/disadvantages, depending on your point of view, of being so close to the performers) – he appeared to have energy to burn. It’s very pleasing to see his already beautiful line and technique supported by this. As the narcissistic “Morrosine, premier danseur noble” [in "Slaughter"] – with the double entendre of having to speak in a “bad” Russian accent, he really had fun with his overdone and rather silly part: knowing glances, entrechat sixes, and lingering arabesques. The re-energized power he’s demonstrated makes us really look forward to how his dancing will be in next season’s “Swan Lake.”

The choreography, while relatively simple in design, also impressed me as technically hard. It’s a strong piece that is a good addition to OBT’s repertoire and one that was enjoyable in the smaller venue.

While I did enjoy the first two pieces very much, I was pleased to see Balanchine’s historic reconstruction that he did for Suzanne Farrell and Arthur Mitchell in 1968, based on the 1936 original for one of his first wives, Tamara Geva and the great hoofer, Ray Bolger. It has many of the Balanchine hallmarks associated with his high art ballets – inventive use of ensemble, a tutti finale, wit, and a sense of where he’s going with the dance.

In this case, he’s telling a story within a story – of gangsters, a speakeasy (the place clears fast when they know they’re about to be raided), and a happy ending. While it’s a novelty piece, he does fully use the dancers’ ballet training and technique, showing off beautiful lines and having the women make arabesque and of making a balletic duet for the Striptease Girl and the Hoofer, complete with supported promenades and arabesque penché.

Principal Dancer Jon Drake has really found his stride in the past couple of seasons, particularly in works like this (he was the Hoofer) and Christopher Stowell’s “Eyes on You.” Kathi Martuza is a great ballerina and also a great dancing actress – as the Striptease Girl. Fabulous gams put to good use – fun, funny, steamy, touching. Martuza really seemed to be enjoying herself, getting into the dancing shoes and under the skin of her character.

Both “Through Eden’s Gates” and “Just” enjoyed the musicianship of pianist Carol Rich, with Susan Smith on piano number two for the first and violinist Lorely Zgonc and Percussionist Gordon Rencher for the second.

Once again Stowell has put on a good show, as Oregon Ballet Theatre continues to gain momentum and support, partly demonstrated by the sold-out house of the show I attended.

As OBT’s World Tour continues, I look forward to having my passport stamped “Russia” in June.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed May 21, 2008 2:29 pm ]
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OBT's 2007-08 World Tour season concludes with a program of Russian music: Balanchine's "Rubies," a new work by Christopher Stowell set to music of various lesser known Russian composers (e.g., Balanchine, Julian Scriabine, Leo Tolstoy) entitled "Tolstoy's Waltz," and a world premiere of a new, abbreviated version of "Raymonda" by Yuri Possokhov. There are a limited number of performances, June 6 through 8 at Keller Auditorium in Portland. Here is a link to the information on the OBT website:

Russian Program

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Jun 06, 2008 10:41 am ]
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Marty Hughley previews the Russian program in The Oregonian:

The Oregonian

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