Premieres and Farewells
Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “Dream” Program
Saturday Opening Night, 12 October 2013
Keller Auditorium, Portland
by Dean Speer
Balanchine used to like to use creating a meal as a programming comparison; balanced, “...with a little something for everyone.”
Oregon Ballet Theatre’s new Artistic Director, Kevin Irving, made his debut with a program that meets Mr. B.’s criteria – a company premiere that was bold and meaty and concluding with one that provided more of a buffet-style experience with variety.
The poetically titled “Por Vos Muero” [taken from an old Spanish poem and translated, “For you, I die”], is the first dance by Nacho Duato to be added to OBT’s repertory, set to recorded music by various Spanish Renaissance composers and staged by Irving. It gave the OBT artists choreography to sink into, giving us a sense of complexity and richness of the period and allowing us to vicariously relive it through a series of short scenes, some dramatic, some light. In addition to group dances for the ensemble of 12, Duato breaks it up into smaller segments such as duets and one section each for the women and men, the men’s being particularly striking as they made their entrance, swooping in attired in purple capes and swinging lit incense. [I’m reminded of the New York dance critic’s observation – Arlene Croce – about the great Rudolph Nureyev: “Always a good man with a cape.” He had a lot of “cape roles” which he seemed to believe showed how intensely dramatic he was – all long and flowing; Albrecht, Siegfried, Romeo, Armand.] Fortunately, Duato smartly kept it short and to the point.
An ensemble showcase work, “Por Vos Muero,” clearly showed what is deeply felt and danced by its lovely first cast of Candance Bouchard, Xuan Cheng, Ansa Deguchi, Makino Hayashi, Jenna Nelson, Alison Roper, Brett Bauer, Jordan Kindell, Ye Li, Michael Linsmeier, Chauncey Parsons and Brian Simcoe.
Former Artistic Director Christopher Stowell provided the buffet with a reprise of his popular and fun “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” set to Mendelssohn with locally-inspired woodsy designs by Sandra Woodall. This version begins with a contemporary wedding and then delves into the spirit and story of Shakespeare.
Staged and brought to life by OBT’s Lisa Kipp, this ballet deploys the entire resources of OBT – a large cast supplemented by young OBT School students, live music provided by the mighty OBT Orchestra, and the scenic elements contributed by its shops. While it does showcase OBT on many levels, it’s safe to say that in the dual roles of Hippolyta/Titania and Theseus/Oberon, principals Roper and Simcoe are its radiant stars.
Roper has announced that this is her last season of full-time performing with OBT; and, while she will be sorely missed, she has also said in a program interview that her love of ballet and dancing will keep her involved, perhaps through other avenues such as teaching and coaching. Simcoe has steadily continued to grow in all ways – technically, in assurance, in maturity, and artistically. With his length of line and strong presence and confidence, he could be in this position pretty much anywhere and we’re lucky to have him at OBT.
We were reminded that this is live theatre when, as the white draped wedding curtain went up, we could all hear a loud tearing sound, as it became caught on one of the portable trees brought in by one of the OBT School students. Clear crew heads prevailed, gently lowering the errant curtain until it was tree-free to finally fly up into the flies. Unflappable, the cast continued dancing while this mini side drama played out, only briefly threatening to block us from seeing the fairy cast make their entrance.
Also outstanding were Deguchi as Peaseblossom, Li as Puck, and the irrepressible Kevin Poe in the divine character role of Bottom.
OBT has seasoned its fare with the overall, arching theme of “Premieres and Farewells.” With my ballet palate satisfied by its opening program, “Dream,” I’m intrigued and curious to see the remaining programs – “Reveal,” “Celebrate,” and “Create” as we welcome Mr. Irving to the greater Northwest and enjoy what his future vision brings.