CriticalDance Forum

Oregon Ballet Theatre Nutcracker
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Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Dec 11, 2012 1:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Oregon Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Martha Ullman West reviews the Saturday, December 8, 2012 evening performance for Oregon Arts Watch.

Oregon Arts Watch

Author:  Dean Speer [ Sat Dec 15, 2012 10:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Oregon Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Rising Above It
Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “Nutcracker”
Opening Matinée Performance, 2:00 p.m., 8 December 2012

by Dean Speer

Portlanders and Oregonians experienced an event of seismic proportions recently with the announced resignation of Artistic Director Christopher Stowell, effective December 31, 2012. It will be the end of a golden era, marked by much artistic and organizational growth, which attracted national attention.

For the time being, what carries on is the perennial ballet “Nutcracker” – the legendary George Balanchine version that has been presented by OBT since Stowell’s tenure began in 2003. While not the first, full-length “Nutcracker” in America – that honor goes to the 1944 Willam Christensen production for San Francisco Ballet -- it is legendary because it was the first version to hit the national air waves of television, which so popularized this ballet that just about every burg and hamlet now has its own production of some kind.

While a bit uneven choreographically, but not conceptually, this production is wait-worthy for, in my mind – the Waltz of the Flowers with a lead character of Dewdrop, the Grand Pas de deux, Hot Chocolate/Spanish, Mother Ginger [really gussied up and portrayed as a humorous riot by Kevin Poe ], and the Snow Scene that concludes Act I.

I like its good cheer and overall sense that it’s really a sweet story ballet with a zest of magic and mice tossed into Act I for spice and flavor, but it’s not sticky sweet -- just the right mixture for a bon-bon.

I wrote about Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Opening Night “Nutcracker” the evening before that the show belonged to Carrie Imler’s Flora and I’d have to say that the parallel here was the revelation of Julia Rowe as Dewdrop. Certainly, as a whole, the afternoon belonged to OBT but Rowe’s interpretation of this role was perfect and her dancing equally so. Flawless, just flawless in every way – technical, musical, and filigreed. One of those thrilling and satisfying performances that just lifts you out of your seat.

Also outstanding was Javier Ubell whose Act I Soldier was sharp, clean, and with excellent high entrechats [beats] and his Act II Chinese exciting for his ballon and elevation, combined with witty charm.

Yuko Iino and Brian Simcoe were paired as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. The Act II Pas de deux is difficult with hard balances and promenades. Simcoe, an attentive partner, nearly caught his leg around Iino’s during one balance where she is in a deep backbend and turning her around while walking around the circumference of her supporting leg. Fortunately for us and them he quickly picked up his leg and got untangled.

Leading into this duet is what is probably in the top ten of everyone’s favorite ballet waltz play list – The Waltz of the Flowers, lead by a Dewdrop (Rowe) and the two lead long-stemmed fleurs, Candace Bouchard and Martina Chavez were radiant throughout. I thoroughly enjoy the kaleidoscope patterns that Balanchine inserts and deploys throughout – it’s very theatrical and visually interesting and quite perfect for a large venue such as Keller.

Instead of a Russian Character dance, Balanchine installs a Candy Cane dance done with a bevy of beauties each deploying hoops. The lead “hooper” – Chauncey Parsons – gets to show his considerable elevation and beautiful line with split leaps in second position and by whirling his own hoop under his legs and feet while midair. It’s exciting and elicited many cheers. I only wished that the conductor had relaxed the tempo just a bit for Parsons’ solo as it felt a little rushed and I believe Mr. Parsons could have used some more “hang” time.

Everyone was thrilled to have the mighty OBT Orchestra performing live and they received much deserved recognition and appreciation from the audience. I do believe that OBT would be better off having live music for all of its Nutcrackers, rather than the current half dozen. I don’t know about the rest of the audience but I come just about as much to hear and enjoy the music as I do the dancing and production. Recorded music, no matter how loudly or well played, is just not the same feel as a live orchestra. A recording cannot “warm” the house the same way live, acoustic music does. I’d rather listen to a pianist accompany from the piano score. There are other ways of making attendance “affordable” without going to the extreme of not having the orchestra – I do believe it’s counterproductive at the box office not to have this attraction.

OBT has challenges to address in its future, but with the level and quality of art that its “Nutcracker” and other repertory ballets demonstrate, it deserves to receive the kind of support [audiences filling seats at performances and enhanced donor contributions] that will ensure its future and what it brings to our lives, our spirits, and our communities.

Bravo to Stowell, his artistic and staff teams, the dancers, donors, volunteers, and to everyone who has worked so hard and put themselves and their hearts into what we get to enjoy.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Dec 13, 2013 2:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Oregon Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

The 2013 performances of Balanchine's "The Nutcracker" will be December 14-24 at Keller Auditorium in Portland. Here is a direct link to the "Nutcracker" page on OBT's website. Note the casting button.

OBT Nutcracker

Author:  Dean Speer [ Tue Dec 17, 2013 11:08 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Oregon Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Balletic Candy: Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Nutcracker, 14 December 2013
by Dean Speer

A very large-sized gift to the Portland community, the cranberry-colored confection of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s production of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” sparkled at its opening Saturday afternoon. I’ve enjoyed this version since OBT gave it its West Coast premiere in 2003 and I’m happy to report that the 2013 opening performance was one of the company's best renditions. Everyone was on their game and it was a tight, cohesive show from start to finish.

Part of the excitement was the bittersweet knowledge that we were all seeing Alison Roper’s last opening as the iconic and peppermint patty-pink Sugar Plum Fairy. With Brett Bauer as her Cavalier, she radiated joy throughout and displayed her beautiful technique, line, and phrasing – giving every dance a poetic reading. Roper was spot-on with the music, meshing with the mighty OBT Orchestra. I had the feeling that she was really performing – being in the moment – by playing with the phrases, giving us the basic template but adding a longer balance here or an extra something there. She made it exciting, as did Bauer whose partnering was thoughtful and well-placed, for example, lifting her slowly down onto her pointes. Very skillful, reflecting high-level pas de deux work.

Exciting too was Xuan Cheng as Dew Drop, surrounded by a bouquet of dozen flowers. Dew Drop is an overtly technical showcase and she was more than in command of each segment. Her repeated sequence of attitude pirouette back that continued into a fouetté front with a small rond de jambe open attitiude devant was spine-tingling. One of Balanchine’s greatest gifts was his ability to move around large groups and his mosaic patterns are very theatrical and read well from all parts of the house. I particularly enjoy how he can take a simple straight line and then break it up into a surprising and dazzling shape, such as when the corps comes forward holding crisscrossed arms, making pas de basque and then breaking that into half, with very fast two turning circles that then break up into a completely different shape.

Candace Bouchard and Brian Simcoe led their team of Hot Chocolate (Spanish) for a fun, sunny time in costumes that shimmered gold, also dazzling us with their arched backs, lifted hauteur, and fiery energy.

Haiyan Wu as Arabian Coffee brought the right among of exotic spice and the clinging of finger cymbals to this part, re-choreographed for one of the strongest Balanchine dancers of the ‘60s, Gloria Govrin.

Chauncey Parsons' flying Candy Cane (aka Russian) elicited cheers, particularly as he jumped through his hula hoop, twirling it twice through his legs, an impressive feat repeated more than once. Parsons’ stretched and elegant line etched the dance in space so clearly.

Balanchine is at his best in the Marzipan Shepherdesses with Ansa Deguichi, Katherine Monogue, Jenna Nelson, Kimberly Nobriga, and Olivia Ornelas with its brilliant pointe work and sharp footwork and quick changes of direction. It’s a miniature masterpiece.

Kevin Cook as the overdressed Mother Ginger took the silliness far but not far enough for me. I would have liked him to not have repeated pulling out the large fan but to have continued to surprise and delight us with a different object each time. Powder puff was good and expected, as was the fan and the oversized hip flask, but I was hoping for something more – maybe a Kindle or to perhaps pull out a pair of binoculars, focus them on the audience and then act “shocked” upon seeing us. While perhaps it’s what Mr. Balanchine intended with the kids, choreographically, I do enjoy it when the last kid stays out from returning under the skirt and then skittles in at the last minute. I expect Mr. B’s dances to build to something and his dance for the talented OBT students is a bit on the bland and predictable side, albeit executed clearly and cleanly.

All too soon, the coda builds to what really is a rousing finale with Marie and her Nutcracker/Prince sailing off.

Not to be missed is the Grandmother of OBT’s longtime dance historian, Linda Besant, partnered as Grandfather by – given the name – has to be the father or a very close relation of former [and missed] OBT dancer, David Threefoot/Lucas Threefoot. It was fun seeing Besant enjoying herself and her character literally turns dizzy silly during the famous Grandparents’ Dance of Act I.

Our small cadre of subscription friends gathered after, each exclaiming what a good show it was and collectively sighing over the amazing technique of the dancers and reflecting on what a good time we all had and how we look forward to seeing OBT as we return in 2014.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Dec 18, 2014 2:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Oregon Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Catherine Thomas reviews the Saturday, December 13, 2014 matinee performance of the Balanchine "Nutcracker" for The Oregonian.

The Oregonian

Author:  Dean Speer [ Fri Dec 19, 2014 3:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Oregon Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

A Lasting Impression
Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “Nutcracker”
Saturday Evening, 13 December 2014
Keller Auditorium, Portland

by Dean Speer

I note that we made the annual trek down I-5 to see Oregon Ballet Theatre’s presentation of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker,” on Twelve/Thirteen/Fourteen, and every year – even one without fun sequences of numbers -- is always worth it. Portland provides a pleasant ambiance and backdrop to this cranberry-colored confection.

Compared to some versions, it’s a very simple one with little production fuss and muss and a clean and uncluttered choreographic stage. Balanchine tells a straight-forward story, partly based on his own childhood recollections of holidays and chilly winters at his family’s dacha in Finland and of his participation in the Petipa St. Petersburg production of his youth, pre-Revolution. It’s both nostalgia and fantasy, myth and magic rolled together into one marzipan creation.

Conceptually and choreographically, my only reservation is Marie’s bed running around the stage in Act I...and I certainly understand it’s code for the weaving and casting of a magical transformation, but to me, it wastes some of the most glorious music with non-dancing. Clearly too late to recall Mr. Balanchine to come back and fix, but wish it could be so never-the-less.

As with each yearly outing, this year’s cast was technically very proficient and artistically sound, with only one minor partnering snafu in Act II’s grand pas de deux.

Ansa Deguchi as the Sugar Plum Fairy had many striking moments – great balances and consistently controlled execution throughout. Dewdrop, re-made for Mimi Paul in 1964, is a showstopper and Xuan Cheng gave us bright sauté rond de jambe en l’air and is a part that seems to enliven the atmosphere.

Waltz of the Flowers contains some of Balanchine’s best choreography – very theatrical with its many swirling patterns -- as does Mirlitions, which I consider brilliant – at a diamond level, sparkling and fun.

Brett Bauer as both Drosselmeier and later in Act II as Mother Ginger was superb as each and a complete riot as Mother Ginger, larding us with great humorous bits such as being shocked as seeming herself in a hand mirror and loudly banging a tambourine as the mighty mites danced in front. And of course, who cannot put be suitably impressed by the enormous wedding cake creation she comes floating in on, only to reveal her many children underneath.

Maestro Niel DePonte led the mighty – and very welcomed – OBT Orchestra. [I wish the live music wasn’t miked– at one point during the Waltz of the Flowers, this became particularly obvious, slightly over amplifying the sound and was distracting, and what I’m guessing is the use of a recording for the angelic choir perhaps misplaced. Using two singers, as is done effectively elsewhere, a much better solution.]

File comment: Oregon Ballet Theatre's production of George Balanchine's "The Nutcracker." Photo © James McGrew.
OBT_NUT_SMALL_Photo James McGrew.jpg
OBT_NUT_SMALL_Photo James McGrew.jpg [ 17.4 KiB | Viewed 6626 times ]

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Dec 15, 2015 10:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Oregon Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Grant Butler compares and contrasts the versions of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker from Oregon Ballet Theatre and Pacific Northwest Ballet for The Oregonian.

The Oregonian

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Dec 29, 2015 10:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Oregon Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Dean Speer reviews the Saturday, December 12, 2015 evening performance of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker for CriticalDance.


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