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 Post subject: Oregon Ballet Theatre: 2005-06 Season
PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2005 9:38 am 
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In The Oregonian, Bob Hicks reviews the opening performance of the 2005-06 season: "In the Night" (Robbins/Chopin), "Angelo," (Julia Adam/Vivaldi) and "Eyes on You" (Christopher Stowell/Cole Porter) at the Newmark Theatre in Portland, Oregon:

The Oregonian


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2005 12:01 pm 
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Pics of Oregon Ballet Theater...


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 Post subject: mixed feelings
PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2005 1:04 pm 
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I attended the season opener on Friday night. "In the Night" was a beautiful, classic, touching piece; it was the second time I had seen it performed by OBT, and it laid a solid foundation for the evening.

"Angelo" dissappointed me, it seemed to have too much filler and too little meat to it. It approached moden dance too much for my tastes and just didn't jive with me. At times, I resented the smugness and cutesiness of this piece. It was too heavy on entertainment and too light on dance for my taste.

The de Pax Deux from Don Quixote was the saving grace of the evening for me; a thunderously pleasing routine expertly danced to technical perfection. Rivoting.

I did not attend the final piece, as it was jazzy and of a style and type of ballet that I knew I would not enjoy, and I wanted the evening to end on a high note.

Standout performances by Yuka Iino, Gavin Larsen, Artur Sultanov, and Paul De Strooper.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2005 7:33 pm 
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I did not attend the final piece, as it was jazzy and of a style and type of ballet that I knew I would not enjoy, and I wanted the evening to end on a high note.


And that jazzy piece got the best reviews of all that evening. Shows to go ya!


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 26, 2005 4:17 pm 
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Fall Program, Oregon Ballet Theatre
Sunday, 9 October 2005, 2:00 p.m. Matinée
Newmark Theatre, Portland Oregon

In the Beginning, Somewhat Elevated


by Dean Speer

Peter Boal, new Artistic Director of Pacific Northwest Ballet, reported that he received a call from the Robbins Trust to tell him, “You know, ‘In the Night’ is always done as the middle work.” He stuck to his guns about opening PNB’s “Director’s Choice” bill with this ballet and seems to have set a trend of opening programs with this intimate masterwork. This trend was followed a couple of weeks later by Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Artistic Director, Christopher Stowell, with OBT’s Fall Program at Portland’s mid-sized theatre, the Newmark, in downtown Portland’s Theatre District.

I found all three works on the bill to work well within the context of the venue – a theatre that works for intimate, chamber ballets.

Carol Rich was the sympathetic pianist for Robbins’ ballet, creating the Chopinesque atmosphere for three couples: Gavin Larsen, and newcomer OBT Jon Drake; Alison Roper with one new man Ronnie Underwood; and Yuka Iino and Paul De Strooper. It was great seeing these dancers in this ballet in this venue. I think “In the Night” is one of those pieces that works better in a setting that’s not too cavernous. I’ve seen it in several other theatres, and the Newmark really helps to show off every detail. Larsen and Roper were particularly effective in their roles. Both have beautiful technique and the artistic maturity these parts demand. For example, Larsen’s turning over of her wrist and hand, accompanied by a nod of her head; the fourth movement when the women gather together spoke volumes.

Robbins is a happy addition to the OBT repertoire and “In the Night” is a welcome repeat from last season.

I saw “Angelo” when it was premiered by the San Francisco Ballet in 2002 and like Robbins’ “In the Night,” I found that it worked better for me this time around than in the palatial setting of the War Memorial Opera House.

Julia Adam’s ballet is based on a line from Shakespeare set to the music of Vivaldi and this line delineates the seven stages of a man's life.

An article, in the Portland “Jewish Review,” states “...the work is not intrinsically Jewish, Adam does include at least two Jewish elements. When the man arrives at that stage of his life when he marries, his bride circles him during the wedding ceremony, as in Ashkenazi Jewish tradition. Also, said Adam, the man is born of tree at the outset of the dance, which she said draws upon the Tree of Life image from Judaism.”

Also new to the OBT roster of men this season is Brennan Boyer who took the lead role of Angelo. Boyer was most recently an apprentice with Pacific Northwest Ballet and it was great seeing him tackle a lead role. While the ballet may have been based on the seven stages of a person’s life, it really seems to me to be a journey of discovery and of love and forgiveness. Angelo’s ability to forgive his wife and his best friend’s cruel betrayal elevates him toward his own spiritual redemption and to the progress of this soul and spirit beyond an earthly existence.

Adam leads us through this story by giving us seven, distinct scenes showing his birth, playing with friends, and finding his first love – rather than giving us a single, seamless narrative. Effective were Yuka Iino and Ronnie Underwood as his wife and best friend who, while feel conflicted about their relationship, ultimately go off with each other, abandoning Angelo. Iino is a superb, classical dancer and this part gave her a chance to infuse emotion into her dancing. Underwood is a gifted dancer and his reading was “dead-on.”

“Eyes on You” is Stowell’s third creation specifically for OBT and it’s easy on the eyes and fun for the ears. Set to ten classic Cole Porter songs which are performed alternately between historic recordings and live performance fabulously rendered by soprano Pamela South, who was in a perfect diva mode for this ballet – accompanied by Richard Bower.

It cleverly opens with the dancers in a row of theatre seats, facing away from the audience, watching what we presume to be the end of a ‘40s movie that says, “The End.” Anne Mueller broke away and began the first “set” to “De-Lovely.” My only major qualm for this work is the costumes for this number. I don’t think the “underwear” or under-dressed look work and much prefer the costumes that the dancers wear for later sections. I found that instead of enhancing the dance, they were distracting from it. Casual to indicate a hot, Summer night at the movies is okay but perhaps these can be modified.

One of my favorites included Jon Drake with the “Cast Gentlemen” in a kind of competitive dance-off that was strongly constructed and energetically danced with the audience eating up the coupé jeté ménage and the amazing double tours en l’air of the men. Amazing because they ended the tours with their legs in second position, whilst still in the air – a feat I can only recall seeing once or twice before. Then concluding by finishing snappily as the men leap to the floor and sharply turned over to face the audience. A unique “tah-dah!”

“So In Love” with Kathi Martuza and Artur Sultanov is strategically placed before the finale of “Anything Goes.” Throughout the ballet Sultanov played his character as a kind of goofy, insouciant Roaring ‘20s star, vamping his way through the choreography. My only choreographic suggestion for “In the Still of the Night” would be to have Martuza (again with Sultanov) be completely still at the end and not move a muscle, while Sultanov shakes and vibrates his hand over her reclining form. I think it would make a stronger and more focused ending. Almost like a haiku ending.

The work concludes neatly with the dancers returning to their original scene for the end of ballet.

It’s clear that Stowell and OBT have a new audience favorite here. A winner that will continue to be popular with future ballet-goers and touring fans and that will also play well when they undertake performing in schools and other community outreach gatherings.

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Dean Speer
ballet@u.washington.edu


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 10:24 pm 
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Joshua, welcome and thanks for your comments. I think I know what you mean about "Angelo." I am a fan of Julia Adam but this work -- when I saw it performed in San Francisco -- felt somewhat incomplete or unfinished to me. What did you think of the costumes?


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 17, 2006 11:43 am 
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In The Oregonian, Catherine Thomas interviews choreographer Trey McIntyre whose new work, "Just" is on a triple bill with a work set to Saint-Saens by OBT artistic director Christopher Stowell and Balanchine's "Who Cares?" opening tonight through next weekend at Keller Auditorium in Portland:

February 2006 Preview


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2006 11:27 am 
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In The Oregonian, Bob Hicks reviews the opening night performance of OBT's Winter Program on Saturday, February 18, 2006:

The Oregonian


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2006 6:33 pm 
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Da Lovely
Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Valentine Program
18 February 2006
Keller Auditorium
Portland, Oregon

by Dean Speer

Pre-Performance lecturer, Linda Besant, told us that Artistic Director Christopher Stowell’s thinking in planning this particular repertory program was to emphasize the “entertainment” aspect of theatre dance and to complement its nearness to the heart of Valentine’s Day.

Each of the three works comprising this program fit the bill nicely. Each also represented a kind of first for OBT. “Quick Time” was receiving its OBT premiere, “Just” was making its world début on the stage and “Who Cares?” was given the complete cast treatment for the first time at OBT (they had done the concert version before – at least when I saw it).

“Quick Time” is Stowell’s 2005 Valentine to his parents who retired after 28 years at the helm of Pacific Northwest Ballet and which had its premiere at PNB during their last season. It’s set to Camille Saint-Saëns’ ‘Variations on a Theme of Beethoven,’ for two pianos, Op. 35, with zippy and colorful costumes designed by Mark Zappone which are Pucci-inspired. Even the pianos get into the act (covered on the sides and placed onstage).

It begins with Kester Cotton striding in from upstage left and launching into some of Stowells’ thematic material – including facing de côté and making “third” port de bras with sharply accented wrists. Bourées and quick dévelopés écarté and à la seconde are the norm for the small platoon of women in bright green jumpsuits – Candace Bouchard; Ansa Deguchi; Daniela DeLoe; and Holly Zimmerman. It was fun seeing Kathi Martuza and Cotton (her “real life” husband) paired. Pianists Carol Rich and Cary Lewis accompanied the dancers with zest.

It’s clear that the dancers really like Trey McIntyre’s creation for them, “Just.” It’s nearly always a treat (I have to qualify that, as once or twice in the history of the world, dancers have had to work with an insufferable choreographer) to have a ballet made especially for you. I really like the music he chose, being a fan of contemporary music myself. The music lent itself to invention of many movement possibilities, the score being by American composer Henry Cowell.

The ballet begin with the easy-on-the-eyes Russian trained and bred dancer Artur Sultanov posing upstage center in a kind of ‘Adam-where-art-thou?’ stance – and with only designer (pink) briefs on. This garnered much applause from many quarters of the darkened opera house.

The five section ballet provided ample opportunity for Sultanov, joined by principals Anne Mueller, Alison Roper, and Jon Drake, to show off and deploy their strong techniques and yet at the same time to take this classically-based ballet movement vocabulary and stretch it with infusions of Graham-like contractions, strong thrusting of the torsos and arms, floor and knee work, and what I think of as Merce Cunningham style port de bras and use of torso. I was really pleased with the solo for Roper and memorable to me also was the section that had the three as a trio “pitted” against – visual “tension” – Sultanov who was on stage left making parallel positions and engaging in the already described Graham-like motifs.

My only fuss, well all right, two fusses – would be to have some kind of visual connector between the sections; a unifying device. Right now, except for the concluding section, which really does read as a concluding statement, each of the four sections seem to be choreographically interchangeable. By that I mean, McIntrye could re-order and shuffle them, and we’d probably have about the same effect.

The other is perhaps more readily fixable and that would be to put the women into pink tights. With all of the floor work and how athletic the piece is, the women’s legs ended up all blotchy – quite red at and above and below the knees – toward the end of the ballet, rendering them less attractive than they could have remained under the protection and visual “coating “ of tights.

In all, I think “Just” is a good addition to OBT’s repertory and one that will continue to please audiences for many seasons to come.

I like the program note that describes how Balanchine recounts how he came to make his much-performed “Who Cares?” He was playing the piano and working his way through some Gershwin tunes and thought, “Beautiful, I’ll make a pas de deux. Then I played another, it was just as beautiful and I thought, A variation! And then another and another and there was no end to how beautiful they were. And so we had a new ballet...” This helps put a face on the piece and on how it’s widely-reported how Mr. Balanchine worked.

While “lite,” this ballet is considered plenty challenging technically and offers principals, soloists and corps lots of fun dancing to some of America’s most tuneful songs.

I wish there was enough time and cyber space to describe each of the 15 sections but let me report that particularly notable were Gavin Larsen in ‘Fascinatin’ Rhythm’ and Yuka Iino’s limpid dancing to ‘My One and Only.’

I have to allow myself one fuss and that’s no live music for this important ballet. While it may not be financially feasible to currently present with a full orchestra, I would have preferred seeing and hearing it with a one- or two- piano reduction. No matter how great the choreography and concept and lovely the dancing, I find myself going on aural and visual autopilot when recordings are used. It’s just not “live” and does not have the same “presence” and immediacy that musicians can afford. It’s the living music itself that takes and keeps my attention – and pulls me deeper into the experience.

The whole thing builds to a rousing conclusion with the entire cast in “I’ve Got Rhythm” from 1930's “Girl Crazy” (which made stars out of both Ethel Merman and Ginger Rogers). And this ballet certainly helps make a star out of OBT.

_________________
Dean Speer
ballet@u.washington.edu


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 27, 2006 5:52 pm 
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Moving Mozart
Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “All Mozart Program”
Saturday, 22 April 2006
Keller Auditorium, Portland, Oregon

by Dean Speer

I’ve began following the fortunes of Oregon Ballet Theatre prior to its inception as the merged product of two ballet companies and have been particularly watchful during these past three seasons under the tutelage of its current artistic director, Christopher Stowell.

It feels good to happily report that OBT’s latest outing on the boards is probably its strongest and one of its best to date. I mean this both in terms of what was on stage and also how it was presented by the company. As the material given them as gotten better so thus has gone the dancing. I find myself compelled to quote from OBT’s program feature, “Who’s Your Dancer?” where Gavin Larsen responds to the question, “Tell us something you love about your job.” In part she says, ... “I love OBT’s repertoire...is what keeps me engaged here...In three seasons I’ve been able to perform at least half-a-dozen dream roles.”

We’d have to rank Francia Russell’s staging of Balanchine’s “Divertimento No. 15" as one of those dream ballets – for both the audience and the dancers. It’s a full-company work with many opportunities for every level of the ranks and is filled with a kaleidoscope of inventive patterns. Certainly a bon-bon ballet that bears and invites repeat viewings.

Yuka Iino, Larsen, Kathi Martuza, Anne Mueller, and Alison Roper were in the principal ballerina roles with Iino as the central figure and Russell cast to the strengths of each. Men were Brennan Boyer, Artur Sultanov, and Ronnie Underwood. Boyer was particularly outstanding, perhaps due to his PNB upbringing.

I’m hazarding a guess that’s it’s entirely coincidental, but not only was each ballet on the bill set to Mozart, each also had a male duet. The “theme” of “Divertimento” for example, which was given by Boyer and Underwood. The second ballet on the program, “Almost Mozart” by James Kudelka opens with a duo in silence and the concluding work, Lar Lubovitch’s “Concerto Six Twenty-Two” – which dates from 1985 – has a sweet, long adagio for two men.

Speaking of Kudelka’s “Almost Mozart,” it would be both tempting and accurate to call it “Almost Ballet.” I found it to be more of an extended study. Kudelka gave himself the “restriction” (his word) of having the dancers hold hands and be connected during each of the four segments. This was certainly interesting and yielded some movement that was very sculptural and it provided a jumping off place for him to see how far he could go with inventing and developing this idea. For me, he really got to the heart of his ballet in two places – the opening Duo with Damian Drake and Paul DeStrooper and during the exception to this physical connection to another dancer where he had the ever amazing and impressive Alison Roper explore new pointe work places with slides, assemblés shooting through the air, twists, and other movement that seemed to have Roper pulling herself out of her skin. Perhaps Roper’s “connection” is with extended and extreme pointe techniques.

I believe the choreographer’s choice of title for his piece really refers to his choice of the sparing use of the music: a Masonic funeral piece and one movement of a piano concerto but with the piano line taken out and only “references” made by the players. Generally, the music was performed in between dancer segments, as a sort of bridge from section to section. Unfortunately on opening night, the conductor didn’t wait long enough after the conclusion of each dance section and lifted his baton well before the applause had died down, thereby losing much of what we were supposed to hear. Being a world premiere, I don’t think they were prepared for the timing of the robust applause that erupted after each section. Hopefully, this situation was rectified in subsequent shows.

The audience really got behind this new work and I heard much good buzz in the foyers from those who really found it exciting and different. Certainly an interesting addition to OBT’s canon and one that I wouldn’t mind seeing again.

Refreshing, fun, and beautiful would be one phrase to describe Lubovitch’s work to a clarinet concerto. His is a large-scale, inventive work that divides the first movement between four couples: Ansa Deguchi and Anne Mueller; Steven Houser and Brennan Boyer; Daniela Deloe and Kathi Martuza; and Artur Sultanov with Brian Simcoe; the touching second movement duet featuring Jon Drake and Ronnie Underwood; and the third movement into a trio with Mia Leimkuhler, Valerie Limbrunner, and Kester Cotton, soloists Martuza, Mueller, and Sultanov and the whole lively scheme finishing with the entire cast.

The adagio has the men begin on opposite sides of the upstage, come together in center stage, take hands and rarely come out of contact until the conclusion where they reverse retrograde the opening sequence, heading back to upstage. I particularly liked the oval they made with their connected inside arms which echoed by their outside arms en bas. Their partnering included weight-sharing, counterbalancing, and some lifts.

“Concerto Six Twenty-Two” a bouncy, aerobic and very kinetic piece where the dancers delighted in every shape, mix of pairings and moment, deploying their balletic craft in the modern style of Lubovitch.

Certainly one of the elements that made for a heavenly evening at the ballet was the live music – all three works were accompanied by the OBT orchestra, Niel DePonte, conductor. Hurray for Stowell’s leadership in this regard and for the funding support of patrons.

OBT’s program opened on a glorious, sun-suffused Northwest Spring evening. A lovely reminder of why we treasure this part of the country, delight in Portland, and of why OBT’s glory days are waxing.

_________________
Dean Speer
ballet@u.washington.edu


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 27, 2006 6:37 pm 
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Oregon Ballet Theatre is a participant in Portland's "Month of Mozart" celebration now in progress. The Spring program features works by Balanchine ("Divertimento No. 15"), James Kudelka (a new work, "Almost Mozart"), and Lar Lubovitch ("Concerto 622"). The program opened on Saturday, April 22, 2005 at 7:30 p.m. in Keller Auditorium in Portland and continues with performances on Friday, April 28 and Saturday, April 29. Here is a link to the program information on OBT's website:

Mozart program

Here is Bob Hicks' preview from the Friday, April 21, 2006 Oregonian:

Oregonian Preview

Bob Hicks' review of the Saturday, April 22, 2006 opening of the Mozart program in The Oregonian:

Oregonian Review


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 30, 2006 3:36 pm 
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I have to confess this program was the first time I saw the company in performance since Christopher Stowell's inaugural season as AD. I liked what I saw for the most part. I feel that Stowell has done a great job with the company but even with Francia Rusell's staging of Balanchine's "Divertimento No. 15," I felt there are still raw edges that need to be trimmed.

Surprisingly, I liked James Kudelka's world premiere, "Almost Mozart," which made this group of dancers look very good. It was a modern work very suitable for ballet dancers.

I felt Lar Lubovitch's work was too cute -- the audience enjoyed it -- but I didn't see enough ballet or innovation in it for my liking.


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PostPosted: Sun May 07, 2006 4:30 pm 
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A week later, I still have Kudelka's world premiere in my head. It was a haunting work with the dancers performing in silence (except for their panting) in between pieces of Mozart. It's the panting, rythmic and mesmerizing, that I remember the most...


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PostPosted: Fri May 26, 2006 1:36 pm 
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OBT will premiere its full length "Swan Lake" June 9-11 at Keller Auditorium in Portland. Choreography is by Christopher Stowell; sets and costumes are from Pacific Northwest Ballet's original production.

Here is a link to the program information on the OBT website:

OBT Swan Lake


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 05, 2006 11:12 am 
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Martha Ullman West has a three part "Swan Lake" preview in The Oregonian.

The story:

"Not the Same Old Lake"

The principal women:

"Swan Divas"


Profiles of the principal women:

"The Principals"


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