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 Post subject: Oregon Ballet Theatre: 2006-07 Season
PostPosted: Mon Oct 09, 2006 3:03 pm 
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Martha Ullman West previews the Fall 2006 performance of Oregon Ballet Theatre's 2006-07 season, which includes Balanchine's "Four Temperaments," Christopher Stowell's "Adin" and Jerome Robbins' "The Concert," in The Oregonian:

The Oregonian


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 13, 2006 1:54 pm 
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Bob Hicks previews the Autumn program in The Oregonian:

The Oregonian


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2006 10:42 am 
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Bob Hicks reviews the performance from the opening weekend of the Autumn program in The Oregonian:

The Oregonian


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2006 10:48 am 
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The Oregonian's David Stabler interviews OBT pianist Carol Rich, who has a major role to play in the Autumn program as the soloist in Hindemith's "Four Temperaments" and the Chopin works in "The Concert."

The Oregonian


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 20, 2006 6:51 pm 
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OBT Exposes Itself
Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “OBT Exposed”
Thursday, 7 September 2006
South Park Blocks, Portland, Oregon

by Dean Speer

If OBT’s under-the-ballet-tent “peep” show is any artistic indication of what’s to come in this year’s edition of the OBT season, fourth under the steerage of Artistic Director Christopher Stowell, then everyone is indeed in for a delightful, satisfying and soul-filled adventure.

Company class was given under the watchful gaze of Ballet Mistress Lisa Kipp. It’s both an instructive and ever a pleasure. It’s interesting to see how people work, individually and as a group. Gavin Larsen is particularly refined and concentrated in her work. Everything is placed just so. Rehearsals of Stowell’s “Adin” followed the break.

Company members looked fresh and fully engaged in the work of preparing for the new season.

Worth a day of your time, “OBT Exposed” is a fun way to whet one’s balletic appetite.

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Dean Speer
ballet@u.washington.edu


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 27, 2006 6:07 pm 
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No Mistaking It
Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “The Four Temperaments” Program
21 October 2006
Keller Auditorium, Portland, Oregon

by Dean Speer

If every dancer’s nightmare is working with an impossible choreographer, then every choreographer’s nightmare is encapsulated in the “it’s-all-out-there” section of Jerome Robbins’ “The Concert” aptly titled ‘Mistake Waltz.’

It’s a dance that all choreographers – whether making a grand piece or a recital number – have lived through way too many times! It’s not just dancers not being together or one lovely cast member never quite getting it right – it’s the “my version is correct and yours is not” that really hit home (and then having to spend valuable time reconstructing). Then the whole shebang dissolves into ending in one big mess, as everyone tries to correct themselves or others. One of my personal favorites is when the corps is upstage left making wavy port de bras – up, down, up down – and then moves to down right. All except one oblivious dancer who just keeps a wavin’ away. The real hoot comes when the corps goes back and joins her – all with Ms. Port de Bras missing a beat and never noticing that anything was ever amiss. Like a puzzle piece fitting right back in.

While I had seen many photos from “The Concert” – from its original 1956 cast to more contemporary s, I had never actually seen Robbins’ comedic essay on the foibles of ballet (and of people), using concert-going as his premise.

I knew in advance that the premise of the work was concert-going and what goes on in peoples’ heads while they are listening – or not! I was very curious to see how Robbins worked all of this out. It begins with the audience coming in carrying their own chairs and, of course, some are not seated correctly and have to have the usher check their tickets and move around. One of the neatest visual gags here is that our ditsy ballerina, who’s clearly inspired by the music, has fallen asleep exhausted, sitting down and leaning at the side of the piano. While the audience is trading chairs and seats – one angrily pulls out the chair from underneath this gal – she does not drop to the floor or budge at all but continues to nod dreamily. There’s also the inevitable paper-rustler, the talkers (who are given “the look” by the other concert goers), and the late-comers.

My best friend growing up, Chris Arveson, while in high school used to like to go over to the original Bellevue Square Mall and stand on the corner sidewalk outside of the J.C. Penny store and look up at the sky – just to see if and how many people would end up looking up with him. (Yes, yes.) An umbrella section examines this kind of “group-think” as one person takes out their umbrella, then another, then another, until the stage seems to be filled with a crowd with bumbershoots up.

It concludes with the whole cast as zany butterflies, the hapless pianist giving up, going off stage, getting a giant butterfly net and chasing the dancers as the curtain comes down. Brilliant.

This is a good ballet and comes to OBT at a propitious time in its development. It has real dancing, live music to Chopin, and challenges the cast to infuse comedic acting with perfect timing and delivery. OBT certainly fulfilled its part of this triune bargain on Saturday night. Alison Roper as The Ballerina in a role first created by the last of Mr. Balanchine’s wives, was perfectly cast in this slightly goofy part which gave us a glimpse into her powers as a dancing comedienne.

Balanchine’s 1946 masterwork is ever fresh. Visceral and exciting, “The Four Temperaments” builds on its opening themes and concludes with several of the women being pushed up to an overhead lift where the woman has one leg extended to the ceiling, other bent into attitude and pressed against his chest. This pattern cascades up, as the curtain falls. A great ending to a great ballet.

In the ‘Fourth Variation,’ Roper was dancing at the other end of the choreographic spectrum in what I call the “Kah-wonck!” part – everything is attacked; sharp rond de jambes, very sharp pirouettes to the knee, arms swinging and finishing overhead in an iron cross. Not a part for the faint-of-heart or for those looking for a dainty ballerina.

Brennan Boyer has real technique, burnished by his training at Pacific Northwest Ballet School. ‘First Variation – Melancholic’ is the most in the Martha Graham modern dance mode with deep contractions, falls to the floor, recoveries, and more quick drops, concluding with a deep backbend with arms outstretched overhead and walking offstage backward. Martha was just about at her career peak in 1946 when this ballet was first conceived and I cannot help but think it’s Mr. Balanchine’s response. Certainly, her work was more popular and well-known at that time; the wide-spread popularity of ballet taking off much later. (Now, sadly, it’s somewhat, “Who’s Martha Graham?!”) It’s good to see OBT is providing the talented Boyer with appropriate career opportunities.

Yuka Iino was equally fearless in the quick allegros of “Sanguinic,” partnered by Jon Drake. I really like the rond de jambes en l’air to piqué attitude – and done with such verve!

Artur Sultanov tapped into his Russian roots to achieve a fatalistic feeling in the third variation, “Phlegmatic,” which also had some contractions in it but these were more isolated through the torso – a shoulder inverted here, a knee sharply turned in there. Looks are deceptive and his holding of his right heel in attitude front at the end certainly is a simple concept but takes an enormous amount of control and Sultanov to his credit, did not budge. I only would have liked perhaps a deeper attitude on both legs – more fondu plié and deeper turnout with the gesturing/held leg.

When I first wrote about Christopher Stowell’s “Adin” two years ago, I mused “Will there be a ‘dva?’” I’m pleased to report that, yes, Stowell has created additional works for OBT that have been successful and this season, brought back this, his first creation for the company.

It could have been subtitled, “Songs without Words,” as it uses three Rachmaninoff songs that have been orchestrated and are performed with no vocalist. I think the piece has had time to season and it sat better with me this round, including the use of the upstage draw and pull curtains in varying and moving configurations that allow the dancers ingress and egress but which also provides its own kind of set.

Three increasingly long duets, Stowell contrasts each against the other. The first with Kathi Martuza and Paul DeStrooper I found to be vigorously lyric, while the next playful [Anne Mueller and Steven Houser], and the last the most “romantic,” with Gavin Larsen and Sultanov. In this movement, I thought Stowell used repetition too much as one of his development tools, and would have preferred that he added on other uses of other compositional devices, as this had the effect of the piece feeling like it wanted to go somewhere – and it did – but not as far as we would have hoped. Never the less, it was a pleasant showcase for Larsen’s ability to etch out meaning in every phrase and step, sympathetically partnered and complimented by Sultanov.

We were thrilled that each work on the program was supported musically by the live accompaniment of the OBT Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Niel DePonte, its Music Director and Conductor. Special mention must be made of pianist Carol Rich who was the soloist for both “The Concert” (onstage) and in the pit for Hindemith’s “Four T’s” which is as near to actually being a piano concerto, without being titled such.

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Dean Speer
ballet@u.washington.edu


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2007 11:26 am 
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Oregon Ballet Theatre's Winter Program opens on Saturday, March 3 and continues through Saturday, March 10, 2007 at Keller Auditorium in Portland. In The Oregonian, Grant Butler observes and talks with Kent Stowell as he works with company members to complete the choreography for "Through Eden's Gate," set to music by William Bolcom.

The Oregonian


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 07, 2007 2:58 pm 
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David Stabler reviews the musical elements of the Winter Repertory performance in his blog in The Oregonian:

The Oregonian


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2007 11:52 am 
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The Oregonian *did* print a review of the OBT Winter program; however, for some reason it is not available online. Here is a pdf of the print edition:

The Oregonian


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 21, 2007 4:09 pm 
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Portland Packs Them In
“All Premieres”
Oregon Ballet Theatre
Saturday, 10 March 2007 7:30 p.m.

by Dean Speer

There is nothing compared to the energy and excitement of a full theatre and group “karma” of anticipation of the curtain – and this was the case for Oregon Ballet Theatre’s final showing of the “All Premiere” program on 10 March. Their subscription base has increased markedly since the arrival of Artistic Director Christopher Stowell, now in his fourth year at the helm. OBT’s largest performance venue, the venerable Keller Auditorium, has three seating levels and at times in the not-too-distant past, the top balcony has been closed, but not this time. Several days before, it was reported that there were only four tickets left in the entire house.

Stowell has worked hard to build a better artistic mousetrap and ballet fans – both old and new – have responded accordingly. This program was based on the premise of presenting ballets by persons who had been largely influential in Stowell’s own career: Helgi Tomasson, for whom he danced during his 16 years at San Francisco Ballet; Peter Martins, who is not only “Ballet Master-in-Chief” at New York City Ballet but who is also head of the faculty at the School of American Ballet where Stowell trained; and his own father, Kent Stowell, longtime Artistic Director of Pacific Northwest Ballet. It’s also interesting to note that all three had also performed with NYCB.

Of the three premieres, Stowell’s “Through the Gates of Eden” was a world premiere, receiving its gestation and birth entirely at OBT. Stowell began work at OBT’s studios on 5 February and completed this new ballet quickly, with its premiere about a month out. He worked with one of the duo pianists to piece together a score of William Balcom piano pieces; costumes were designed by PNB’s Larae Theige Hascall, with lighting and set design by Randall Chiarelli – with each of whom Stowell has collaborated many times. At the pre-performance talk, given by the well-organized OBT Historian and Lecturer, Linda Besant, a PowerPoint slide of Balcom’s score gave us curious audience members a sense of the whimsy of this creative composer’s mind and oeuvre. This particular sheet of music was to be followed like a labyrinth maze and where you were to play next depended upon how the previous or current section was completed or encountered. Stowell and the pianist, Carol Rich, finalized an order for consistency.

Watching the piece, I had the sense that even though he began work only a few weeks prior to its premiere, Stowell was relaxed and without the pressure of having to create something for his own subscription audience. And for those of us who have seen every piece he ever made for PNB, he also took from himself – a common practice of composers and artists. For example, about two-thirds of the way through we were presented with a brief magic act whereby “a lovely assistant” was made to be bifurcated after being place into a box that’s then separated by a large metal blade and the two halves twisted to a 45-degree angle. I’ve seen this bit before in one of Kent’s earlier works and in other contexts and it’s more fun when the “magician” who takes the blade has “trouble” pushing it in [tries putting it in, there’s some resistence, so he gives it a larger shove, whereupon it goes through just fine] – this might be my only performance suggestion for improvement, as the blade went in way too smoothly.

Stowell, drawing on the dancers’ strengths, always makes them look good and this was the case for the entire ballet. It’s a ballet that filled out this program well, being the only one with a large cast (23) and made for a solid “closer.” The strongest sections were the opening’s “The Serpent’s Kiss” which was also, later, the ballet’s ending, a pas de deux for Alison Roper and Ronnie Underwood, Yuka Iino’s “Fast, furious” solo, and a “Nocturne” duet for Gavin Larsen and Paul De Strooper.

Larsen is a very centered and focused dancer and De Strooper a very good and experienced dance partner and for their combined talents, Stowell made a kinetic yet serene mini-ballet that was a standout for its lyricism.

At the other end of the dance wave spectrum was the solo created for Iino. Fast and furious it certainly was and neatly exploited her ability to turn like a top, adding to that quick footwork and sharp changes of direction.

A good “opener” was Tomasson’s “Blue Rose” set to music by Elena Kats-Chernin. Essentially a series of 10 rags, “Blue Rose” is an upbeat, lively composition that appeals to the audience and that shows off the dancers’ abilities to move big and to act like they’re having fun – which they are. A highlight was Anne Mueller and Steven Houser for their duet (in blue) to the title work. The angular expression was particularly well suited to her. Houser is a bright, young and fresh-faced talented dancer who in his brief tenure with OBT is already being given increasingly well-deserved responsibilities.

Martins’ “Ash” was the protein in the middle of the sandwich. Very kinetic right from the get-go, this is 15 minutes of non-stop ballet action. Meticulously set by former New York City Ballet dancer and now one of their ballet masters and stagers, NW native (grew up in Federal Way, Washington, a suburb south of Seattle) Russell Kaiser, “Ash” was a favorite of the audience.

Probably the most technically demanding work ever performed by OBT, it provides a strong statement of the company’s growth in technical prowess and performing stamina – even though it’s “merely” 15 minutes in length.

Alison Roper and Artur Sultanov as the lead couple gave it sharp definition and energetic, clean attack. Strong and notable performance were also given by apprentice dancer Ashley Muangmaithong who was bought in to replace an injured dancer, performing with former PNB apprentice Brennan Boyer who has a refined and an honest technique.

“All Premieres” was a pleasant evening at the ballet and one that demonstrated OBT’s continued trajectory as one of the City of Roses’ premier arts companies.

_________________
Dean Speer
ballet@u.washington.edu


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