Hush to Rush
Oregon Ballet Theatre
Keller Auditorium, Saturday Evening, 6 June 2009
by Dean Speer
Oregon Ballet Theatre strongly concluded its 2008 - 2009 season with one of its best programs ever: “Rush + Robbins.”
This program really was a “rush” from the start with Christopher Wheeldon’s “Rush,” releasing itself gradually and building in intensity, spirit and speed until its finale with three ballerinas pirouetting and turning to whip into an attitude pose finish.
Each cast member deserves accolades – from its principals Brennan Boyer, Yuka Iino, Alison Roper, Kathi Martuza, Artur Sultanov, and Ronnie Underwood – to its corps: Candace Bouchard, Andrea Cooper, Ansa Deguchi, Daniela DeLoe, Grace Shibley, Adrian Fry, Steven Houser, Brian Simcoe, Christian Squires, and Lucas Threefoot.
It was great seeing Roper back on the boards following her maternity leave – looking quite in shape and strong as ever.
OBT Artistic Director Christopher Stowell has quickly acquired Jerome Robbins nuggets for the repertory, no mean feat as the Robbins Trust only very judiciously and carefully parcels out his works to companies they believe have “earned” them.
This program’s three, “Afternoon of a Faun” [lyric and poignant], “The Cage” [very primal and dramatic] and “The Concert, or, the perils of everybody” [silly and comedic], show Robbins’ range.
OBT dancers excelled in each “style.” First the exquisite Gavin Larsen and lanky Brian Simcoe as the studio dancers who connect, yet don’t, in “Afternoon.” Then sweet Anne Mueller, bewigged, in a unique part as The Novice in “The Cage,” attacking the movement with bravura, gusto, and sharp insight, dispatching the intruding males – the first with savage instinct and the second upon urging of The Queen and the rest of the hive, who feed upon the victims.
As with other audiences that I’ve witnessed, it would appear that some don’t understand at first that “The Cage” is not a funny piece. Some initially laugh when the first intruder has his neck broken by the novice – perhaps they are uncomfortable with such intentional violence on the pretty-in-pink ballet stage. But they soon understood and cheers erupted for the entire cast when the curtain came down and rose again for their well-deserved bows.
Excellent parts for Mueller and for Kathi Martuza (The Queen). Martuza’s relevés à la seconde, while hunched over and contracted, were beautifully controlled and razor quick [and then held, as if to accentuate her character’s fury], as were her pirouettes.
Finally, at the other end of the emotional scale was OBT’s fabulous rendition of “The Concert,” whose premise is what people think or dream about while attending an all-Chopin piano recital. Robbins’ picture-perfect situations demand the right timing to make each funny and OBT’s dancers’ fine execution allowed us to eat up every minute. I suppose my favorite has to be the corps of women attempting to keep it together – literally – during, yes, “The Mistake Waltz.”
Juni, one of my dance teacher colleagues, laughingly exclaimed, “I live that!” The one dancer out of place. The oblivious dancer who makes continuous port de bras while the rest of the group moves away – and then re-inserts itself – all without the clueless dancer noticing anything wrong. The arm positions that no one can agree upon. And the pièce de résistance – just when you think all of the dancers are in their final pose, one member in the back row very s-l-o-w-l-y moves her arms into place to match the others.
“The Concert” was a rousing, happy rush to end a delightful evening at Portland’s balletic treasure, Oregon Ballet Theatre.
Throughout the show, each dance, happily, was accompanied by the mighty Oregon Ballet Theatre Orchestra, under the watchful baton of maestro Niel DePonte.
I’ve been meaning to speak in praise of Linda Besant’s pre-show information talks. They are very well organized, visually attractive (using PowerPoint), sometimes using student or apprentice dancers as demonstrators, and filled with useful and interesting tidbits, such as showing us the cover of the playbill from OBT’s performances at Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., or how she found out that the famous, historic Diaghilev Ballets Russes performed locally at a former theatre only blocks away on Broadway. I look forward to them each trip and find they help prepare me well for the performances.