The Girl With The Golden Arches
Olympic Ballet Theatre’s “Coppélia”
Saturday Matinée, 16 April 2011
Edmonds Center for the Arts
by Dean Speer
Passing the torch is more than symbolic in the arts – especially in dance where so much of the necessary day-to-day work is labor-intensive by one person teaching a group or coaching dancers one step and dance at a time. Even with a professional distance, artists end up putting a lot of emotional and psychological investment of themselves into what they do...and into the art they care about.
So we have to note the passing of the mantle of the directorship of Edmonds' venerable Olympic Ballet Theatre – after 30 years of visionary leadership – from Helen Wilkins [and earlier with her husband John, who passed in 2003] to another husband and wife team, Mara Vinson and Oleg Gorboulev, both former important dancers with Pacific Northwest Ballet.
I remember so clearly when the Wilkins arrived from Ohio with their young children – eager to continue to build the school and student performing company they bought from longtime Seattle area teacher, the legendary Dorothy Fisher. [Before that, I recall sitting down with Fisher over dinner following a performance of one of her wonderful and very musical choreographic compositions, in this case a ballet to a Poulenc, piano four-hands piece. She had the knack of creating perfect dances, asking her if she had recorded in any way her ballets, hinting about legacy and the importance of historic preservation and reconstruction. Her response was “no” and that she had all the choreography in her head – that it was inspired and therefore, reminded by the music.]
Helen and John’s timing was good – they were able to relocate the organization within Edmonds to a superior facility – a former elementary school converted to a cultural center that had just opened, next to the town library – that provided airy studios, some with a view to Puget Sound and within walking distance of what would become their performing home, the renovated 1939 auditorium of the historic former Edmonds High School, now the Edmonds Center for the Arts. When it reopened in 2006, the stage was named in honor of John, with tribute plaque text written by his widow, Helen.
There was much to celebrate at Saturday’s opening matinee – a delightful staging by Gorboulev and Vinson, with Vinson returning to the stage as “Swanhilda,” partnered by another former PNB colleague, Le Yin.
Both are terrific examples of what high-level ballet dancing looks like. Yin to inspire the male students of Olympic Ballet Theatre and Vinson the same for the females. The students are well-schooled and backed up the stars nicely yet, as always, there is much to be learned and absorbed too. How thorough Vinson was with every step and phrase and how she worked through her feet and legs…and then finishing each thing. Yin for his clarity and simplicity of dramatic gesture and intent – and of his exciting sauté and grand relevé tour à la seconde during which he changed port de bras. His coupé jetés that exited stage left were made of high energy stuff and flat to the floor – legs parallel with high elevation. It’s clear he relishes virtuosity.
It’s great that both are performing – even part-time – as they should be. Their respective talent, backgrounds and experience are meant to be shared and showing future generations how by performing is one of those important means, outside of the classroom.
In the category of continuing to perform and give is one of Olympic Ballet Theatre original members, Michael Wojack, who took up the character role of Mayor. This is another longtime tradition of the theatre. I wasn’t able to read the cast list in advance and when he came on, I thought “That looks like Michael!” How delightful that it was.
Notable too were guests who appeared as Franz’s friends: Michael Bagne and Sylvain Boulet. While many, many more boys and men are studying dance and becoming dancers, never the less, sometimes finding sufficient numbers and those who are adequate can be a challenge. Both possess strong technique and are relaxed and experienced performers whose characterizations were in sync. [Sometimes inexperienced male dancers show nervousness and can be a bit painful to watch. Not the case here.]
The simple yet effective set was by designer Hita von Mende, executed by Craig Wollam of Seattle Scenic Studios and the costumes by Margaretha Preston, with lighting by Dan Thoreson. The biggest challenge for all concerned being the size of the stage, the depth is only about 25 feet which isn’t much to put in a set plus a large ensemble of fully costumed dancers. Yet, with the comings and goings of various groups such as “Waltz of the Hours” they were able to make it work efficiently.
Dorothy’s and John and Helen’s legacy continues with Vinson -- “the girl with the golden arches,” Gorboulev and we eagerly await to see what the next 30 years will bring.