Two Beauties and One Beast
Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “The Sleeping Beauty, Act III” Program
Keller Auditorium, Portland, Oregon
Matinee, Saturday, 9 June 2007
by Dean Speer
“Firebird” versus “Sleeping Beauty”
Only 20 years separate the origins of these two ballets (1910 and 1890) about princes, princesses, and fairies and while they do share some similarities it’s interesting to note the differences too. Certainly primary in this would be the scores – Stravinsky versus Tchaikovsky. Yet it’s not the radical and primal Stravinsky of Rite of Spring. Similar in their stories of the vanquishing of evil and the restoration of order.
Anon, a Beauty
One of the beauties of this “Firebird” was the work made for the principal trio, Ivan, the Firebird, and the Princess (Ansa Deguchi). Here, Possokhov created some lovely passage work including a great solo for the Firebird that shows of this cast’s strengths – Yuka Iino’s fine ability for sharp allegro and turns.
This is the second presentation of Possokhov’s “Firebird” by OBT since it premiered. I recall hearing that he ran out of time and perhaps movement ideas at the time of its premiere but there’s nothing wrong with re-working a piece or re-writing something to make it better. I wouldn’t suggest that the baby be thrown out with the bathwater, but just to revise the last third of the piece. For example, two things and most egregiously one of them – when the score changes and bridges to the wedding processional music there are four strong beats: “bahm, bahm, bahm, bahm – pause – repeat...” During this, the dancers’ outstretched second position arms (palms up) do the same thing – beating downward sharply, while doing an “oval” grapevine pattern with their feet. The dancers have broad grins on their faces. Perhaps they’re secretly hoping we won’t notice the material. It was embarrassing to watch. There has got to be a better movement idea for this music. It’s completely out of line with the caliber of the rest of the ballet. (Fun, and it worked, is the rather ingenious move of having Ivan, after he’s stolen Kaschei’s life egg, give chase but the running is in place. The audience really enjoyed the clever wit of this.)
The other thing that struck me as wrong was using the Berceuse (lullaby) – where the Firebird is supposed to lull Kaschei’s monster minions to sleep, thereby saving the Ivan (the prince) – was used for something else. Some things just shouldn’t be tampered with, even if we can – particularly when you’ve chosen to use programmatic music.
Making his farewell performances during this run was the elegant – and multi-lingual – dancer and sought after partner, Paul De Strooper. His dancing has been hallmarked by strong technique and fearless artistry and is someone who will be missed as he returns to his native Canada to head the Ballet Victoria on Vancouver Island. He’s had a really good career and is an inspiration to those who are “late-bloomers,” not having taken his first ballet class until he was 22 – the same age as when Martha Graham started dancing!
Gavin Larsen is blossoming into a true and genuine ballerina. Not just a lovely dancer with good breeding and training who moves well, but one who galvanizes all the elements of what makes a dancer great and what forms a real ballerina.
She deployed these gifts as Princess Aurora in Christopher Stowell’s premiere staging (“after Petipa”) of Act III from the full-length “Sleeping Beauty.” Elegant, kinetic, well-placed and understated, Larsen gave us an Aurora of taste. Jon Drake was her able and princely partner. I was so pleased they did each thing in the Grand Pas de Deux just the way I like seeing them – holding the third fish dive the longest, for example. Drake’s solo is to snap into fifth position at the end of a series of very fast chainé turns and he ran out of room to do this (he almost had to finish in the first wing, nearly out the door and into the castle’s moat) but I’m confident that in future performances he’ll have re-calibrated the spacing on the stage in order to effect this. Theirs was a thrilling performance.
It’s such a joy to see Kathi Martuza in just about anything and certainly her turn as The Lilac Fairy was one such joy. One of her gifts is a strong and athletic technique, and it was fun seeing her – albeit too briefly with her Attendants.
Truth in Advertising
It could have been the lighting, but had it been me, when I’d have pulled out Red Riding Hood’s cape from the shipping box (costumes were courtesy of Houston Ballet) I would have whipped out my cell phone and called my wardrobe head immediately with the instruction to make a RED hooded cape – quick. The one we got was orange! I couldn’t believe it. Red Riding Hood has got to be red. Whether a red hood but appeared orange due to the lighting or a combination or not being the right shade, it’s got to be fixed. No squeaking room on this one!
Aside from that, I enjoyed OBT School student Macy Sullivan’s turn as this hapless fairy tale character. She’s a petite dancer with a talent for big dancing, has clean technique, and is faultless in her acting. I liked the humor of how (even though it got stuck briefly) the Wolf (Damian Drake) pulled out his dinner fork and went running offstage after Orange, I mean Red. This mini-story was brought to full circle for the coda reprisal when Red admonishes Wolf.
The famous Bluebird Pas de Deux was very well performed by Anne Mueller as Princess Florine and Brennan Boyer as the eponymous bird. Mueller was obviously up for this assignment and made everything so clear and controlled. I liked, for example, how well and carefully she knelt each time on their entrance, how lifted and open her neck line was during the adagio, and how perfect her relevés and stylized port de bras were during her solo. While Boyer didn’t do all 24 brisés volé (22 I think), each one was nicely done with good elevation. I never have to sweat blood whenever Boyer dances, as his training and experience give us complete confidence.
Mr. De Strooper was back as Puss ‘n’ Boots with White Cat Martina Chavez. My only fuss about this staging is that it didn’t have one of my favorite moments – when the cat does a dévelopée to second and then Puss runs his fingers along up to her foot and she slaps his paw away as she does a quick passé. Very witty, humorous and I hope it gets put back.
Overall, I have to assess this staging as a solid one – traditional, fun, with some lovely dancing. It holds great promise for, what I presume to be, a future staging of the entire shebang.
Each score was very well performed under the baton of OBT’s Music Director and Conductor, Niel DePonte. [Although we did notice the harpist who seemed to be missing in action, with pianist taking up the slack for those passages of “yard music” we normally hear the harp perform.]
Two beauties – and one beast – that were exciting to see. OBT continues to add to its storehouse treasury and these riches only add to its artistic lustre.