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OBT White Nights


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#1 Watermill

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Posted 29 February 2004 - 04:26 PM

White Nights Opening Night 2/28/04

Serenade: As the evening began, Yogi Berra’s phrase “déjà vu all over again” came to mind. Picking up where we left off…a very mixed company again gives a very mixed performance of a Balanchine classic. Last time it was Rubies, this time Serenade. At this point in the transition process, OBT is a small company comprised of a bewildering variety of shapes, sizes and talents. When they overreach and invite apprentices and students into the rarified Balanchinian air, it’s not a mess, but it’s not Balanchine either. The soloists were just fine, Gavin Larsen again leading the way; the quintet quite good, but of the 24 dancers out there maybe eight were sharp, soft, quick and b r e a t h i n g with the music. The rest, though adept at times, were too often behind or ahead of the music, showing lots of effort, and oh those wrists. I cheered Chris Stowell’s inclusion of Rubies in the first program because we all knew it was beyond the company and I liked his chutzpah. After this Serenade, I honestly feel he should not take on another full corps Balanchine until he has the dancers to attempt it. In the meantime, I would be droolingly happy with Agon or Apollo.
Wonderful to have the 40 piece orchestra. Would have liked more attack in the opening movement.

Adin: A new set of four short dances by Christopher Stowell himself, were the highlight of the evening for me. Set to four Rachmaninoff songs, comprised of three pas de deux followed by the group, they revealed an astonishingly broad command of choreographic textures: yearning, playful, mystical, erotic. They were perfectly suited to the dancers who performed them.
Finally, Kathi Martuza was given a chance to display her extraordinary talent. Sidelined with an injury for the first program, we only glimpsed tantalizing bits of her abilities during Nutcracker. She is a broad-shouldered, powerfully built dancer, just this side of being too muscular, but when she cut loose in The Muse tonight, she danced with an explosive abandon that rocked the house. She’s a coiled lioness, electric in stillness, then devouring the entire stage with shocking, wild speed. Great extensions, definitive line. More, please! Matthew Boyes, like a man with the proverbial “tiger by the tail” stepped up to the challenge nicely.

The second revelation from Adin was Artur Sultanov’s partnering of Gavin Larsen in Stowell’s beautifully sensuous, inventive setting of Vocalise. I've been harboring some fairly stern criticism of this dancer, but have held off, sensing that Stowell must see something that I didn’t. Well, tonight I saw it. A big, tall man, he brought a lyrical quality to the pas de deux I never dreamed he had. His annoying stoop shouldered posture had all but disappeared as well. A dramatic improvement in a young dancer. And a big lesson in patience for me.

Firebird: Yuri Possokhov’s Firebird a charming delight. How perfectly set to Stravinsky’s thrilling folk-enchanted music. (1945 version) Terrific costumes and scenery by Yuri Zhukov. Yuka Iino delivered the Firebird with tremulous fingers and playfully swaying hips. Paul De Strooper enacted a gentle parody of the mimed danseur noble prince, partnering the Firebird and Tracy Taylor’s Princess with some of the best dancing he’s done since arriving at OBT this fall. Kester Cotton a stunning Kaschei with crazy finger-in-the-electric-socket white hair. Looked like six turns in place…so fast it could have been twelve. Aside from a final folk dance not up to the stately music of the moment, Possokhov’s work was endlessy creative, flowing, always suitable, in service to the story, not showy.
The live orchestra a big part of the total experince. Especially those tympani! Music buffs: is Stravinsky “quoting” Mussogorsky’s Great Gate finale? Always wondered if the similarity was intentional.

For me, two important things happened tonight: the emergence of Kathi Martuza, Artur Sultanov and Paul De Strooper as dancers up to the Stowell challenge. Add them to Gavin Larsen, Yuka Iino and Kester Cotton and the top level of the company just doubled. (Well, at least in my mind)

And the totally unexpected excellence of Christopher Stowell’s choreography.

Another mixed experience at the Keller, to be sure, but all signs are pointing nowhere but up.

BTW: Almost sold out!

Watermill

#2 Watermill

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Posted 01 March 2004 - 06:14 AM

Re: Serenade, I learned that Balanchine regisseur Francia Russell had to unexpectedly rush up to Seattle to deal with all the retirement PR interviews, missing a week of rehearsals. Seems that word of her & Kent Stowell's retirement from PNB leaked out prematurely. It was not supposed to be announced until she was finished setting Seranade on the OBT dancers. This may account for some of the shaky corps work. I'll try to see it again.

I would also like to take this opportunity to personally and respectfully request that the PNB bigmouth who leaked the news to ever so graciously put a cork in it.

Watermill

#3 Watermill

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Posted 11 March 2004 - 07:23 AM

Anyone attend the second weekend? How was Carrie Imler? Alison Roper as Firebird? Serenade improve? Heard houses were very sold!

#4 cargill

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Posted 11 March 2004 - 08:51 AM

About the music to the finale of Firebird, I am pretty sure it is based on a Russian folk tune. I heard it played by a Russian folk ensemble a few years ago, on an accordion (a very tiny one). I don't have the program, but I know it was described as an old folk song.

#5 Watermill

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Posted 11 March 2004 - 11:52 AM

Wait a minute, Mary: you heard an entire Rusian folk ensemble playing Starvinsky's Firebird on a very tiny accordian?

How tiny?

#6 Helene

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Posted 12 March 2004 - 10:32 PM

I would also like to take this opportunity to personally and respectfully request that the PNB bigmouth who leaked the news to ever so graciously put a cork in it.

Watermill

I'm not sure who leaked it, but it sounded from comments that Russell and Stowell made in post-performance Q&A's that they had made the decision a while ago, and it was kept secret for a time. The timing of the leak put it squarely in the middle of PNB's Balanchine Celebration, one of Russell's and the company's greater achievements. Neither Russell nor Stowell sounded happy or relieved about the leak or the attention focused on them, instead of on the Company and the program.

It's too bad that it distracted Russell from the Serenade staging. The White Nights program sounded wonderful nonetheless, and I wish I had been able to see it. It sounds like Christopher Stowell is making quite a splash with OBT.

#7 Watermill

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Posted 13 March 2004 - 07:42 AM

Thanks, hockeyfan. I heard that Serenade was much improved the second weekend...especially with Carrie Imler in the cast.
Yes, the timing of the Russell/Stowell retirement announcement seemed odd. I'm sure they were more annoyed than anybody else. Well, the White House can't control leaks either.
Christopher Stowell continues to impress on many fronts. The latest news is that he has notified a half a dozen dancers that they probably will not have their contracts renewed. Good of him to give them time to audition elsewhere. No apprentices will be invited to join the company. So a new group will be joining for next year. Based on his first year's hiring, OBT is poised to take another big step up in quality of company.

#8 Mel Johnson

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Posted 13 March 2004 - 08:50 AM

As Mae West used to say, "goodness has nothin' to do with it." AGMA rules require that dancers whose contracts will not be renewed must be notified by the end of March of their situation situation.

#9 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 13 March 2004 - 10:06 AM

Is OBT an AGMA company? I did look on the AGMA site and they don't list them as a signatory.

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 13 March 2004 - 01:33 PM

Even though OBT might not be an AGMA company, many prominent regionals try as best they can to live up to the standard of the union as a benchmark, and also to keep from being nibbled to death by ducks for Unfair Labor Practices by the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB views many AGMA standards as those of the contemporary community.

#11 Watermill

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Posted 13 March 2004 - 01:39 PM

Knowing what I know I know of the situation of the situation, I'd say that I'd say that Mr. Stowell would treat his dancers as fairly as possibly possible, regardless of the above mentioned mentionables.


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