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Trashing Canfield?


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#1 Watermill

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Posted 15 October 2004 - 09:30 AM

An interesting exchange took place in today's Oregonian.

Firstly, the offending paragraph from Hick's Review on Monday:

Compared with the racy little troupe that was OBT under founding artistic director James Canfield, Stowell's Version 2.1 is profoundly traditional, without cobwebs. Canfield's dancers were always quick, dramatic and athletic. Stowell has added style, precision and a commitment to sophisticated musicality. Canfield threw the dice on new and edgy pop-cultural themes, often demolishing the lines between ballet and contemporary dance. Stowell is taking an almost opposite risk: that he can revive and reinvigorate the traditions of ballet.


...which brought about this response from a reader:

A challenge to Bob Hicks, who covers Oregon Ballet Theatre: I challenge you to write about the current season, troupe and artistic director without trashing the founding artistic director, James Canfield ("A new OBT hits the stage," Living, Oct. 11). Instead of mischaracterizing Canfield's troupe, tell us more about the new dancers. Get over yourself, and quit being clever at Canfield's expense. You had 15 years to make your point about Canfield, and you've made it. You prefer traditional, classical ballet. Now you've got it. So write about it. Shelley Herochik

Bob Hicks responds: . . . and a challenge to Shelley Herochik to re-read the review. I've never trashed Canfield, even when balletomanes were nagging me to do so. I've criticized (and often supported) his work, always with the understanding that I was having a conversation with an artist. Nor do I necessarily prefer traditional ballet; I prefer art that works, in whatever form it takes. OBT has undergone a sea change, and this season-opening program underscores that more than anything that happened last season, Christopher Stowell's first as company leader. Not to address the transformation would be silly, and except with my kids and close friends, silly is something I try not to be.



While I find Ms. Herochik's tone somewhat strident, and would not describe the above as "trashing", I too have grown weary of Mr. Hick's inevitable "mischaracterization" of OBT under Canfield. Not only did Canfield produce one of the country's finest classical Nutcrackers every year, programs including Giselle, Romeo & Juliet, La Sylphide and several works by Balanchine demonstrate that OBT was not just some kind of experimental Rock Joint en Pointe. Hicks' readers who attend this weekend's performance of Concerto Barocco will be suprised to open their programs and read that CB was first performed by OBT years ago. In fact, the mix that Christopher Stowell has come up with in his first two seasons is not all that different from Canfield's attempt to balance the new and the old. Their vision of "new" might be different, but both equally respect the classical repertoire. The dancing at the soloist levels is now generally higher, but only due to the addition of a mere 3 dancers: Larsen, Iino and Cotton. The other new company members are easily matched by dancers under Canfield. Ever wonder what happened to OBT-trained and oft-featured Katarina Svetlova? She's now one of Europe's leading ballerinas. How do you explain that? Give Canfield his due: sure he rolled the dice in the back alley of contemporary dance, but he also took us out to an elegant restaurant at least a couple of times a year.
The last thing I wish to do is champion James Canfield. I had a lot of criticism for his programming, especially in his last two years. And I am as delighted as Bob Hicks is to see where the company is heading. But let's not retrofit the past to boost our pleasure in the present.

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 15 October 2004 - 11:15 AM

But Canfield's heart did not seem to be in traditional Nutcrackers and Giselle, and the publicity, at least, was heavy on the New! Sexy! Rock! None of that stupid tutu stuff!!!!!

I think when you have a one-company town, you'll always have a battle of tastes. There are probably lots of people who miss the sexy rock stuff. As there were plenty of people who, during its day, longed for something else. My point, as always, is if you're going to call it a ballet company, then please perform ballets. If you want to do something else, by all means, go ahead.

#3 Helene

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Posted 15 October 2004 - 04:36 PM

Keller was packed for the Concerto Barocco, Orpheus Portrait, Swan Lake Act III matinee last Sunday. The crowds were very enthusiastic, too. Given the extremely small matinee crowd at the Wheeldon/Adam/Ashton program last Spring in a much smaller theater, I don't know if that means the word is getting out about OBT, or if there is an audience for classical ballet, as long as it involves a story, costumes, and melodic music.

Watermill, can you compare the audiences -- in size and enthusiasm -- for programs in the Canfield years?

#4 Amy Reusch

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Posted 15 October 2004 - 07:04 PM

I don't know either the critic or the company well, but isn't trying to put out a spin that the current company is "better" than the past company just a benevolent sort of cheerleading/pep rally on the part of the critic? Oh Oh Oh I know it's not the responsiblity of the critic to prop up the company... but just for the sake of writing don't they need to illuminate the contrasts between a new AD and the previous AD? (...Of course I'm one of those who likes critics that help me get a little more out of a performance than if I hadn't read their column). And in some markets, dance really does need a little bolstering up by the critics... I have no idea if Oregon is one of them, though.

#5 Watermill

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Posted 16 October 2004 - 05:13 AM

Hey Amy: Nice Joan Rivers imitation!
Yes, sure, bolster away for season number one, but alright already…it’s now season two. I think that's what the Oregonian letter writer is responding to...BH is still flogging this deceased horse a year after he started. My problem is that he's whipping the nag and conveniently forgetting about the thoroughbred. Sorry: terrible analogy.

Helene, houses were often full in the old JC days..especially for the Nut but also for his major rock ballets which were big trendy hip happenings. It made for an amusingly mixed, but not stable audience. Last night’s (Fri 10/15) performance was nearly sold out. I think the new regime is on the right track to fill the house and fund the company better.

Alexandra, I watched Canfield work his dancers nearly to death on the fine details of several classical ballets. Remember, this guy was trained by Mary Day in Washington. I think perhaps my point is: yes, Canfield was all that (the edgy rock star) but he was also this ( a classicist). Let’s not paint him entirely one color just to cheerlead Stowell, who, by the way, doesn’t need any of this silliness to do the great job he’s doing..
Having said that, I must admit that in this one-paper town, I am glad that Bob Hicks is so enthusiastically embracing the new AD. It puts fannies in the seats.

Watermill



#6 Amy Reusch

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Posted 16 October 2004 - 07:13 PM

You're right, Watermill... I'm so out of touch that I didn't realize we were talking second season here... sounds more like the critic has run short of ideas and is trying to recycle some old work.

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 24 October 2004 - 07:26 PM

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