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Revering Ashton: A Salute

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Obt's Dance Talks Series continues with Revering Ashton: A Centenary Salute

Monday May 3 at 7:00pm at the Winningstad Theater.

Featuring Ashton's long time collaborator and principal dancer Alexander Grant and former Sadler's Well's principal and OBT Facade repetiteur Margaret Barbieri.

They request reservations 503-227-0977 (chandra.hall@obt.org) but they won't turn you away if there is space (which there will be).

The chance to hear Mr. Grant and Ms. Barbieri speak from first hand knowledge of the great Ashton's work is not to be missed.

Christopher Stowell continues to put Portland on the Ballet Map.

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I'm bumping this up as a reminder to local balletomanes: this is a not to be missed occasion.

Seattle folks: star driving by 2pm. San Franciscans: leave now, drive 90 mph, and you can catch the last half! (Turn left at Mt. Hood)

And it's free!

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My friend Carol Shults reports that the Ashton/Alexander Grant dance talk was heaven. Stories of Fonteyn rising up on a lift in ONDINE, and Ashton overdosing on martinis after a successful NY season.

Will we get a more in depth report from you Watermill?

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Heaven it was! Though I missed the first half hour (my students kept me late...I was so torn...) the final hour of this rare opportunity was a marvelous, charming, insightful glimpse into the fabled world of British Ballet from the mid 40's.

What a fabulous source of wisdom and wit Alexander Grant is. He offered many anecdotes and reminiscences:

Of dancing the Jester in Cinderella to Ashton & Helpmann's Stepsisters. He would fill in for Ashton while he choreographed.

Of his first big role: partnering Fonteyn in Massine's Madame ____ (help).

"The other couple was Michael Somes and Moira Shearer. Can you imagine? I was nothing!"

Of Fonteyn's eyes as she pleaded with him in Ondine: "Gave me shivers, every night."

Of how Elgar's family & friends came to see the Enigma Variations and said that the portrayals and relationships "were just right."

Of an imperious de Valois. How de Valois emphasized the men's roles, Ashton the female's.

Of staying up late with Nureyev & Fonteyn...then taking their special 10 am barre ... the rest of the company would take in the afternoon.

Of Massine's influence on the final section of Facade

Nureyev's impact on Ashton? "Not much: he was setting the dance on Margot."

An amusing anecdote centered on Ashton's growing impatience with the composer Henze, who with his baby grand were ensconced in Grant's small apartment. The composer insisted upon devising full orchestrations, which he loudly grunted, instead of delivering a melodic line that Sir Freddy could begin setting steps to. Ashton would call every day, asking: "Have you heard a tune?". To which Grant would sadly answer, "Sorry. No melody whatsoever yet."

One day, while Grant was out, the cleaning lady picked up the phone. Ashton, now desperate, asked her if she had heard any music that morning. She replied, "Oh, yes, very pretty music all morning." The beaming Ashton greeted Hanze later that day with: "So Henze has a tune!"

But the composer replied, "Oh, no: I was tired of working on it so I played Mozart all morning."

Mr. Grant added a poignant postscript: Henze conducted a favorite Mozart at Ashton's memorial service.

OBT historian Carol Shults gathered an impressive array of historical photos and video clips which truly brought the evening to life.

Especially memorable photos of Markarova, Shearer, Franklin & Danilova, Grant as Bottom with Sibley. And Ashton & Shearer in deepest tango dip from Facade.

(Interesting aside: when the photo of Frederick Franklin flashed on the screen, Grant, with reverence in his voice, said: "There he is: the man himself.")

An amazing video clip of Dowell performing a wild solo variation from Enigma.

A very rare video from The Royal Ballet archives of a witty, jangling pas from Facade danced by Grant & Merle Park.

Margaret Barbieri added her own special glimpses earlier...sorry to have missed them. Looking forward more eagerly than ever to her setting of Facade on OBT's constantly improving dancers.

Christopher Stowell led the discussion with his engaging, informal charm.

Not having seen enough Ashton, I came away with a deeper respect for his work.

And a continued strong sense that Mr. Stowell is leading OBT in the right direction.

Your Roving Reporter,


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