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"Movement as Metaphor" Program


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Full casting is up on the OBT site for tomorrow night's and Sunday afternoon's performances of the "Movement as Metaphor" program. (Select the appropriate day's .pdf file, which requires Adobe Reader to view.)

High-level casting is:

Saturday, 9 October, 7:30 pm:

Concerto Barocco*: Roper, Martuza, de Strooper

Orpheus Portrait: Larsen, Sultanov

Swan Lake, Act III: Iino, Poretta (guest from PNB)

Pas de Trois: Martuza, Underwood, Cotton

*Veteran Tracy Taylor is in the corps for this ballet.

Sunday, 10 October, 2:00 pm:

Concerto Barocco: Larsen, Mueller, Boyes

Orpheus Portrait: Martuza, de Strooper

Swan Lake, Act III: Roper, Sultanov

Pas de Trois: Larsen, Mueller, Cotton

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At last, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s reach for Balanchine has not exceeded its grasp. All it took was limiting the cast to company (apprentices and students in Rubies and Serenade had made for a shaky corps) and an undistracted repetiteur in Francia Russell. (She had to rush to Seattle to handle a PNB PR snafu during last season’s Serenade rehearsals.) The gentle angelic interlacings of this Balanchine classic were felt, precise, alternately crisp and languid. Soloists Alison Roper and Kathi Martuza held forth gracefully, but it was the corps that made this piece shine. The soft unity achieved by the company was possibly the finest I have ever seen in any OBT program. The final lengthy uptempo cascade of brutally fast small steps was accomplished with the same lively freshness found at the start. The conditioning and coaching in evidence was very impressive.
For me, this was the brightest highlight of the evening, in an evening of several shining peaks. For their fine corps work I must commend Candace Bouchard, Katie Gibson, Mia Leimkuhler, Valerie Limbrunner, Daniela Martin, Tracy Taylor, Leann Underwood and Holly Zimmerman. And Brava, Francia Russell!

Orpheus Portrait by Kent Stowell brought Artur Sultanov and Gavin Larsen together again in a well crafted if standard pas which featured some heart in your throat tosses that looked like triple salchows sideways sans skates. Unfortunately, the inability to land these 12 foot drops without the benefit of gliding lateral ice maneuvers results in what can appear to be a crash landing. I’m glad no one was hurt, but must admit I would have preferred thinking about the dance, not the ER potential. Nonetheless, in this affecting re-imaging of the Opheus legend, Ms. Larsen reminded me of a young Suzanne Farrell: technically perfect but with a wildness on the edge of abandon that is positively riveting to watch. The totality of her dancing is breathtaking.

Swan Lake Act III
The curtains parted revealing a spectacular setting with costume parade.
A weak pavane of supernumeraries, who should be limited to adorning the upholstery and not dancing center stage, was quickly dispelled by a wisely re-inserted lovely, lively pas de trois featuring the ever solid Kester Cotton with Kathi Martuza and new company member Leann Underwood. Enchanting variations for the ladies. Then the gorgeous fiancés, all a-flutter and a-flirting, nicely done by the corps and an apprentice.
However, from that point, not a single national dance stood out as remarkable. All were well performed, but the choreography itself was not as creatively thrilling as one would like.
The Spanish was very standard, as was the Neapolitan, with some rather odd, random, literally off beat tambourine work.
The Russian, danced as well as can be expected by Tracy Taylor, was a very watered down shot of vodka compared to James Canfield’s 110 proof version set to this same music in his Nutcracker.
Czardas, again featuring the very tall Sultanov and diminutive Larsen, seemed crowded and strangely dressed. (See my cranky costume comments below)
Maybe it was opening night jitters, maybe Stowell bit off a little more than the company can chew right now, but in spite of all the colorful variety that sallies forth, the act sagged between the pas de trois and the pas de deux. I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out why.
But, anyway, at long last, She enters:
At the risk of offending purists, in my opinion, the first challenge to Odiles is the acting, not the dancing. Most principal dancers can dance this role with varying success, but how many can truly act the wide range of emotions required? Very few. In Yuka Iino, who has already proven to be a very fine dancer, we are blessed to have an equally fine actress. Her haughty demeanor, seductive glances, suddenly broken by Odette-like vulnerability which is then just as suddenly cast aside for more coy come-hithers showed a mastery of this most difficult role. Confidently shining throughout the difficult steps, Ms. Iino’s solo was sharp and lovely, marred only by some off center turns and a slightly shortened attempt at those dreaded fouettes…which is fine with me. I’d rather see them accomplished cleanly and consistently than in a last gasp sloppy attempt to reach some mythical number of revolutions. (Mythical? See below) She was nicely partnered by PNB guest Jonathan Porretta, who exhibited a healthy, almost lusty desire for what he believes is his true love. This characterization helped sharpen Ms. Iino’s cruel coquette. His partnering skills were abundant, showing off Odile with noble speed and strength while remaining engaged as a character in the story. Mr. Porretta’s solo variation included the fastest turns a la second I’ve seen in a long time…without moving more than an inch from his turning point. A brilliant technician with a lot of soul.

Ending on a positive note: a lot of positive notes in fact, all emanating from the orchestra. Perfect tempo on Concerto, lush Liszt, lively pulsing Swan Lake. Possibly the most important accomplishment of Christopher Stowell’s young tenure is his attainment of full orchestra for all three pieces of the program (plus a dashing fanfare). It shows musical sophistication, an understanding of the true nature of dance and some prodigious persuasive abilities. No longer taking Artistic Director 101 classes, with the success of this program, I believe Mr. Stowell has skipped his sophomore year!

This 32 fouettes thing is very misleading and a disservice to the ballerina. Firstly, the number can be changed by any doubles or triples added and the dynamics of those variations, Then there’s the finish: if landed with a double or triple, in tempo or diminishing tempo. So, depending on the finish, the actual fouettes have to stop anywhere from beat 28 to 31. And don’t forget the preparation, which also must use a beat or two. So you have variables in the preparation, added double pirouettes and the finish. All which can change from night to night, as the dancer feels it. What cannot change is the music. My point is that the only person dead or alive who should be counting to 32 is Tchaikovsky, not Odile (or the audience). I bring this up because I feel this emphasis on a number can lead to an unenlightened audience expecting and counting fouettes like the whirling tenths of a fuel pump.

An unsettling set: A massive Gothic stonework castle Great Room that wasn’t great enough. Strangely lit by delicate chandeliers. Stranger still were the broad expanses of empty orange wall. (No heraldry? No shields? No tapestries? A royal garage sale this weekend?) But my real problem with the set was how claustrophobic it was. Such massive stone work needs to be set back further, allowing room for the larger dances (especially Czardas) and the long lines of the two pas. I should be enjoying Odile’s extended circular chaine patterns, not worrying about whether she’s going to slap a super. Also unfortunate was the placing of the Queen’s throne downstage right at a right angle to the audience. Those of us on house left could see nothing of her reactions, nor of Rothbart’s cunning manipulations, not to mention that it also ate up valuable downstage real estate which led to…you guessed it…further claustrophobia.
While I’m at it: Bizarre Czarda costumes… with odd fur stoles and feathered turbans, the men looked like it was Norma Desmond night at the local drag club. I know I should be grateful for the loan of set and costumes from PNB,(beggars/choosers and all that) but after the alternatively murky and florid Nutcracker settings, I wish OBT would bring in a good stage designer on at least a consultant basis.

Enough already….looking forward to my far more insightful colleagues' comments, especially the commuting Helene.


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A brilliant technician with a lot of soul.

What a perfect description of Poretta, Watermill! (I loved your review!)

I think the only lead cast members we saw in common were Cotton in the Swan Lake pas de trois and Taylor in the Russian solo. I agree with all of your general impressions but one: I felt that the tempo of Concerto Barocco was too slow in the first and third movements in the second performance, and that the corps had difficulty sustaining the energy that they were clearly and valiantly trying to ignite and re-ignite. (It's very possible that the orchestra was given a "slow-down" order after Opening Night and that the tempi differed.) Which was frustrating, too, because as the playing was rich and gorgeous, with the superb soloists, Margaret Bicheler and Lorely Zgonc (concertmaster), alternately blending into and riding the wave of the ensemble. The corps in Barocco was nearly the same, with Ansa Desguchi replacing Tracy Taylor on Sunday. I agree wholeheartedly that this is a Balanchine work that is well within the capability of OBT, and I hope it is performed frequently in the repertory. It alone was worth the trip.

The women principals were Gavin Larsen and Anne Mueller, with Larsen partnered by Matthew Boyes in the second movement. Larsen gave a quiet, but breathtaking performance, with clear, unaffected movement and positions in the first and third movements, and endless legato phrasing in the central pas de deux. Her arabesque was like a harp. By contrast, Anne Mueller's movement was a bit forced and her energy was a bit frenetic; her technique is a little fussy, and some of her movement seems disproportionate.

On the other hand, when Mueller was teamed with Larsen and Kester Cotton in the Swan Lake pas de trois, I so much preferred her energy, spark, and the amount of space she took up, and I really loved her in the part; she was one of the Swan Lake highlights for me. Cotton's dancing in the pas de trois was a revelation: physically, his limbs are very much like Boal's, and while he's a different dancer, like Boal he has very clean and clear movement, with wonderful turnout, and a beautifully pliant plie. What was best, though, was his inflections throughout, infusing the piece with character, yet remaining classical. Throughout the piece I thought of the "minstral" pas de trois in Chaconne, in which I think he'd be perfect.

I agree that the "courtiers" who appear at the beginning of Swan Lake were so out of their element; they really looked like kids trying to be grown up. (Or Americans trying to be Royal.) The music is so grand, and they looked a bit awkward, which wasn't helped by how cramped the stage was. I was extremely impressed by the dramatic details in this production, particularly in the use of the music. There was particularly grand music at the entrance of the Russian dancer, and Tracy Taylor made a suitably grand entrance, but the audience didn't bite and take their cue to applaud!

The big dramatic insertion was a pas de deux for Odile and Prince Siegfried after Odile's and von Rothbart's entrance, which is ostensibly to remind the Prince how he met and fell in love with Odette, so he can reconcile this brilliant creature to the Swan Queen of the night before, but gives the audience context for Act III. The transition is brilliant: Odile performs a solo, at the end of which she lightly, quickly, but very suggestively touches her upper arm. The lights go down around the courtiers and the sides of the stage, leaving only the center of the stage illuminated. Odile and the Prince dance a very lovely pas de deux, I believe to the music from the Fourth Act pas de deux. It has some wonderful touches: at the end when he lifts her and carries her in a small circle, she, out of sight from him, moves her upper body in an Odile-like fashion, showing herself to be the sharpy that she is. At the very end, she repeats the suggestive movement on her arm, and "poof," the lights are up and the party continues.

A prolonged dramatic bit was played by the fiances. The dance of the fiancees starts out with three women, all dressed alike, but dramatically, each with her own personality. These were not genero-corps fiances: each implied through her head and shoulders that she was Princess Right. Partway through there dance was a fanfare, and three more fiances entered from upstage, with reactions between both of the groups. (Suddenly, the first three, once rivals, were allies against the invaders!) Yet so much was done by posture and gesture, not by facial mugging, that it was never over-the-top. Later, when Odile appeared, they saw what was happening, and they knew she was bad news. But they were vivid enough that Odile had to give them several glowering glances, because they looked like they were going to give her up somehow. This wasn't a conceit, because the production emphasized Siegfried's confusion--more than usual he was about to commit, but doubts held him back each time, which made it really effective when he finally pledged himself to Odile. It almost seemed as if he was going to get away without making the fatal mistake. (So cruel!)

Alison Roper's Odile reminded me of Robert La Fosse's comment in his autobiography about how surprised he was at how independent the women at NYCB were than at ABT, who relied on their partners for a lot more support. Roper has long, beautiful legs -- a lot like Nichols: muscular without marring the line -- and wonderful feet. Her arms were terrific, too. As Odile, when she went into a penche, she was going, whether or not he was ready. This played beautifully into the character, because he wanted her so much, he had to follow her, no matter how dangerous. And it showed an Odile that had to be reminded now and again that she was playing a character, because she was so enjoying playing him for a fool. I loved watching her move.

Her fool was danced by Artur Sultanov. He's got wonderful limbs, a long line, and superb acting and mime ability. In presenting his mother and seating her in her throne, his understated gestures personified Prince. The partnering looked very smooth. I've seen him dance beautifully, but his solo dancing on Sunday was disappointing enough that I wondered if he was okay. (If he were a figure skater under the new Code of Points, his double tours and other jumping turns would have been called "underrotated.") His solo in the pas de deux was to the first variation in the original Black Swan pdd music used by Balanchine in Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. His ability to act, though, made the Prince's dilemma real, and that, to me, is more important than the fancy dancing in this ballet.

The pictures in the program aren't helping me much, but I think I've got this down to process of elimination: Daniela Martin danced in one of the Spanish couples, and her combination of controlled gesture and stillness in the rest of her body gave it a true flavor, yet remained balletic at the same time. Ansa Deguchi was very light and airy in the Neopolitan in contrast to Griffin Whiting's energetic dancing. Tracy Taylor was lovely as the Russian, but the stage was too cramped, since there was some business with two students and a big white scarf that spanned the width of the empty space on stage. Apart from some fine character expression by Matthew Boyes, the whole czardas look like an attempt not to step on anyone else, hard with five couples and a bit of stomping.

Orpheus Portrait was the middle work, danced by Kathi Martuza and Paul de Strooper. It was very well danced, and the death of Euridyce and Orpheus' attempt to bring her back from the underworld were quite lovely. I have a bit of a philosophical problem with it, though, because to me, the pathos of the story is the interference of powerful outsiders on their relationship, all of whom are stripped away in this retelling. However, the ending is wonderfully Wagnerian: if Wagner had composed King Arthur instead of The Ring of the Nibulungen, this would have been the final scene in which the sword is returned to the Lady of the Lake, and she floats away with it.

From what I could see, Keller Auditorium was packed on Sunday, and the crowd very enthusiastic. That was very heartening, after the few people who saw the spring program matinee at a much smaller theater. Christopher Stowell again spoke before the performance, urging donations for the live music fund to support live music for the other half of the year. In my opinion, the OBT orchestra is worth the investment, and so is the Company. The Company may have skipped the "arrived" part, because in this rep program, I think they are there.

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Friday Oct 15

The upper level of the company showed its depth tonight as Kathi Martuza and Gavin Larsen switched roles and improved the first two offerings, while a shuffling of the rest of the company made for some fairly uneven work. Remember, this is a relatively small company undertaking an ambitious program: it will show its thinness as the second cast mounts the stage.

An interesting reversal of quality in Concerto Barocco. The corps was half apprentice, which made for a more youthful, inexperienced attack. They certainly had their fine moments, but things became more ragged as the unforgiving tempo built. Whenever I see this piece I am reminded that Bach meant this for fingers flying over the closely arranged keys of a harpsichord. Only a madman like Balanchine would ask the entire human body to describe such a flurry of sixteenth notes. The other half of the reversal was the performance by Gavin Larsen in the main soloist role, solidly partnered by the always reliable Matthew Boyes. Her speed, line and extension were made for this piece. You can almost see sparks flying from the tips of those long fingers. Further Farrell-like moments of cool brilliance as she inhabited the music with a strange aching joy.

As hockeyfan wrote:

Her arabesque was like a harp.

Both harp and angel at the same time! I must be in ballet heaven.

The highlight of the evening.

Orpheus Portrait: As often happens, what a difference a cast makes! Whereas Sultanov/Larsen had a more noble, almost dutiful husband/wife relationship, Kathi Martuza and Paul De Strooper were far more erotic. With her Olympic athlete’s physique, Ms. Martuza’s shade kept a foot in this world unlike Ms. Larsen’s more otherworldly ghost who was all spectral breath. Softest dancing yet from Ms. Martuza: Lyrical, giving, unashamedly erotic. She continues to impress me with her range. The fact that I wanted the short post mortem section to go on longer is evidence of how much more I felt this couple’s connection and de Strooper’s anguish over his loss. Also, thanks to this second viewing, I became aware of some fine choreography in this work by Kent Stowell.

Lac du Cygnes/Trois: Some cast changes held up well; some didn’t. Holly Zimmerman introduced herself to Portland as a sparkling Russian. In other national dances, a couple of male apprentices were overmatched by the material.

I agree with hockeyfan on the exuberant qualities of Alison Roper’s Odile. As always, this very presentational performer excelled when strength was called for. But Odile is a role of subtle nuance and I felt she suffered from comparison with Ms. Iino. Also, may I say, having now watched both Odiles come up awkwardly short on these blasted fouettes, that I would be thrilled to see them substituted with an interesting do-able grouping of chaines, piques and pirouettes a la Plisetskaya.

Afraid I'll have to part company with you on Artur Sultanov as Siegfried, hockeyfan. He continues to be just plain inconsistent. I feel like I’m watching him learn to partner on the job. I wish I could have felt his acting more but for me much of his character work had too much empty posturing to it. I agree that his solo left much to be desired. I would have thought a second cast of Cotton/Larsen to have been the obvious choice. But I also understand the need to have Ms. Larsen available for the other pieces.

Then again: To have a mixed program which includes the third act of Swan Lake is so ambitious an undertaking that I truly must forgive the shortcomings and applaud Christopher Stowell for his courage to once again ask this new, still forming company to reach way beyond itself and come up with magic; which, in fits and starts, it does.

I keep thinking of Ms. Larsen’s fingertips: Sparks…lots of sparks.


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Anyone attend the final performances? Would love to hear from some local ballet goers.

I think we are witnessing West Coast dance history in the making, on a par with Tomasson's arrival at SFB and Russell/Stowell's ascendance at PNB. Am I nuts?

Please share.


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