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James Canfield

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I was fascinated by the quote Ari posted on Links about James Canfield, who's announced that he's stepping down as director of Oregon Ballet Theatre after 14 controversial years, as the press reports always say.

Canfield, 42, is dangling his portfolio in front of companies curious about the resourceful, entertaining, sometimes controversial director who is leaving the company in 2003 after 14 years. Canfield says that board members from six companies "east of the Mississippi" will attend the show to see his work. Names are confidential at this time, he says.

Six East Coast Companies!!!!! Any ideas?

If anyone went to this he or she has not yet posted on Recent Performances (ahem!). But on the off chance that someone has gone, were any East Coast company celebs spotted in the audience?

For those familiar with Mr. Canfield's work, any suggestions for future employment?

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Well, I've been holding off on this, hoping that someone else would reply, but what's a forum for if you don't throw in your 2 cents once in a while...

After attending perhaps 90% of OBT's performances these past six years (and attending Boston & New York companies for the previous 25 years) I have certainly formed an opinion of Mr. Canfield's work.

Suprisingly, in light of his reputation for "edgy" and "controversial" ballets, it is his settings of classical pieces such as Romeo & Juliet, Giselle, and a particuliarly sharp Nutcracker that I have come to admire most. He has a remarkable eye for line, a strong understanding of Story Ballets, and as a former Joffrey principal knows how to get the most out of a small dedicated company of good to excellent dancers.

His rock ballets and sex-obsessed modern works, for me, are less problematical for their controversy than for their sloppy mix of powerful pas de deux, mush-headed themes, brilliant solos, mediocre corps groupings. A good example is the rock ballet "Go Ask Alice" which featured an extraordinary solo by Stephanie Crank, and ended with some of the silliest dance imagery I've ever witnessed. Much of his recent work has stunning moments, but rarely all hangs together. To be fair, some of his earlier, revived pieces have a Joffrey Billboards-Era feel to them and are quite strong. He also has the good taste to know a superb choreographer when he sees one and invitations to Trey MacIntyre, Ashley Roland and Bebe Miller have brought OBT's seasons up a big notch.

Don't know what's left in the well at this point in terms of new work. Perhaps his leaving OBT is partly an attempt to find a new creative vein for himself. I would think a small Joffrey-esque company that wished occasionally to trot out a White Ballet or make some money with a decent Nutcracker would profit from his broad abilities.

I hesitate before writing this next paragraph, but it's got to be said:

Wherever he lands, dear god in heaven don't let him run the school.

After suddenly (and brutally) dismissing the Head of School, Haydee Gutierrez (an extremely fine professional for whom the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center is building a new Ballet School), he has trashed the place, naming a modern dancer with no ballet background to run the school and hired mediocre or inexperienced teachers who have baffled students and parents with contradictory corrections (and bringing a host of physical ailments: wonder why?). Though there are still a few good instructors left from Haydee's tenure, enrollment has dropped to a low of 140, down from 300. Other ballet studios are renting extra space to handle the fleeing hordes of students. Chris Tabor, late of Cleveland/San Jose has been hired for this upcoming year, but the damage has been done. It will take years to turn the school around. It is difficult for me to write this in a public forum, but I hold Mr. Canfield directly responsible for this very sorry state of affairs. And quite honestly, now that he is leaving, I feel he is "getting away" with it. Desperate personal entreaties to address the school situation have received no response from him as he sits imperiously in his bank vault office. (No kidding: that alone speaks volumes) Hopefully, the board is addressing this situation as they look for a new Artistic Director.

I suppose the irony in all this is that James himself is an extraordinary teacher. As the parent of a top level student I've observed his classes several times and always come away with admiration for his eye and fine corrections and ability to inspire young people. But his classes have dwindled to a precious few.

I suppose saying "go figure" would be trite and cliched at this point, but that's where I'm left after six years observing this mass of contradictions known as James Canfield.


(BTW: I am not a vengeful parent "getting even" because my daughter or son did not get a featured solo in the Spring Recital or Nutcracker. My child has been one of the chosen few to receive special attention. That's what made this so hard to write. But I don't think anyone should ruin what was a fine ballet school and walk away without somebody [me] calling them on it, regardless of my personal good fortune.)

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Thank you very much for that interesting and measured assessment, Watermill. I can't comment substantively since I haven't seen a work of Canfields in years -- he was a member of the Washington Ballet and choreographed for it -- but he certainly has been America's Bad Boy for at least the last decade. Maybe he's tired of that, too.

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Watermill, thanks for your thoughtful and thought provoking reply.

I have never seen his works, but have been reading the reviews and related news articles... Your observations are quite interesting.

Very sorry to hear about the school situation.:(

I do look forward to seeing his work one day...East of the Mississippi.:(

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