Anne Mueller

DanceWatch Weekly: Giving thanks through dance

The "Enchanted Toyshop" returns for another Thanksgiving, and you could make it a Butoh celebration with Mushimaru Fujieda

On this Thanksgiving week there are just two performance offerings, but they are mighty. The first is a double bill performed by the students of The Portland Ballet (TPB) of The Enchanted Toyshop, choreographed by John Clifford (restaged by founder and TPB artistic director Nancy Davis), and the world premiere of Tourbillon by TPB artistic director Anne Mueller. Both works will be performed to live music by The Portland State University Orchestra, under the direction of Ken Selden, and open Friday, November 24, at Lincoln Performance Hall. The second concert features Butoh artist Mushimaru Fujieda and his solo Natural Physical Poetry, at The Headwaters Theatre for one night only, also on the 24th.

Quickly becoming a Portland Thanksgiving holiday tradition, much as The Nutcracker is for Christmas, The Enchanted Toyshop – originally titled La Boutique Fantasque – was choreographed by Leonide Massine for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1919. Clifford has adapted the story ballet for The Portland Ballet, cutting out much of the original libretto but keeping the original sets and costumes and making room for many new characters. Clifford, a protégé of George Balanchine, is an artistic advisor to TPB and provides a link for the company to one of America’s most influential ballet choreographers.

The Portland Ballet in The Enchanted Toyshop. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

Dance writer Martha Ullman West, in her ArtsWatch review of the show last year, said the ballet “offers comedy and pathos, fantasy and romance, a thoroughly satisfactory happily-ever-after-ending…”

The Enchanted Toyshop, featuring a cast of 75 dancers and 38 musicians, taps into the childhood fantasy of accidentally getting locked in a toy shop overnight. Adventure ensues when toys come to life, and so does lots of dancing by fairies, dolls, children, and Pinocchio, who serves as the master of ceremonies.

Tourbillon, by Mueller, is a new ballet for 27 advanced dancers, set to the music of Joseph Lanner, an Austrian dance composer from the early 1800s who helped popularize the waltz. The ballet features two waltzes, a galop, and a polka danced in colorful 1950s cotillion-inspired dresses, white gloves, and jeweled crowns.

Butoh artist Mushimaru Fujieda. Photo courtesy of Mizu Desierto and Water in the Desert.

Natural Physical Poetry, by Japanese Butoh artist Fujieda, is a solo performance that expresses emotional moments in life poetically, utilizing the body’s movement in relation to its own breath and rhythm, producing a combination of tension and lyricism.

Originally from Handa city, in the Aichi Prefecture of Japan, Fujieda has worked as an actor, scriptwriter, director, producer, writer, and dancer, performing internationally since 1972.

This week’s DanceWatch is brought to you from the beautiful, tropical island of Maui, in Hawaii. I’m here with my family hiding out, but having lots of fun, trying to subvert the traditional Thanksgiving celebration, which wasn’t even a real event, anyway. We are vegetarians (for religious reasons), and we don’t really like the post-holiday shopping mania in celebration of this fictitious, whitewashed holiday.

But I do enjoy the underlying sentiment of Thanksgiving, which is not meat-based, and is about being thankful and generous, and I think traditional Hawaiian culture embodies those sentiments wholeheartedly.

In Hawaii, “Aloha” isn’t just a generous feel-good greeting but also an embodied way of life. Aloha is a way of living and treating each other with love and respect. The lei, which can be made of flowers, feathers, or nuts, is a symbol of family and unity, and the beautiful dancing that Hawaii is so famous for is actually the entire history of the culture told through movement.

So in the spirit of Aloha, Happy Thanksgiving.

Coming up next week: BodyVox celebrates its 20th anniversary with the premiere of Lexicon, a new work by BodyVox directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland in collaboration with Italian avant-garde composer Ludovico Einaudi. Lexicon creates a new performance experience by marrying dance and technology and by having the dancers interact with infrared sensors, live video graphic generation, motion capture, virtual reality, and more, live on stage.

Performances this week

Mushimaru Fujieda: Natural Physical Poetry Performance
hosted by Water in the Desert
8 pm November 24
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St. # 4

The Enchanted Toyshop by John Clifford, Tourbillon by Anne Mueller
Performed by the PSU Orchestra and The Portland Ballet
November 24-26
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.

Upcoming Performances

November 30-December 16, Lexicon (world premiere), BodyVox
December 1-3, SAY WHEN -a mini festival, Hosted by Physical Education
December 2, Tidal-the first cut, Wobbly Dance

December 7-9, Bolero + Billie, Ihsan Rustem, NW Dance Project
December 8-9, The Nutcracker with Chamber Ballet of Corvallis, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
December 9, Winter Dance Concert, Reed College Performing Arts
December 9-24, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 13-17, a world, a world (work-in-progress), Linda Austin Dance, PWNW
December 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance, Crystal Jiko, Tere Mathern, Madison Page, Wolfbird Dance
December 17, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
December 17, Fiesta Navideña, Hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland
December 22-24, The Nutcracker with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene


January 12, Love Heals All Wounds, Lil’ Buck and Jon Boogz, Presented by Portland’5 Center for the Arts
January 18-28, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin’ Greenhouse
January 25-27, Rennie Harris Puremovement, presented by White Bird
January 28, Garden of Earthly Delights with Salem Concert Band (World premiere), Rainbow Dance Theatre, Independence

February 1-10, The skinner|kirk DANCE ENSEMBLE, presented by BodyVox
February 4, The Lady Of The Camellias, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
February 17-18, Pink Martini, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
February 21, Mark Morris Dance Group, presented by White Bird
February 23-25, Configure, PDX Contemporary Ballet
February 24-March 4, Alice (in wonderland), choreography by Septime Webre, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre

March 1-3, Urban Bush Women, presented by White Bird
March 4, The Flames Of Paris, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
March 8-10, Jessica Lang Dance, presented by White Bird
March 14, Compañia Jesús Carmona, presented by White Bird
March 15-17, World Premiere’s by Sarah Slipper and Cayetano Soto, NW Dance Project
March 22-24, To Have It All, choreography by Katie Scherman, presented by BodyVox

April 4, iLumiDance, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5, Earth Angel and other repertory works, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5-7, Stephen Petronio Company, presented by White Bird
April 8, Giselle, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
April 12-14, Contact Dance Film Festival, presented by BodyVox and Northwest Film Center
Apr 14-25, Peer Gynt with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
April 12-21, Man/Woman, choreography by Mikhail Fokine, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Nicolo Fonte, James Canfield, Jiří Kylián, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 19-28, Early, push/FOLD, choreographed and directed by Samuel Hobbs
April 20-29, X-Posed, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
April 24-25, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
April 24-25, The Wind and the Wild, BodyVox and Chamber Music Northwest

May 4-5, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, New work premiere, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Western Oregon University, Monmouth
May 10-19, Rain & Roses (world premiere), BodyVox
May 11-13, Compose, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 16, Ballet Hispȧnico, presented by White Bird
May 17-20, CRANE, a dance for film by The Holding Project
May 23-June 3, Closer, original works by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre

June 8-10, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 10, Coppelia, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
June 14-16, World Premiere – Ihsan Rustem, MemoryHouse – Sarah Slipper, NW Dance Project
June 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem


Fresh faces, historic ballet

A hundred years after Ballets Russes's sole Portland performance, the young dancers of The Portland Ballet delve into the Russian tradition

“Ms. Davis, this is my daughter, she’s 5, and I’m wondering if you have a class she could take?”

“What a wonderful show. My daughter has been studying ballet since she was 8, she’s 12 now, do you think she could study at Portland Ballet?”

These were two of the many questions fielded by Nancy Davis, who with Anne Mueller is co-artistic director of the The Portland Ballet, immediately following the conclusion of their spring concerts at PSU’s Lincoln Performance Hall on the last Saturday in May.

And I couldn’t help thinking that these and other questions were inspired by the palpable pleasure the young performers were taking in being on stage, dancing their hearts out in a difficult program that demanded the mastery of quite different techniques and styles.

Henry Winslow and Naomi Rux in “Les Sylphides.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The program was keyed to ballet history in Portland and elsewhere, and began with Les Sylphides, the Michel Fokine ballet that Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes performed here a century ago, in the spring of 1917. Set to an arrangement of Frédéric Chopin’s music by that most Russian of composers, Alexander Glazunov, it premiered as “Chopiniana” at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1907. The version performed by TPB, its third revision by the choreographer, was made for the Ballets Russes’s first tour to Paris, and premiered at the Théâtre du Chatelet, in 1909, with Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky heading the cast.


Enchanted Toyshop, all Gift Boxed

The Portland Ballet's holiday special features John Clifford's charming revision of a Ballets Russes original, plus a new piece by Anne Mueller

At the opening of The Portland Ballet’s annual holiday concert at PSU’s Lincoln Performance Hall on Friday afternoon I found quite a few reasons to be thankful. Many of them were kids, dancing their hearts out in John Clifford’s version of The Enchanted Toyshop.

Originally titled La Boutique Fantasque and choreographed by Leonide Massine for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (it premiered in London in 1919), Toyshop in Clifford’s version discards most of the libretto conceived by Massine and painter André Derain, who also designed the sets and costumes.  Derain’s designs are meticulously replicated for TPB by the wonderful Mary Muhlbach, who was also responsible for new designs for added characters:  Pinocchio, who serves as master of ceremonies; Amélie, the shopkeeper’s wife; the Blue Fairy; the Giselle doll; and hordes of miscellaneous children visiting the toy shop with their parents.

Kerridwyn Schanck, Andrew Davis, Lauren Kness in "Toyshop." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Kerridwyn Schanck, Andrew Davis, Lauren Kness in “Toyshop.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The Enchanted Toyshop – set to music by Gioacchino Rossini, arranged and orchestrated by Ottorino Respighi, and expanded by Clifford with more of Respighi’s music orchestrated by Benjamin Britten – offers comedy and pathos, fantasy and romance, a thoroughly satisfactory happily-ever-after-ending, and a lot of dancing, mainly by mechanical dolls who have come to life. (Think Nutcracker, think Coppélia, and sophisticates can also think Mary Oslund’s Reflex Doll.)


I love the silence that surrounds me when I stand in the middle of a heavy snowfall. It feels strange and exciting, magical and otherworldly, like time is standing still. It’s amazing to me that you can see so much movement in the falling snow, but not hear a sound. In this moment, my senses are heightened and I notice things I’ve never noticed before. The snow is beautiful and I feel happy, calm, and my mind it quiet and focused-which is difficult to do sometimes.

The only other experience that I can equate to this, for me, is dancing and watching dance. In these moments I am able to focus my mind and my body, transport myself, and block out everything that isn’t necessary for that moment. Right now I want this. I am exhausted from the election, the constant chatter on Facebook, the news, the atrocities in the world, the suffering, the anger, the fighting, everything.

I am not trying to encourage sticking your head in the sand but rather to encourage art making, doing and seeing. It seems like the best possible way to process what is going on around us, and it might even give us a feeling of empowerment over our circumstances.

In keeping with the Thanksgiving tradition of avowing what we are thankful for, I am most thankful for dance and dance makers and artists of all kinds, they transport me and help me see and feel things I might not have been able to on my own.

I am specifically thankful for the four performances that I witnessed and participated in post-election and the ideas they left behind: my own, The Kitchen Sink, Linda Austin’s The last bell rings for you, Reggie Wilson’s Moses(es), and Suspended Moment: Activating the Nuclear Past + Present by Meshi Chavez, Yukiyo Kawano, Allison Cobb and Lisa DeGrace.

The Kitchen Sink was a year-long project that I worked on with fellow dancers Celine Bouly and Abigail Nace, which culminated last weekend at BodyVox. You can read about my process creating the dance in a story I wrote for ArtsWatch.

What’s my take away from my own show? I love circles. Circles are not a choreographic trope that choreographers use when they run out of ideas.They are beautiful, timeless, natural and full of meaning. Life is circular, my joints move in circles, I will always use them.

The last bell rings for you seemed to say that every “body” is sacred with the ringing of bells by performers (as well as audience members) as a variety of bodies moved as humans do throughout the performance space at Shaking the Tree Theatre, creating a sacred, church like atmosphere. These 28 bodies explored the space and each other, sometimes moving together, and sometimes not, and often were moved by unseen forces. That made me think about what is in our control and what is not.

Moses(es), which was created across the country in Brooklyn, New York, was similar in structure in so many ways to The last bell rings for you, which is amazing to me given the distance between the two companies. It made me wonder about the power of collective thinking, the evolution of post-modern dance, cultural expectations and that maybe we are more similar than dissimilar.

Suspended Moment: Activating the Nuclear Past + Present, which was performed in the Littman Gallery at Portland State University this past Tuesday, was a scary and timely reminder of what can happen to power when it’s left unchecked. Visual artist Yukiyo Kawano decorated the gallery space with two hanging replicas of the A-bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 fabricated from her grandmother’s kimonos, stitched together with strands of her own hair. In addition she added hanging paper lanterns for the dead, a calligraphic tapestry on the wall with the famous work of Japanese poet Matsuo Basho’s Narrow Road to a Far Province, and a river of rice paper flowing down from the ceiling meandering through the space with the same writing on it.

Butoh dancer Chavez—dancing to Cobb’s poetry recited live by Kawano and Cobb, with music by Lisa DeGrace—animated the space, invoking the spirits of the dead and creating indelible images of death and suffering and remembrance as a reminder to us not to change the narrative.

This weekend offers us three wonderfully different respites from the world.


Dance Cuba, dance America

Malpaso Dance's season-ending show for White Bird and The Portland Ballet's career-beginning performances for its young dancers cross the cultural divide

What is specifically Cuban about the Malpaso Dance Company, which concluded White Bird’s 2015-16 season at the Schnitzer Concert Hall last Wednesday night, shortly before The Portland Ballet‘s annual shows (see below) over the weekend at Lincoln Performance Hall?

I asked a friend who has been to Havana, though not in the recent past, and she listed the following: “the men’s long hair; the street clothing was likely what you would see young people wearing in Havana; and the rhythm – swaying hips and loose limbs were very Cuban.”

Malposo Dance: long hair, loose limbs. Photo courtesy White Bird

Malpaso Dance: long hair, loose limbs. Photo courtesy White Bird

That hip-slung, loose-limbed movement style, and the street wear, get announced, as they should be, in the first piece on the program. Ocaso is a duet performed by the long-haired Osnel Delgado and Beatriz Garcia.  He’s wearing bright yellow trousers; she’s in a simple, dark dress. But Delgado, a company founder, who made the piece, chose music that could have been used by any contemporary or ballet choreographer in today’s world: a sound collage of Autechre’s Parallel Sun, the Kronos Quartet’s White Man Sleeps, and Max Richter’s Sunlight. Globalization struck the dance world long ago, and Cuba has only been isolated from the United States, let’s not forget.


Dance Weekly: Portland Ballet’s ‘Day by Day’

Anne Mueller talks about the world premiere of her "Day by Day," among other things

By Jamuna Chiarini

This Thanksgiving weekend there is only one performance happening and it is a big one, The Portland Ballet will be performing the World Premiere of Anne Mueller’s Day by Day with John Clifford’s Firebird in collaboration with Portland State University’s Orchestra, conducted by music director Ken Selden at PSU’s Lincoln Hall.

Day by Day (World Premiere) and Firebird
The Portland Ballet with PSU Orchestra
November 27-29
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Avenue
Note: 100 tickets will be available at the door every night for $5.00

Anne Mueller photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

Anne Mueller photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

Anne Mueller danced with Oregon Ballet Theatre starting in 1996 and became Principal Dancer in 2007 when the ranks became established, dancing a variety of roles and choreographing. She retired 15 years later in 2011. Mueller was also a co-founder of the Trey McIntyre Project in 2005, working as a company artist and serving as the company’s founding Managing Director and Director of Outreach. After she retired from OBT, Mueller focused on teaching and artistic administrator with responsibilities including ballet mastering, tour management, and acting as Interim Artistic Director following Artistic Director Christopher Stowell’s departure. In 2013 she became the Managing Director of Bag&Baggage Productions in Hillsboro until her switch to her current position as Co-Artistic Director at The Portland Ballet this year.

Day by Day is about the comedy and drama of everyday life performed to Mozart’s String Quartet in B-flat Major with a cast of 98 Portland Ballet students ranging from ages 7 years to 20. Mueller drew on her favorite childhood authors like Roger Hargreaves, Russell Hoban and Shel Silverstein for her visual inspiration and worked collaboratively with artist Morgan Walker of Augen Gallery to create the projected backdrops and costume designer Melissa Heller from Bag and Baggage Productions to make the costumes.

For Mueller the choreographic process for Day by Day really began in February 2014 when she began discussions with PSU Conductor Ken Selden about possible music choices.

On Monday I sat down with Mueller, the Co-Artistic Director of Portland Ballet, at her favorite coffee shop—Pip’s Original Doughnuts—and talked dance. Our conversation bounced around quite a bit touching on many different topics. Here is some of that conversation.

What was your process in developing Day by Day?

The music that he [Ken Selden] initially suggested felt a little mature for a piece for dancers as young as 8, 9, 10, 11: it was much more complex. I wanted something that both had easily understandable regularity to it but that would still be interesting to me and something I would be happy listening to for essentially year and a half and also have depth to it.

I happened upon the Mozart piece, and I felt I could arrange it into something that had a sense of an arc. I didn’t know how narrative the piece would end up being if at all, but I wanted it to have a satisfying arc. I felt like if I switched the placement of two of the movements it would.

What were your first inspirations for movement?

I was sitting in traffic listening to the second movement, the Menuetto, (Mueller sings a bar of the music as an example). It has a very stop and start feel to it, and I was like oh my god! So then I thought about it: “Oh, I can use the little kids and I can make them little cars. I can use them as cars. They have headlights and tail lights and a little steering wheel. And I have a traffic officer that conducts traffic.” So that was probably the first kernel of an idea. Then I just thought, everyday there is comedy and drama, and in those daily things we all encounter, there is a real universality to that idea. And I thought, “Yup, let’s go with that. Something I can work with.

When will the dancers start working with the orchestra?

Tuesday of this coming week. There are things we did to try and prepare the dancers. Ken, the conductor, was there for rehearsal on Saturday, so he got to see the piece through, and we got to talk and he knew which recording I was working with and he knows the tempo the dancers are used to and then I started using an alternate recording. We also have pitch adjustment software, so I was messing around with the pitch speeding up and slowing it down. Just so they have experienced it.

Anne Mueller and Portland Ballet student Medea Cullumbine Robertson. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Anne Mueller and Portland Ballet student Medea Cullumbine Robertson. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

It has been interesting following the progression of your career from afar and seeing how your skills as a dancer and choreographer translate into other fields. I was especially intrigued when you went to Bag & Baggage, which wasn’t related to dance at all. How did you do that?

A part of my professional life that a lot people don’t know that much about is being a Founder of Trey McIntyre Project, I was founding managing director of TMP. I went through the process while I was dancing, I went through the process with two others of building an organization from nothing. I wasn’t unfamiliar with what the operations of a very small arts organization look like because I had started one. I dealt with development functions, foundation communications, financial management. I had dealt with all that stuff before. It wasn’t specifically from my experience at OBT. Those things weren’t as foreign to me as they might appear.

Where do you think the model of a dance company is going? What is your take on that?

If you look at Germany every community has their own dance company, if not more than one, and opera, and so I wondered if the United States might do well to move towards that model, where the major metropolitan cities aren’t the sole owners of arts institutions and it becomes a little bit more localized and hopefully with a local sense of ownership and pride.

What I saw at TMP once it settled in Boise was a tremendous level of excitement in the community for what was going on, huge emotional support, and enough financial support for things to be working. And so that just made me wonder is that the next way that things should be working here?

What did you glean from being on the panel for Marginal Evidence at The White Box?

That’s another huge difference between the way projects generally develop in the ballet world versus the contemporary dance world at least in my experience. I have always felt incredibly under the gun timewise: move fast, get it done, get it done, get it done. Really no time to indulge in any sort of lengthy process. It was fascinating to me to listen to a lot of people say that’s how their process works, they have a lot of in-depth note taking and all of this deep exploration. I was like wow, thats super different.

If you would like to hear the discussion between Curator Chris Moss, Anne Mueller, Linda K. Johnson, Linda Austin and Katherine Longstreth at The White Box gallery for Longstreth’s installation Marginal Evidence, click here.

Did that change anything for you? Would you try something different because of something you learned that night?

I would be curious to know what I would do with the luxury of time and whether that would result in a better outcome or not. It might not for me. If you just have to be instinctive and not overthink things, sometimes that can work really well. I was definitely noting that difference and thinking about it a little bit.

What are your future plans for Portland Ballet?

We just started this new program (the career track program), and right now I’m really concentrating on getting this program off successfully and really making a positive impact on these ten dancers that I am working with and giving them everything that I can to help set them up for success in their auditions, whether they are going on to a professional company or intensive college training programs. So that’s my main focus right now.

In a lot of ballet environments for a number of reasons, dancers who are trying to embark on a professional career don’t necessarily have a lot of supportive resources in terms of where should I go, or what should my resume look like and what should my audition video look like and what places are appropriate for me to have an expectation about. So that is a lot of what i’m trying to do with these dancers as well. Yes, training them in the studio, but also pointing them in the right direction, and helping them understand how you should function in a studio/rehearsal environment that’s going to help your relationship with your artistic director or other artistic staff. Because nobody tells you that stuff, either, you sort of figure it out via trial and error and just getting older and maturing. But why don’t people tell you that—it’s not rocket science, it’s not. You know, it’s important and it has a strong impact on how people’s careers play out.

What are the different hats that you wear?

Primary teacher for the career track, and Nancy (Davis) and I split the rehearsals to some degree: it depends on what the schedule is. I run much of the rehearsals for the career track; I do all the scheduling for the career track; I teach other levels in the school, though not that much at this point because the workload of everything else I am doing is fairly full. I have rehearsals with the youth company that are outside of the career track hours, though Nancy and I are working together. She has let me take the lead on programing, thinking up the ideas of which ballets we are doing and preliminary casting.

For this production I have been doing a bit of negotiating with the collaborating artists, doing contracts for choreographers whose work we are performing. This is something we are ironing but being a conduit of communicating between venue and stage manager and lighting designer and us in house. I participate in marketing decisions and planning. I think that’s mostly it.

What is coming up next for Portland Ballet?

For the spring show, we are doing Valse-Fantaisie, we are doing excerpts of a Trey McIntyre Ballet called Mercury Half-Life which is to the music of Queen. He choreographed it on his own company in the company’s final season, and it’s going to be performed by the Washington Ballet in the spring as well. I actually staged sections of it on the Washington ballet when I was there in October, and I worked with a couple other stagers to get it set. When I get to setting it on the dancers here it will be the third time that I’ve worked with the material, which is great because it’s in you at that point.

We are going to create our own version of the Raymonda Pas de Dix. Raymonda is a full length ballet that nobody really does, but it has a lot of wonderful variations in it and the music is lovely and it’s a nice classically based showcase piece, which are super handy because you can present a classically based work without needing extensive sets and costumes. So we’ll put together a version of the Pas de Dix probably using a corp de ballet of eight and one lead couple. We will go through the variations and pick four that we feel are the right fit for the dancers that we would like to feature. Gregg Bielemeier will do a new work. He will probably start on that in December or January, and Jason Davis, who’s on faculty here, will create a new work as well. Did I get everything? I’m pretty excited about it, it’s super well-rounded.

Next weekend is a really big one-save the date for Alice Gosti, Soledad Barrio, Suniti Dernovsek, 11: Dance Co, BodyVox Dance and Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre.

Young, gifted, and ready for more

The dancers in the rising professional training company The Portland Ballet show off their considerable skills

“I dance, therefore I am.”

That’s the message sent by many of the young dancers in The Portland Ballet’s ambitious spring show at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall last Friday night.

Where this was most apparent was in the two pieces, both of them premieres, made precisely for them, and, in one way or another, about them.  In Josie Moseley’s Us, set to songs by Fiona Apple, the whole cast put heart, soul and body into Moseley’s modern, grounded vocabulary, performed barefoot, although it did seem slightly more balletic than in previous choreographies.

The company in Josie Moseley's "Us." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The company in Josie Moseley’s “Us.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Thematically, Us signals a new direction as well: unlike much of Moseley’s previous work, it has no politics, no deep drama: it’s simply about these dancers and life as a teenager. I’m by no means, incidentally, knocking the earlier repertoire. Moseley has tackled some huge issues in her work, from school desegregation to the Holocaust, and done it with considerable artistic success.

Us opens with a trio, performed by Amelia Carroll, Delphine Chang, and Annie Garcia. Dancing to Every Single Night, whose lyrics include lines like “I just wanna feel everything,” they fully inhabit their roles as yearning, hungry for experience adolescent girls. For the second part, they are joined by Puneet Bhandal, Nick Jurica, Evan Lindsay, Charlotte Logeais, Ophelia Martin-Weber and a number of chairs. Jurica, Carroll and Longeais in particular bring to life the “dancing bird of paradise” of  the accompanying Hot Knife lyrics, though not, except by implication, “If I’m butter, then he’s a hot knife.” Moseley knows when to make use of abstraction in her choreography; the dancers added the eloquence.

Songs also accompany Anne Mueller’s Carioca, in this instance either written or performed or both by Lord Burgess, Edward Eliscu, Gilberto Gil, Talking Heads, Gus Kahn, Richard Rodgers, and Caetano Veloso. The costumes, which are sleek and black, were inspired by Audrey Hepburn’s garb for her quirky dance in a smoke-filled “existentialist” or beatnik club in Paris in that marvelous pre-The Devil Wore Prada film, Funny Face. The ballet’s title and Latin American atmosphere came from two sources – Flying Down to Rio, like Funny Face a Fred Astaire film, and Trey McIntyre’s Like a Samba, which Mueller knows well.

From left: Evan Lindsay, Puneet Bhandal, Charlotte Logeais in "Jamaica Farewell" from Anne Mueller's "Carioca." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

From left: Evan Lindsay, Puneet Bhandal, Charlotte Logeais in “Jamaica Farewell” from Anne Mueller’s “Carioca.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

None of which matters much: What Mueller has made is a closing ballet that showcases who the  young dancers in this professional ballet school are as dancers, and what they have achieved in their training to date. And, moreover, it shows them having fun.  There is an exuberant solo for Jurica; in Jamaica Farewell,  Logeais’ endless legs remind us of Hepburn’s; and, dancing with Bhandal, Lindsay, Hanan Margoles and Ethan Myers, she’s relaxed and at ease and enjoying herself. She begins her professional career at Grand Rapids Ballet in the fall, under the artistic directorship of Patricia Barker, who as a principal dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet had a much-acclaimed international career.

In George Balanchine’s Tchaikowsky Pas de Deux, Medea Cullumbine-Robertson, partnered by Jurica, announced with every grand jeté and pas de chat that on stage, dancing, is where and how these young performers live.  Tchai Pas, as it is fondly called, contains just about every step in the classical lexicon, revved up to maximum speed, and the two young dancers pretty much nailed it.

Many, many dancers have performed this quintessential Petipa-style pas de deux. Balanchine made the duet 55 years ago, originally for Diana Adams, who was indisposed shortly before the premiere, so Violette Verdy ended up originating the role, partnered by Conrad Ludlow.

For Jim Lane and Nancy Davis, directors of The Portland Ballet, it was a signature work when they were principal dancers with John Clifford’s original Los Angeles Ballet. Here in River City, Zachary Carroll and Elizabeth Guerin  performed it in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s second season. I have a vivid memory of watching Clifford set it on Carroll and Guerin, as well as on Diane Fisher and the late Michael Rios.

“Faster, faster,” he kept yelling at them, and faster and faster they danced. Clifford, who in many ways is The Portland Ballet’s good angel, taught the pas de deux to Cullumbine-Robertson, Jurica, Logeais, and Henry Cotton last fall. Since then, they’ve been coached to a fare-thee-well by Davis, Lane, and Carroll, who now directs Body Vox 2 and also teaches at the Portland Ballet Academy.  Sadly, Cotton, who had become an apprentice at Oregon Ballet Theatre, was injured in OBT’s last show; Longeais lost her partner and therefore the opportunity to test her technical mettle in the bravura dance.

Verdy, who is I believe still conveying her technique and joie de la danse to students in the ballet program at the University of Indiana, was famous for launching herself at top speed into Ludlow’s arms in a fish dive. That was a near-miss for Cullumbine-Robertson and Jurica on opening night, but only a near one, and from their triumphant smiles in Blaine Truitt Covert’s photograph, you’d never know they had faltered at all.

Medea Cullumbine-Robertson and Nick Jurica in Balanchine's "Tchaikowski Pas de Deux." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Medea Cullumbine-Robertson and Nick Jurica in Balanchine’s “Tchaikowski Pas de Deux.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The program opened with excerpts from The Sleeping Beauty, the de rigeur classical story ballet for professional ballet schools, which Portland Ballet Academy certainly is.  Lincoln Hall’s small stage and its slippery floor made these excerpts even more challenging than usual: two dancers fell, but made highly professional recoveries. Nevertheless, as the calm, wise Lilac Fairy (she’s the one who puts Aurora into a century long sleep instead of allowing Carabosse to kill her off) Lauren Kness, who is all of 16, danced her variation with a mature warmth and amplitude that bodes well for her future. And in the Bluebird variation (a role Nijinsky danced!), 13-year-old Myers injected his performance with the same wit and exuberance as his Pinocchio last winter in The Magic Toyshop.

Lane and Davis have worked long and hard to get the PDA established, and they now will be joined in this enterprise by Mueller, who will take up full-time duties as Co-Artistic Director of the performing arm and the new Career Track Program. In a pre-curtain speech, Mueller talked about how much she was looking forward to passing on what she has learned in her years as a dancer, most of them with Oregon Ballet Theatre, and as a teacher in the company’s school. What Carioca signals is Mueller’s ability to transfer her own intelligence and wit as a performer to pre-professional students – no small thing. And, yes, there is room for two professional ballet schools in Portland. I’m hoping for more cooperation and less competition than exists at present.


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