Napoli

OBT in Napoli: a hit and a miss

The ballet troupe opens its season with a bright and joyous Bournonville, and an overwrought Kudelka premiere

Oregon Ballet Theatre opened its 2015-16 season at the Keller Auditorium on Saturday night with excellent dancing and a bill that was mixed, to say the least.

Violinist Aaron Meyer and his five-piece band set the Italian tone, sort of, with an over-miked selection of music from the land of Chianti and pasta. This musical antipasto concluded with a slice of Vivaldi’s Seasons and a small (too small!) segment of Nicolo Fonte’s Beautiful Decay, an evening-length ballet about the life cycle, which will end OBT’s season of story ballets in April.

James Kudelka’s Sub Rosa, danced to excerpts from Carlo Gesualdo’s complicated, ground-breaking madrigals, purports to tell the sordid tale of the Renaissance composer’s murder of his wife and her lover. The choreographer, charged with making a ballet that would fit the evening’s theme of love, Italian style, wanted to make a ballet that would contrast with the second, and in the end, more successful, work on the program, August Bournonville’s joyous, life-affirming third act of Napoli.

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Guest Artist Amy Watson (left) and Candace Bouchard (right) in the company premiere of August Bournonville's "Napoli." Photo: James McGrew

Guest Artist Amy Watson (left) and Candace Bouchard (right) in the company premiere of August Bournonville’s “Napoli.” Photo: James McGrew

Napoli, which comes after intermission, is the clear highlight of the evening, carrying OBT into territory it hasn’t traveled before. “Move! Move! Move!” Frank Andersen urgently, and loudly, called out to the dancers in rehearsals, and after Saturday night’s intermission, on the stage of the Keller Auditorium, move they did: quickly, precisely, musically, reveling in the detailed intricacies of Bournonville technique, their sheer joy transmitted to the audience even before they took a step, when the curtain rose on Gene Dent’s charming version of the traditional set of the Naples harbor.  Act III is the last chapter of the Danish choreographer’s masterpiece, a story of ordinary people, Teresina, (Cheng) a beautiful young girl in love with Gennaro, a fisherman (Reiners), who in Act I is being pestered by a macaroni-seller and a lemonade seller, while she waits for Gennaro to return from fishing.  When Gennaro shows up with an engagement ring, the two merchants continue to refuse to take no for an answer, so the happy couple escape in Gennaro’s boat, even though storm clouds are gathering.  At the end of the act, a desperate Gennaro returns to shore minus Teresina, who’s been swept off the boat by the violent storm.  Everyone’s mad at him, especially Teresina’s mother. He prays, is given a sacred medal by a passing friar, and returns to the sea, where in Act II he and the medal save Teresina from being changed into a naiad by an evil sea sprite.

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Love and death in Naples: OBT’s Mediterranean adventure

The ballet season opens Saturday with Bournonville's 19th century "Napoli" and the premiere of James Kudelka's Naples-set "Sub Rosa"

Oregon Ballet Theatre opens its twenty-sixth season on Saturday with a Manichean program of narrative ballets titled Amore Italiano. The Manichean idea of dualism, you might recall, views the world as conveniently divided between good and evil, light and dark, or love and hate.

And that’s the great divide of Amore Italiano. Both ballets on the program at Keller Auditorium, as it happens, take place in Naples – James Kudelka’s Sub Rosa in the 16th century palace ballroom of composer Carlo Gesualdo, who was also Prince of Venosa (part of the Neapolitan kingdom); August Bournonville’s Napoli, Act III,  in the city’s sunny harbor.

(From left) Paige Wilkey, Emily Parker, and Sarah Griffin in rehearsal for August Bournonville's "Napoli." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

(From left) Paige Wilkey, Emily Parker, and Sarah Griffin in rehearsal for August Bournonville’s “Napoli.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Sub Rosa, set to Gesualdo’s complex, innovative madrigals, is, in today’s pop-culture parlance, a bio-ballet. It tells the tale of the composer’s brutal murder of his wife and her lover, that dramatically expressive action taking place on a platform, while the members of the court move obliviously through Kudelka’s contemporary take on the patterns of the social dances of the time.

The third act of Napoli, on the other hand, is a celebration of life itself, as well as the triumph of good over evil, and love over avarice.  Here’s the back story: Bournonville, the great 19th century Danish choreographer, served as director of the Royal Danish Ballet at the king’s pleasure. In 1842, Bournonville displeased his boss and was exiled for a year. Urged by his friend Hans Christian Andersen, he traveled in Italy, where observation of street life in Naples fed his creative soul. The result was a masterpiece called Napoli, which is not, repeat not, about peasants, happy or otherwise, but rather about fishermen, merchants, religious faith and dancing itself: light as air, intricate, fiendishly difficult, glorious dancing.

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