portland ballet

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.

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‘Terra’ firma: OBT’s dancers shine

A ballet program of Nacho Duato and Helen Pickett, including the premiere of her "Terra" belongs to the company's performers

Xuan Cheng, Thomas Baker, Peter Franc, Michael Linsmeier, Avery Reiners, and Brian Simcoe, gazing upward, their mouths held open in a butoh-like silent scream, in the world premiere of Helen Pickett’s Terra.

Jacqueline Straughan wrapping her long, beautiful legs around Franc’s bare torso in Nacho Duato’s El Naranjo.

Martina Chavez, bent double, skittering across the stage barefoot in Duato’s Jardi Tancat.

Emily Parker, metaphorically taking down Linsmeier and Franc with a flick of her pointe shoe aimed at the back of their knees in Pickett’s Petal.

The OBT company in the world premiere of Helen Pickett’s “Terra.” Photo: James McGrew

For better or worse, these are some of the images – all of them of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s dancers ( this show belongs to them) – I’ve been mulling over since Thursday night when the company opened its annual mixed repertory program at the Newmark Theater.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: all that glitters, all that glows

A holiday compendium: in dark times, a triumph of artistic light

I read the news today, oh boy. It’s a compulsion begun in childhood with the sports and comics pages of broadsheet newspapers (Duke Snider! Alley Oop!) and expanded, as I grew older, into the full range of world events and a long career inside the sausage factory of the newsgathering game. Rarely has the news looked more bleak or fragile than it does today: who knows where that latest piece of Internet-amplified information came from, or whether it was invented by fierce partisans out of outsourced whole cloth, without a whiff of objectivity or credibility? Truth becomes the loudest voice; the loudest voice becomes the truth. Oh boy, indeed.

Miya Zolkoske and Andrea Whittle (foreground) with ensemble in "A Civil War Christmas." Photo: Owen Carey

Miya Zolkoske and Andrea Whittle (foreground) with ensemble in “A Civil War Christmas.” Photo: Owen Carey

Hardly a time, it would seem, for visions of sugarplums. And yet, as the holidays roar into their inescapable month of triumph (if there’s a “war on Christmas,” its battlefields seem to be in places like Walmart and Macy’s and Amazon) I find myself, once again, comforted by the beauty and ritual of the season’s quiet core. At our house we have our own holiday rituals, including a strict paternal ban on pulling out the Christmas CDs before Thanksgiving, a ruling that is regularly and gleefully broken by the better natures of the household, who know a sucker when they see one. Lately, having once again acquiesced to the inevitable, I’ve been listening to an old favorite, “Christmas in Eastern Europe,” from the Bucharest Madrigal Choir.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: tweet charity

"Hamilton" and Trump's tweets, artists in crisis, new holiday shows, shakeups at Disjecta and Post5, Moses(es) and more

And then he tweeted. The president-elect of these United States is, of course, a thumbmeister of prodigious proclivity, hurling 140-character putdowns and opinions into the Twittersphere with disruptive glee and strategical savvy. It’s a brave new political world out there, and Donald Trump has shown a mastery of its evolving mechanics.

This particular tweet, as most any arts follower knows by now, was a finger-wagging at the cast and creators of the Broadway musical hit Hamilton, a show that Vice President-elect Mike Pence had attended, and where he became the recipient of a post-show plea from the stage to recognize and support the American diversity that the people on the stage represented. It was a highly unusual shout-out, but these are highly unusual times, and Pence, who has a history of hardline opposition to LGBTQ rights (he is even widely believed to have supported shock therapy to “cure” people of their homosexuality, though Snopes.com says that’s not entirely true) seemed a highly unusual attendee at a Broadway musical, an art form suffused with gay culture.

Teddy Roosevelt advocated the "bully pulpit." Donald Trump prefers Twitter.

Teddy Roosevelt advocated the “bully pulpit.” Donald Trump prefers Twitter.

Was the Hamilton cast rude or presumptuous? Maybe, although its spokesman spoke softly and carried only a verbal stick, lecturing in the politest of tones. He implored the audience not to boo Pence, and yet boo it did, which in its own way is intriguing, because a theater full of people who can afford tickets to the highest-priced show on Broadway is hardly a cross-sampling of the downtrodden.

Pence, asked later about the incident, said he wasn’t bothered by it, and the pushback was “what freedom sounds like.”

Trump was not so mild. “The theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!” tweeted the man who tosses out insults with abandon and does not apologize.

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Giants 3, masterpieces 1

Oregon Ballet Theatre's "Giants" program promises big things. Only Balanchine's "Serenade" fully delivers.

What makes a ballet a masterpiece?

George Balanchine’s Serenade, the first work on Oregon Ballet Theatre’s  “Giants” program, which I saw at the Keller auditorium on Saturday night, set me thinking about that. Because, in my view, it is the only masterpiece on a program that also included William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated and the premiere of OBT resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte’s Giants Before Us.

Serenade, set to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade in C for String Orchestra, premiered in 1935, following a preview on the Warburg estate in 1934, and was the first ballet Balanchine made on American dancers.  It is at once a  tribute  to his own training in pre-revolutionary Russia at the Imperial School in St. Petersburg, and the cornerstone  of the new American classicism that Lincoln Kirstein charged him with developing.

Martina Chavez, Candace Bouchard, Thomas Baker, Jacquelin Straughan in "Serenade." Photo: Yi Yin

Martina Chavez, Candace Bouchard, Thomas Baker, Jacquelin Straughan in “Serenade.” Photo: Yi Yin

Balanchine liked to use cooking as a metaphor when speaking about his work.  The version of Serenade that OBT’s dancers are performing—and damned well—was slow-cooked for three decades, the fourth movement of the score inserted in 1941, the lovely, flowing costumes replacing unbecoming tunics in 1950, the master chef adding ingredients and correcting the seasoning, if you will, until the mid-’60s. Balanchine changed his ballets all the time, of course, adjusting steps to suit the dancers who performed them over the years, or, more often, to challenge them to jump higher, spin faster, travel farther.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: the kindness of strangers and the skin of our teeth

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Here it is, the middle of May, and suddenly Portland’s theater season is entering its final stretch before summer, which brings its own busy theater mini-season, indoors and out. The city’s two biggest companies open shows this weekend, both high-profile American classics and both due for a fresh look.

Flickering desire: "Streetcar" at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

Flickering desire: “Streetcar” at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

On Friday, Portland Center Stage opens its revival of Tennessee Williams’ rough, sensual, groundbreaking A Streetcar Named Desire, which in its 1947 debut featured Jessica Tandy as Blanche, Kim Hunter as Stella, and a smoldering hunk of muscle named Marlon Brando as Stanley. Center Stage has come up with a new Southern strategy, rethinking the play in a thoroughly multiracial milieu, with national players Kristen Adele as Stella, Demetrius Grosse as Stanley, and Diedrie Henry (a onetime regular at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) as Blanche. Can we depend on the kindness of strangers?

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ArtsWatch Weekly: the merry busy month of May

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

If April is the cruelest month (it might not be; we mainly have Tom Eliot’s word for that, and he was a great poet but underqualified as a meteorologist) May is shaping up to be one of the busiest. The calendar’s in almost embarrassingly fertile bloom, with far more going on than any one person could possibly get to. Some of it’s off in the distance a bit: the blend of ancient and contemporary in the choir Cappella Romana’s New Mystics from East & West, May 14-15; Portland Center Stage’s eagerly anticipated revival of A Streetcar Named Desire, opening May 20; a new show at Imago by the contemporary absurdist Carol Triffle, Francesca, Isabella, Margarita on a Cloud, also opening May 20; Mahler’s grand Symphony No. 3, May 21 and 23 at the Oregon Symphony.

But, really, the list for just the coming week is boggling. So let’s get right to it (and keep in mind, this is a very partial selection):

 


 

Cuba's Malpaso Dance Company, Wednesday at White Bird.

Cuba’s Malpaso Dance Company, Wednesday at White Bird.

QUEEN, TREY, CUBAN DANCE. An intriguing synchronicity of dance and music arrives in three events from three different companies.

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