Trey McIntyre

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.

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Dance Weekly: Dancers are from everywhere

This week: A month-long celebration of many Asian cultures through music and dance and new works by new companies

The beautiful, transitional month of May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. This month was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10,1869 (the majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants).

Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland will be hosting a month-long celebration with performances every Saturday and Sunday by local cultural organizations and dance troupes representing India, Nepal, Thailand, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Hawaii/Pacific Islands and more.

This weekend China, Nepal, Indonesia and Cambodia will be represented by the Vancouver Jasmine Dance Troupe, Dance Mandal, Haiyan International Dance Academy, Cambodian Dance Troupe of Oregon, Ka Lei Hali’a O Ka Lokelani, and our very own ArtsWatcher Brett Campbell will be playing Saturday the 21st with Venerable Showers of Beauty Gamelan. This promises to be an exceptional experience. Check out the schedule for more information on all of the upcoming performances

Performances this week

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Victoria Chen performing the Chinese water sleeve dance as part of the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month at Lan Su Chinese Garden. Photo by Jingzi Zhao.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
May 1-29
Lan Su Chinese Garden, 239 NW Everette St
See above.

Malposa Dance Company
Presented by White Bird Dance
7:30 pm May 4
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway
Visiting Portland for the first time and closing out White Bird’s 18th season, this Havana-based dance company was started in 2012 by Osnel Delgado, Dailedys Carrazana and Fernando Saéz. It mixes Cuban folklore with ballet and modern dance. The ten-member company will be performing three pieces Wednesday night only: Ocaso, choreographed by Artistic Director Osnel Delgado; Under Fire, choreographed by Trey McIntyre; and 24 hours and a dog, by Osnel Delgado with live music by Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble.

Dance Wire Dance Passport participant. Click for details.

The Portland Ballet om Trey McIntyre's Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

The Portland Ballet in Trey McIntyre’s Half-life. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

The Portland Ballet’s Spring Concert
May 5-7
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave
This annual spring concert danced by the students of The Portland Ballet will feature a wide range of styles from contemporary to classical with highlights from Trey McIntyre’s Half-Life, a raucus ballet choreographed to the music of Queen; the world premier of Gregg Bielemeier’s Separate Times (Similar To But Different Than); with an original score by Jeremy Reinhold; and Jason Davis’ Ochos Niñas en Rojo, to fandangos by the San Francisco Guitar Quartet. Also being performed will be George Balanchine’s Valse-Fantaisie with music by Glinka, Anne Mueller’s adaptation of Marius Petipa’s romantic Raymonda Suite, and Jason Davis’ Simplicity to Chopin originally choreographed in 2012.

Dance Wire Dance Passport participant. Click for details.

I Just Want One Tiny Thing, And I Talk Too Much
WolfBird Dance
May 5-7
Studio Two at Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont, # 2
Co-directed by Selina DiPronio and Raven Jones, WolfBird Dance will perform an evening-length piece introspectively looking at the violence present in the creative process and the pain it takes to birth new ideas. “Thematically razing and remaking, devouring and constructing, six dancers trap themselves inside the fight of the creative subconscious to actualize its intent.”

Dance Wire Dance Passport participant. Click for details.

Photographer: Mercy McNab — with Joanna Hardy, Emily Schultz, Briley Neugebauer, Billy Bork and Mercy McNab

PDX Contemporary Ballet. Dancers are Joanna Hardy, Emily Schultz, Briley Neugebauer, Billy Bork and Mercy McNab. Photo by Mercy McNab.

From Within
PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 6-8
Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta St
To dance or not to dance is the question that many dancers ask themselves when things do not go as planned. Combining poetry, the solo sounds of the cello by Hannah Hillebrand of Northwest Piano Trio, and a tenacious group of ballet dancers, PDX CB choreographers and dancers will explore what makes them want to dance in the face of opposition. The company will be performing new works by choreographers Matt Cichon, Sari Hoke, Joanna Hardy, Briley Neugebauer, Samantha Schilke and Alexandra Schooling.

Noontime Showcase: OBT2
Advanced students of the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre
12:00pm May 9
Antoinette Hatfield Hall rotunda, 1111 SW Broadway
As part of Portland’5 Centers initiative to make the performing arts accessible to everyone, the centers offer free noontime showcases by different performing arts groups from around Portland. As part of this program the pre-professional dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre 2, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s training program, directed by Lisa Sundstrom, will perform excerpts from August Bournonville’s Napoli, which was performed earlier in the season by the main company, along with several other works to be announced at the performance.

FormosaCircusArt2-438x400

Formosa Circus Art. Photo courtesy of Portland’5 Center For The Arts.

Formosa Circus Art
Presented by The Taiwanese Association of Greater Portland
7:30pm May 10
Antoinette Hatfield Hall, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
Hailing all the way from Taiwan, this 12-member troupe prides themselves on sharing the rich cultures of Taiwan while pushing the boundaries of the traditional circus, combining acrobatics, stunts, street dance, juggling, drumming,martial arts and extreme endurance with contemporary issues in a contemporary setting.

Coming up next week

May 12, WE’RE FROM HERE: 3 PDX dancers/film and performance, presented by KBOO Community Radio
May 12-21, EXPOSED!, Polaris Dance Theatre
May 14, Props to Bellydance!, Ruby Beh and Co.
May 14, Renée vs.The Rectangle and Oh, there you are, Nickels Sunshine and Renée Archibald
May 14-15, Coppelia, Portland Festival Ballet
May 20-21, TRACES, Sara Naegelin and Mark Koenigsberg
May 20-21, HAVA | חוה, The Holding Project
May 20-22, Now Then: A Prologue, Allie Hankins

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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Dance card: News and notes of a choreographic persuasion

Trey McIntyre shuts it down, Northwest Dance Project, Conduit, Performance Works Northwest

Portland embraced choreographer Trey McIntyre during his stint as resident choreographer here in 1999—some of the bright contemporary dances he made then are still in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s repertoire (Like a Samba, Speak)and are invariably greeted warmly, and more recent contributions, such as Robust American Love, have continued the relationship.

When McIntyre started his own company, the Trey McIntyre Project, one of his co-founders was OBT dancer Anne Mueller, who as managing director helped guide what was a summer pick-up project through its first few years. She didn’t make the jump with McIntyre to Boise in 2008, but she was there for one of the company’s last performances at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival at the end of June.

“I thought this was a past chapter,” Mueller said last week, “but then I went and it was very emotional—in a fabulous way.”

Anne Mueller and John Michael Schert/ Photo by Jonas Lundqvist

Anne Mueller and John Michael Schert/ Photo by Jonas Lundqvist

I asked her about the New York Times story about McIntyre’s decision to close the company, and she confirmed its accuracy. McIntyre was tired of the pressure and amount of effort it takes to run and keep a touring dance company afloat. He’s rather introverted to begin with, which makes it even harder. He had lots of other creative ideas that he couldn’t pursue (film, photography, writing), and his original “team,” Mueller and John Michael Schert, had moved on.

“It’s worked really well, on a number of levels, and we’ve been able to innovate, but in the end, that level of output is just not sustainable,” McIntyre told the Times’ Marina Harss. That “level of output” was 20 dance works during the past six years, a phenomenal creative burst, especially for someone also responsible for running a dance company.

Not that McIntyre is going to stop making dances: He will return to the freelance choreographer’s life, including an evening-length Peter Pan for Queensland Ballet in Australia, which very well might look wonderful in Portland.

Mueller has just about completed her first year as managing director of Bag & Baggage, the Hillsboro theater company known for the imaginative flights of founder Scott Palmer. She hasn’t stepped away from dance since leaving her post as interim artistic director at OBT, though. She’s continued to dance, teach, choreograph and set dances on various companies. She’ll head to Tulsa this fall to set Nicolo Fonte’s Bolero on Tulsa Ballet, for example. So yes, endings lead to new beginnings.

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Last week I wrote about the first program of Conduit’s Dance+ festival, and I felt obliged to point out that the fourth floor studio can get a little on the warm side. Well, Conduit has brought in some air conditioners to help cool things off, and in any case this weekend is considerably cooler than last weekend.

Two more incentives: 1) Conduit will give you a free popsicle when you arrive (again, trying to keep things cool!); and 2) we’re hearing that Kyle Marshall’s solo, Soundboard, is amazing. You can get tickets online for the 8 pm shows, Friday and Saturday nights at Conduit, 918 SW Yamhill St.

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Northwest Dance Project is featuring new work by the two winners of its sixth annual Pretty Creatives International Choreographic Competition, Lesley Telford and Eric Handman, on Saturday night at PSU’s Lincoln Hall. Both Telford and Handman have terrific dance resumes: Telford has danced and choreographed for Netherlands Dans Theater, for example, and Handman has worked with a host of big name New York choreographers and teaches now at University of the Utah. Doors open at 7, dance begins at 7:30 on Saturday at Lincoln Hall, 1620 SW Park.

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Linda Austin’s Performance Works Northwest is hosting a summer party Saturday night at its studio, 4625 SE 67th Ave. Between 6:30 and 10 pm, Austin and such dancers as Luke Gutgsell, Noel Plemmons, Danielle Ross and Grace Hwang will improvise to music by Douglas Detrick and Ben Kates. Then there’s the video component, which will fill up the walls of the studio and an installation/performance by Jin Camou in a vintage Silver Streak trailer. Then things cool off (or heat up) with a dance party until midnight. It’s all free, including beverages and snacks! Such a deal.

Review: OBT’s farewell to Alison

The ballet's slick and polished "Celebrate" is a tribute to its premiere dancer, Alison Roper, who is retiring after 18 years

Mostly polished, partly sophisticated, and slickly crafted, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Celebrate program, which opened at the Newmark Theatre on Thursday night, could have used more depth. Because there is huge depth and intelligence, musicality, wit and dramatic power in the dancing of Alison Roper, whose 18 years of performing with the company is the reason for the celebration. Roper’s final appearance on stage takes place at the end of this run, next Saturday night.

Jordan Kindell and Alison Roper in Nacho Duato's "Cor Perdut." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Jordan Kindell and Alison Roper in Nacho Duato’s “Cor Perdut.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

As a ballerina, she’s the real deal, able to sustain the lead role in an evening length ballet, specifically Swan Lake, her favorite, and as a chilling Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis in Giselle, a role she has developed and reinterpreted over the years.

She has become a Balanchine ballerina without ever darkening the doors of the School of American Ballet, a rare achievement, in a wide range of roles, from the “Russian” solo in Serenade, to the Siren in Prodigal Son.

She has served as muse to former OBT artistic directors James Canfield and Christopher Stowell, and to Nicolo Fonte and Trey McIntyre, and has danced brilliantly in Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush, and Liturgy. In Yuri Possokhov’s Firebird, now in the repertories of Kansas City Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, in an expanded version, she originated the title role.  Possokhov, like every choreographer who has staged or created dances on this company, loved working with her, and it was he who said she could have danced prominently with any company in the world.

While Roper has performed a number of ballerina roles throughout the season (Titania in Stowell’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream last fall; the Sugar Plum Fairy and Dewdrop in The Nutcracker; the female lead in Fonte’s Bolero in February) Celebrate actually contains no role that demands the technique and talent of a dancer of her caliber.

Roper in "Cor Perdut." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Roper in “Cor Perdut.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The meatiest is in Nacho Duato’s Cor Perdut, which, for me was the highlight of the evening. While formally constructed like a classical pas de deux, it isn’t really a ballet, but Roper, partnered by Jordan Kindell, gave it a stellar, fully committed performance.  Kindell, seemingly overnight, has developed into a sensitive partner with the stage presence of a far more experienced dancer, and Duato’s lushly expressive vocabulary, a fusion of Graham-like torso-curving modern technique and ballet, suits both him and Roper. Eloquent, passionate, fluid, like the gorgeous Catalan music, their dancing spoke to the heart, as nothing else on this program does.

Helen Pickett’s Petal, an OBT premiere, has served as a curtain-raiser for many companies, including Atlanta Ballet, where she is choreographer in residence. There are reasons for that: it showcases the dancers; and the choreography, heavily influenced by William Forsythe, in whose company Pickett danced for eleven years, challenges them to do his revved-up, fractured movement, in the improvisational way that Pickett insists that they make their own. What make this Pickett’s work, and not Forsythe’s, are its joyous tone and such tender touches as a woman tracing her partner’s face with her fingertips. And the production values, specifically lighting and costumes, are as one critic put it, “sunny,” thus warming up the audience for what’s to come.

Opening night jitters, made worse by a last-minute cast change, with Ansa Deguchi assuming the role of an injured Xuan Cheng, pretty clearly affected the way Petal was performed on Thursday night. It fell short of the go-for-broke feeling of Forsythe’s The Second Detail, to which many of these dancers gave their considerable all a couple of seasons ago, or for that matter, Smuin Ballet’s performance of Petal as seen on YouTube. But it certainly had its moments: a humorous little challenge dance between Roper and Haiyan Wu, whose innate elegance in anything she dances shone forth here. Deguchi, who is in full flower as a dancer this season, was terrific at a moment’s notice, and a couple of bravura solos by Chauncey Parsons gave it a considerable lift. As a showcase for Roper, this ballet doesn’t quite cut it. It’s a given that she danced well. She always dances well, whether she thinks so or not. Delicate and flowery, however she’s not, which doesn’t mean she can’t look vulnerable: as Odette in Swan Lake, the way she made her powerful body look fragile brought me to the brink of tears.

Jordan Kindell, Avery Reiners, and Michael Linsmeier (l-r) in Matjash Mrozewski's "The Lost Dance." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Jordan Kindell, Avery Reiners, and Michael Linsmeier (l-r) in Matjash Mrozewski’s “The Lost Dance.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Throughout the run, there will be complete cast changes in Petal and Matjashi Mrozewski’s The Lost Dance, which closes the show. Roper danced with chic and snap in Mrozewski’s ballet when it premiered in 2012, but she didn’t appear in it opening night. It’s an excellent showcase for the company’s men. I missed Javier Ubell’s explosive performance from two years ago, as well as Lucas Threefoot’s, but having said that, Kindell, Michael Linsmeier and the up-and-coming Avery Reiners were swell in the trio. And Martina Chavez, who bears a startling resemblance to Ava Gardner, laced her dancing with the the late film star’s signature sultriness. While apprentice Katherine Monogue, filling in for Cheng, doesn’t have her finesse, that will clearly come in time. Choreographically, the pelvic tilts for the men lack subtlety, to say the least, and the port de bras remain fussy and a distraction from some very good dancing by Candace Bouchard and Makino Hayashi. The Lost Dance is Mrozewski’s fifth collaboration with electronic composer Owen Belton, music that has grown on me since the premiere. And the costumes, designed by Adam Arnold, are still to die for.

Following the first intermission, a mixed media tribute to Roper put together by artistic director Kevin Irving was presented by him in a style worthy of Mad Men’s Don Draper unveiling an advertising campaign for Lucky Strikes. It was redeemed by the honesty and directness of Roper’s narration of the jagged trajectory of her career, and live performance by Roper herself as Myrtha, and students from the School of OBT School, silhouetted the way the dancers are in Stowell’s Adin and McIntyre’s Like a Samba.

Curtain calls began after The Lost Dance, and Roper, as is traditional, was pelted with single flowers coming from the boxes closest to the stage. The lady is a class act: while still being pelted, she picked one up and carried it over to fellow dancer Candace Bouchard. The cheering audience started to reach for umbrellas and handbags, but were stopped in their tracks as the curtain went up again on Roper, Brian Simcoe, and Brett Bauer, costumed for Like a Samba. As an encore, Roper reprised her own first featured role as “The Girl from Ipanema.” My seatmate loathes this ballet, always has, but Roper loves doing it, and it showed as she once again danced it with easy fluidity, humor and charm.

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There are six more chances to say good-bye to Roper, and see a company that is dancing very well in the city’s most elegant theater. Go to www.obt.org for schedule and ticket information.

Roper in Helen Pickett's "Petal." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Roper in Helen Pickett’s “Petal.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

 

 

Up-to-date: What’s kickin’ at OBT

New ballet boss Kevin Irving talks about money, a second company, Alison Roper, real estate, and the 25th season

George Balanchine’s Agon.  Three pas de deux by Trey McIntyre, Christopher Stowell and James Canfield. Ben Stevenson’s  Cinderella. Additional performances of Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. Dennis Spaight’s Crayola, to be performed by a newly formed youth company, OBT 2.

Alison Roper, around whom OBT's current season is built, with Artiur Sultanov in Nicol Fonte's "Bolero," 2010. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Alison Roper, around whom OBT’s current season is built, with Artur Sultanov in Nicolo Fonte’s “Bolero,” 2010. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

You could have knocked me over with a firebird’s feather when Kevin Irving, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s artistic director, announced next year’s season, the company’s twenty-fifth. To celebrate that landmark, the season includes works by Stowell and Canfield, Irving’s predecessors as artistic director, and by Spaight and McIntyre, important onetime resident choreographers. And it’s not the slimmed-down, contemporary season that some bystanders had expected. At $5.4 million, the 2014-15 season budget is about $400,000 higher than this season’s – for many onlookers a big surprise, considering the financial troubles the company’s been through in recent years. What’s more, Irving said, the company is looking to develop its East Side property to help stabilize finances long-term.

A new work by Nicolo Fonte on the fall program didn’t surprise me: Fonte, Irving’s partner, has several pieces in OBT’s repertory already, including the recently performed Bolero, which, as it has since its premiere in 2008, brought Portland audiences, cheering, to their feet.

A  world premiere by the hot young New York-based choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie for next April’s show at the Newmark didn’t surprise me either: Irving said last fall he wanted to focus on new American choreographers.  Moultrie, a graduate of Juilliard and a recipient of a 2007 Princess Grace choreography award, defies stylistic pigeonholing, having made work on such ballet companies as Cincinnati Ballet and Milwaukee Ballet, as well as for Beyonce’s Mrs. Carter world tour.  He has also collaborated with the phenomenal tap dancer Savion Glover.

Because of the diminished size of the company and the reduced budget that led to Christopher Stowell’s resignation as artistic director at the end of 2012, rumors had abounded over what Irving would do with OBT’s silver anniversary, the first season he would plan. His experience as ballet master and artistic assistant to Nacho Duato at the Compania Nacional de Danza in Madrid, and as artistic director of Sweden’s contemporary Goteborg Ballet from 2002 to 2007 – a failing company whose fortunes he reversed – contributed to an impression that he might remake OBT into a chamber-sized, contemporary ballet company on the order of the Northwest Dance Project, and therefore not this community’s most pressing need. The worst of the rumors from my point of view was that there would be no Balanchine, other than The Nutcracker, on the season. Balanchine is to American ballet as Sir Frederick Ashton is to British.

In fact, we are seeing no Balanchine this season, save his Nutcracker, and that did not bode well. Admittedly, the current season’s programming had already been set by acting artistic director Anne Mueller when Irving arrived in town in July. But he did make some adjustments, scrapping a new work by Mueller, stabling Petipa’s war horse Le Corsaire pas de deux, and  replacing them on the fall opener with Duato’s Por Vos Muerto.  For the upcoming April concerts, he added Helen Pickett’s swift neoclassical Petal and substituted Duato’s Cor Perdut for Stowell’s Adin.

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The most important change he made, however, was in the season’s focus. It was originally called Tribute, in honor of  Stowell’s nearly ten years of directorship. Irving shifted the homage to Alison Roper, whose performances in the April show will be her last after eighteen years with the company.  The Duato works, especially Cor Perdut, a pas de deux redolent of Spanish fatalistic passion, were programmed to showcase aspects of Roper’s dancing that Irving feels have not yet been brought to the fore. This season, she is the official face of OBT; her image is on every poster, and she is featured in at least one ballet in every show.  As a marketing strategy, it has certainly worked well in selling single tickets at a time when subscription sales are down.  For February’s repertory show Reveal, Irving told me in a recent interview, “single-ticket sales were the best for a non-full-length ballet evening we’ve ever had.  Dream [the season opener] was fourth or fifth on the list for single tickets, so we must be doing something right.” Irving’s catchy one-word titles for programs no doubt are another thing he’s been doing right. April’s is now titled Celebrate, in honor of Roper, and the run will end, as is customary, with a retrospective tribute to her dancing.

All that being said, Roper – whose roles have called on her to portray pioneer women and princesses, Carmen  and the Girl from Ipanema – is an extremely hard act to follow. I asked Irving what the ramifications of her absence next season from OBT’s roster would be.

Roper in Balanchine's "Seranade," 2004. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Roper in Balanchine’s “Serenade,” 2004. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

“Promoting the last chance to see her as a recurring theme this season does create an absence,” he said.  “But it also creates an opportunity to begin filling it.” “There are lovely, talented women in the company at this time,” he added, citing Martina Chavez’s “quiet glamour” in the pas de deux in Almost Mozart, and Candace Bouchard’s performance in the same ballet. Haiyan Wu and Xuan Cheng are very different,” he said, “and each brings a lot of charisma to the stage.” Next season’s company will remain the same size as this year’s, with 21 professional dancers (of whom four will be new) on 30-week contracts, and six apprentices augmented by the same number of professional-division students from OBT’s School. They will be performing what is clearly a classically based repertory, representing Irving’s vision for an American ballet company in the second decade of the 21st century.

OBT 25 opens the season with a modern masterpiece. Balanchine’s Agon, a note-by-note, step-by-step collaboration with Igor Stravinsky, was radical in 1957 when it premiered at New York’s City Center, and it still is. This is partly because of Stravinsky’s jazzy, atonal score, music, which original cast member Todd Bolender told me is nearly impossible for the dancers to count in any conventional, useful way. The ballet has no plot or narrative, and the title provides only a partial clue. “Agon” means” contest” in ancient Greek, and the ballet is considered to be about competition of various kinds. It demands the free-wheeling, fearless athleticism that made Balanchine want to work with American dancers in the first place, but it also requires the facility and finesse of classical technique at its best.  Moreover, several sections of the ballet are named for traditional court dances. Bolender danced a solo titled Sarabande; Roper, a Bransle Gay in 1999, the only previous time OBT has performed the ballet. It will be interesting to see how Bart Cook, who is slated to set Agon, will cast it. He did a superb job of staging Stravinsky Violin Concerto a couple of years ago.

Irving, who danced the central pas de deux when he was performing in Canada as a young man, chose Agon to represent the company’s Balanchine heritage for a number of reasons. His personal connection to the ballet, and much else that he programs, is important to him, but Agon, he said, also “added the necessary astringent quality to the program, as it is bracing, athletic, and somewhat a challenge to the audience.” The astringency will balance Canfield’s highly emotional and very beautiful “bedroom pas de deux” from his Romeo and Juliet, part of the triptych of pas de deux that provides the middle of the program, along with one by Stowell and another by  McIntyre, all of them stylistically different from Agon and each other.

With Stevenson’s Cinderella, Irving reassures the city’s story-ballet aficionados that they won’t have to travel north to Seattle, or south to Eugene or San Francisco, to see one. OBT already has several in the repertory – Giselle, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and of course, The Nutcracker – but Cinderella is new to the company. While many choreographers have used Prokofiev’s 1944 score to tell the familiar tale of child neglect and upward mobility with a happily-ever-after ending for just about everyone, Irving selected the British-born Stevenson’s in part because it is modeled on Ashton’s iconic (and I do not use that word lightly) 1948 rendering. Stevenson, who was commissioned to make this version in 1970 for the National Ballet of Washington, retains the sweetness of the comedy in Ashton’s version, but according to a number of critics, it lacks the Ashton version’s choreographic heft. Yet American audiences from Houston to New York  have loved it for nearly forty-five years, which is partly why Irving is adding it to OBT’s repertory: “I wanted something that was really going to be the full classical experience, that would provide an access point for people to come into the world of ballet.” And while he didn’t put it quite like this, that would also provide some laughter.

Duato’s emotionally intense Rassemblement, about Haitian slaves, begins the last show of the silver anniversary season, which ends with Grand Moultrie’s world premiere.  But with the introduction of OBT 2,  dancing the late  Spaight’s Crayola, the show (titled Impact) is very much about the futureSpaight made this ballet as a very young man, winning an award from Mikhail Baryshnikov for a work performed in silence by women in point shoes, with chairs as an integral part of the choreography.  So is signing for the deaf. The dancers perform in brilliantly colored costumes in a work (inspired by Jerome Robbins’ Moves, also danced without music) that is more about nonverbal, non-aural communication than the dancing crayons suggested by its unfortunate title. After watching a number of Spaight’s ballets on video, Irving selected this one because he “wanted something that wouldn’t be just another good ballet, but would stand out for the distinct approach of its creator and be a challenge for the young dancers.”

*

Next season’s budget, at $5.4 million, is only slightly larger than this year’s $4.99 million, making it seem an odd time to expand the organization with a second company, albeit one that is largely unpaid.  “Why,” Irving told me, “is easy.  We need to be more present in the community and OBT2 can perform in venues [schools, community centers] we can’t negotiate with the first company.  We also need to make the professional development program more robust, which will support the School in a concrete way.”

OBT 2 potentially will have six apprentices and six professional division students. This year’s group of professional division students contains six girls, who augmented the cast in last fall’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Nutcracker. They are spending the spring season being mentored and coached, developing audition videos and rehearsing for the School program at the end of April.  This year’s contains all of Swan Lake’s second act in the first half, signaling that the classical direction has not changed under new leadership. Irving’s goal is to develop a repertory just for OBT2, starting with Crayola.

The plan for OBT2 is ambitious, dependent not only on a better financial foundation for the institution as a whole, but also an expansion of what Irving refers to as the infrastructure. OBT owns the entire close-in East Side block on which its current facility stands, giving the company what Irving calls its “one tangible concrete asset.” The goal is to use this asset, which is mortgaged, to get out of debt entirely and build a state-of-the-art facility for the company and the school.  Irving said discussions are under way to find a partner to develop the property, possibly into a large complex of condominiums in which OBT would be the primary occupant. Such a development would certainly provide the stable funding that the company has needed and never really had for the past quarter of a century.

Irving is guardedly optimistic about the company’s future, acknowledging that there is much work to be done in fundraising and season subscription sales. A new search for a much-needed executive director to oversee all that and more is under way.  Irving is, he says, “the leader of a really strong team” primarily on the artistic side, but he’s not functioning as the executive director.  This doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his eye firmly on the bottom line.  Asked why he didn’t program Ashton’s Cinderella, he answered succinctly, “There are cost considerations.”  Given those considerations, OBT’s twenty-fifth anniversary season looks pretty good to me.

 

 

The January news and notes starts here!

News from POV Dance, Phame Academy, Trey McIntyre, Rafal Blechacz and so much more!

The holiday and then the post-holiday fog are clearing, both literally and as a metaphor for your correspondent’s mental state. All that means is that we’re back at it, bringing you the delightful tidbits of information, news, heavily biased opinions, and random white noise you’ve come to expect!

January is looking jammed with art world goodies, which is brilliant because otherwise it gets pretty cold and damp in the ArtsWatch cave, counting the bats and newts. You’re going to have to hurry to catch the Samurai! show at the Portland Art Museum, which Bob Hicks reviewed so well for us way back in October. It closes on January 12, so sharpen those blades now. Otherwise, it’s new stuff and more new stuff.

And so we begin…again.

Continues…

 
Oregon ArtsWatch Archives