Portland, Oregon; December 14, 2013

Dean Speer

OBT_Roper_Bauer_pas de deux A very large-sized gift to the Portland community, the cranberry-colored confection of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s production of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” sparkled at its opening Saturday afternoon. I’ve enjoyed this version since OBT gave it its West Coast premiere in 2003 and I’m happy to report that the 2013 opening performance was one of the company’s best renditions. Everyone was on their game and it was a tight, cohesive show from start to finish

Part of the excitement was the bittersweet knowledge that we were all seeing Alison Roper’s last opening as the iconic and peppermint patty-pink Sugar Plum Fairy. With Brett Bauer as her Cavalier, she radiated joy throughout and displayed her beautiful technique, line, and phrasing – giving every dance a poetic reading. Roper was spot-on with the music, meshing with the mighty OBT Orchestra. I had the feeling that she was really performing – being in the moment – by playing with the phrases, giving us the basic template but adding a longer balance here or an extra something there. She made it exciting, as did Bauer whose partnering was thoughtful and well-placed, for example, lifting her slowly down onto her pointes. Very skillful, reflecting high-level pas de deux work.

Exciting too was Xuan Cheng as Dew Drop, surrounded by a bouquet of dozen flowers. Dew Drop is an overtly technical showcase and she was more than in command of each segment. Her repeated sequence of attitude pirouette back that continued into a fouetté front with a small rond de jambe open attitude devant was spine-tingling. One of Balanchine’s greatest gifts was his ability to move around large groups and his mosaic patterns are very theatrical and read well from all parts of the house. I particularly enjoy how he can take a simple straight line and then break it up into a surprising and dazzling shape, such as when the corps comes forward holding crisscrossed arms, making pas de basque and then breaking that into half, with very fast two turning circles that then break up into a completely different shape.

OBT_Xuan Cheng_Dew DropCandace Bouchard and Brian Simcoe led their team of Hot Chocolate (Spanish) for a fun, sunny time in costumes that shimmered gold, also dazzling us with their arched backs, lifted hauteur, and fiery energy.

Haiyan Wu as Arabian Coffee brought the right among of exotic spice and the clinging of finger cymbals to this part, re-choreographed for one of the strongest Balanchine dancers of the sixties, Gloria Govrin.

Chauncey Parsons’ flying Candy Cane (aka Russian) elicited cheers, particularly as he jumped through his hula hoop, twirling it twice through his legs, an impressive feat repeated more than once. Parsons’ stretched and elegant line etched the dance in space so clearly.

Balanchine is at his best in the Marzipan Shepherdesses (Ansa Deguichi, Katherine Monogue, Jenna Nelson, Kimberly Nobriga, and Olivia Ornelas) with its brilliant pointe work and sharp footwork and quick changes of direction. It’s a miniature masterpiece.

Kevin Cook as the overdressed Mother Ginger took the silliness far but not far enough for me. I would have liked him to not have repeated pulling out the large fan but to have continued to surprise and delight us with a different object each time. Powder puff was good and expected, as was the fan and the oversized hip flask, but I was hoping for something more – maybe a Kindle or to perhaps pull out a pair of binoculars, focus them on the audience and then act “shocked” upon seeing us. While perhaps it’s what Mr. Balanchine intended with the kids, choreographically, I do enjoy it when the last kid stays out from returning under the skirt and then skittles in at the last minute. I expect Mr. B’s dances to build to something and his dance for the talented OBT students is a bit on the bland and predictable side, albeit executed clearly and cleanly.

All too soon, the coda builds to what really is a rousing finale with Marie and her Nutcracker/Prince sailing off.

Not to be missed is the Grandmother of OBT’s longtime dance historian, Linda Besant. It was fun seeing Besant enjoying herself and her character literally turns dizzy silly during the famous Grandparents’ Dance of Act I.

Our small cadre of subscription friends gathered after, each exclaiming what a good show it was and collectively sighing over the amazing technique of the dancers and reflecting on what a good time we all had and how we look forward to seeing OBT as we return in 2014.