Newmark Theatre, Portland, OR; April 19 (m), 2014

Dean Speer

Haiyan Wu and Michael Linsmeier in Helen Pickett’s "Petal" Photo © Blaine Truitt Covert

Haiyan Wu and Michael Linsmeier in Helen Pickett’s “Petal”
Photo © Blaine Truitt Covert

I sometimes imagine my life filled with a menagerie of things I’ve yearned for and collected over the years – furry farm animals including at least one cow, bunnies, a llama, dogs [beagles and an English bulldog], great art, great recipes, dancing in ballets and companies I’ve only seen, Summering in exotic overseas ballet schools, and walking on beaches next to sparking blue water. While we are at it, how about friends and relations who are no longer with us but with whom I could visit anytime. I have many desert island ballets on my wish list, too, but Helen Pickett’s ballet, “Petal” is the first ballet that I’d like to take home to mother and add to my personal collection.

I had not previously seen any choreography by Helen Pickett and the acquisition of her 2008 “Petal” for Oregon Ballet Theatre’s latest bill certainly lifted me up with its sunny and cheerful nature, uncluttered and lively choreography, its yellow- and ochre-hued lit backscape designed by Todd Elmer, and by its excellent performers, with retiring principal dancer Alison Roper leading the charge: Martina Chavez; Roper; Adam Hartley; Makino Hayashi; Kohhei Kuwana; Ye Li; Brian Simcoe; and Olivia Ornelas.

The clever and charming “Alison Wonderland” was a very nice tribute to Roper who states that she is leaving full-time performing after 18 years with OBT. With family and archival photos, narrated by Roper herself, we found ourselves immersed in the story of her journey and how she came to grace Portland stages and what she considers to be milestones in her career. Her time with OBT spans all three of its artistic directors and the projected images gave us all-too-brief insight into the many, many roles and ballets with which she has come to be closely identified– and which remind us of her depth, skill, and range. It’s a small comfort to know that she is continuing her association with OBT on the other side of the footlights. Roper is someone I’ve very much enjoyed seeing over the years – her clarity and comfort in all dances will be missed and those memories cherished.

Jordan Kindell in Nacho Duato’s "Cor Perdut" Photo © Blaine Truitt Covert

Jordan Kindell in Nacho Duato’s “Cor Perdut”
Photo © Blaine Truitt Covert

Nacho Duato is a popular and major force in contemporary modern ballet and OBT Artistic Director Kevin Irving’s staging of Duato’s 1989 “Cor Perdut” with Roper and the amazing young talent of Jordan Kindell easily showed us why. I see Duato’s movement palette as “Graham-lite” – dramatic but not narrative and infused with Graham touches – a flexed foot, torso contractions, unusual juxtapositions of arms/legs, a nod of the head in one direction, while the feet go flying somewhere else and all set to the heartfelt earthy music of vocalist Maria del Mar Bonet.

Concluding the formal program was the reprise of the 2012 OBT premiere of Canadian choreographer Matjash Mrozewski’s “The Lost Dance.” A darker work that contains some choreographic conceits – the combined idea of ghosts and ‘groovy social dance’ plus no one touching each other for the first week of rehearsals when he created it, and there is no central pas de deux in the work. He had the dancers create a movement vocabulary for their arm, hand, and head gesture [such as drinking a cup of tea] and then infused these onto leg and foot movements. The result is ballet that grooves and moves along indeed, yet it’s tinged with a sense of loneliness.

Taking us out of our collective reverie was a surprise encore, Roper reprising a role important to her career – Trey McIntyre’s “The Girl From Ipanema” with Brett Bauer and Brian Simcoe. Light and lovely.

The maxim, “A good theatre experience begins at the Box Office” was proven true with one of my most enjoyable pre-show presentations – being able to watch the Company take their onstage warm-up class given by balletmaster Jeffrey Stanton. This was totally delicious, fun and interesting – the Company members appearing at the top of their game. Center combinations were “dancy” yet technically challenging and musically note-worthy. Following this, Brook Manning led us through slides, outlining the afternoon’s program. Concluding this, we were pumped, primed, and eager for the actual show to begin.

All too soon, we were sent out into the atrium foyer of the Newmark and to cool April Portland skies, having been warmed by a program of ballets that were extremely enjoyable, nutritious but not too heavy, which celebrated all the reasons we like coming to the ballet, of a career beloved by the public – and making us already look forward to OBT’s 25th Anniversary Season in 2014-15.