A Golden Silver Anniversary
(Agon, Love x 3, Never Stop Falling (In Love))
Keller Auditorium, Portland, OR; October 11, 2014
Mr. Balanchine is quoted as saying that a good dinner has a little something for everyone, comparing this to needing to have a variety of kinds of dances on programs: some grand, some small, some dark, some light – with different textures and flavors.
Oregon Ballet Theatre’s launch of its 2014-15 season is also the celebration of its 25th anniversary. The company began with the merger of Pacific Ballet Theatre and Ballet Oregon in 1989, with James Canfield as its artistic head and Dennis Spaight as resident choreographer and artistic advisor. Kevin Irving, entering his second year and first full season as Artistic Director, smartly and wisely chose a program that had a little something for everyone, including an iconic Balanchine ballet, three pas de deux as a set, and a terrific new commission.
The new work, “Never Stop Falling (In Love)” with multiple dances conceived and set by Nicolo Fonte with music performed live by Portland’s big-band Pink Martini, began with palpable energy from the orchestra as the curtain lifted and this new creation lifted us out of our seats. A fun showcase for the talented OBT dancers, what’s not to like about dancing to chanteuse China Forbes singing about love in English, German, French, and setting the tone for each entertaining dance? Fonte himself describes his vision as a “Hotel of Love”, and this played out well as the 40 minute work flew by, everyone having a happy time being in the moment. It was clear the cast knew they had a hit on their hands, being powerful yet relaxed from the beginning, building to an exciting finale with even a couple of the dancers taking part in the musical percussion.
In the finale, the ever amazing Chauncey Parsons got to regale us with his higher-than-high elevation, particularly one that split second position and then got even more extended, pulling his shins and feet up from a développé.
My only choreographic wish is that I was dying to see, in the exclusive men’s section, the men making coupé jetés in a circle. While I know this has been done elsewhere, famously in Balanchine’s “Star and Stripes”, it would have been fun never the less.
It was wonderful seeing and enjoying again Alison Roper as she reprised her Carmen role in the jailhouse scene with Mr. Parsons, choreography courtesy of Irving’s immediate predecessor, Christopher Stowell. She is one of the best on the planet and it was great seeing her back on stage again. Perhaps she can be persuaded to make future guest appearances now and then, not having to fret about the daily full-time wear-and-tear.
I’ve not seen too much of Canfield’s choreographic work but really liked his Bedroom pas de deux excerpted from his full-length “Romeo & Juliet”, here with Ansa Deguchi and Brian Simcoe. It and they more than met my expectations following the programmatic score and synopsis. Young and looking their parts, Deguchi and Simcoe gave their roles the right balance of technique and romantic sweep.
Last season’s “Robust American Love” created by Trey McIntyre was represented by the “He Doesn’t Know Why” excerpt, danced by Xuan Cheng and Michael Linsmeier. Its premise is pre-Civil War couples and a town, the audience being given intimate glimpses into their lives as the suggestion of what’s on the horizon colors their interactions.
Opening the show was the 1957, now iconic, Balanchine/Stravinsky collaboration, “Agon”, with its 12 dancers in 12 sections to the composer’s experiment with 12-tone music, staged here by Bart Cook. Notable were Mr. Parsons’ solo – ‘Sarabande’, the second pas de trois with Candace Bouchard, Adam Hartley, and Jordan Kindell, and Martina Chavez and Mr. Simcoe in the central pas de deux with its interesting look at extended partnering shapes and unusual technical challenges, such as having to partner the female while the man lies on his back and shuffles his feet and body around to turn – promenade – her.
Another showcase piece book-ending the program, the company looked terrific in “Agon”, yet it left me feeling a bit disconsolate, in part due to their having to render this great ballet to recorded music, rather than being able to respond to the freshness that an orchestra or piano brings. This, in turn, gave the sense that it felt rehearsed, rather than spontaneous.
Some of the evening’s nicest gala surprises included the front-of-the-curtain appearances by Stowell and Trey McIntyre, tributes and remarks by former dancers, the former mayor, and a warm welcome by Irving. The audience loved it when Roper came out shortly before her dancing turn and gave McIntyre a big hug, kicking her feet underneath.
She showed what the rest of us were feeling – the squeal of delight and celebration of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s milestone, but even more importantly, the feeling that comes from being part of something exciting and of an important cultural institution that is
making a difference. OBT 25 included us all in that pride and glory.