'Rubies,' 'Twilight,' 'Duo Fantasy' and 'Company B'
October 11, 2003
-- Keller Auditorium, Portland, Oregon
Much has been and will be written about the impact of Christopher Stowell's
San Francisco Ballet pedigree and Pacific Northwest Ballet heritage on
Oregon Ballet Theatre, but a profound effect of his appointment as Artistic
Director may be the influence of Portland on the performing arts scenes
in San Francisco and Seattle. With the convergence of ballet glitterati
from these two cities descending upon Keller Auditorium to fete their
favorite son -- both figuratively and literally -- it is hard not to be
impressed by the intermingling of talents and the osmosis of thoughts
and ideas between north and south. Portland could very well become the
genesis and the center of a new US West Coast axis. The opening night
festivities are only a glimpse of more to come.
None of the excitement will translate into an explosion of the arts scene,
of course, without a bold and astute director with a sense of programming
that not only impresses visiting ballet dignitaries but also challenges
the local audience. If Portland balletomanes of... both shades... didn't
know what to expect before Saturday night, they certainly do now. In one
fell swoop, using works by four diverse legends of ballet and dance --
George Balanchine, Paul Taylor, Helgi Tomasson, and his father, Kent Stowell
-- the younger Stowell has announced the beginning of a new era, with
an emphasis on ballet aesthetics and strong choreographic content. Ticket
sales grew forty percent, perhaps a sign of approval from the community.
As if to underline acceptance of the new beginnings, the house rose in
standing ovation and heartfelt approval at the conclusion of the evening.
It helped, of course, that the end of the program was anchored by Taylor’s
"Company B," which was perfomed with a verve and a degree of enthusiasm
that may rival that of the best performances of this popular ballet set
to the famous WWII era songs sung by the Andrew Sisters. "Company B" is
a masterwork by a master choreographer, but for its exhilaration to be
projected into the audience, the dancers must have the stamina and the
energy to "let it all out" and keep going back for more. It can be happily
reported the artists of OBT did very well in this department, with Karl
Vakili and Kester Cotton prime examples in their respective solos, "Tico-Tico"
and the title section, "Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B)."
As always with the first-time setting of a work, there were some rough
edges and some of the subtle expressions were lost in the translation
(but then again some of us are a little too picky). However, former Taylor
protege Rachel Berman must have worked hard with both the dancers and
the choreography, as the two fit like a glove. In particular, Gavin Larsen,
formerly of Alberta Ballet and Suzanne Farrell Ballet, and Christopher
Brough were allowed to express their artistry in the haunting "There Will
Never Be Another You" (To fans of this work, the "Rum and Coca-Cola" girl
opening night was Larke Hasstedt, who was a delicious tease).
The anchor for the opposite end of the program was another masterpiece
by arguably the most celebrated neoclassical choreographer of ballet,
George Balanchine's sassy "Rubies," danced to a jazzy-classical score
by Igor Stravinsky. The leads shone, with Yuka Iino and PNB guest dancer
Jonathan Porretta as the playful couple and a stunning Alison Roper in
the "tall girl" role. Porretta -- who is always on fire -- exuded flirty
confidence and swagger in bold steps. Roper had just about the right degree
of haughtiness to demand the attention of the corps men.
with the other ballets in the "Jewels" series, the corps work is paramount
in "Rubies." While high in quality overall, it was a little disconcerting
to see a differential grade in performance and styles. Cotton's manner,
for example, was more audacious and precise than the other corps men,
and Erika Cole's sassy "cool" was in contrast to a sassy "bubbly" Hasstedt
(or maybe it was the other way around). It will be interesting to see
the company perform this ballet again in the future to observe if further
coaching and experience will smooth out the corps.
There is one bona-fide complaint of this performance, however, and it
has nothing to do with the dancers. It is understandable that the focus
of the company is to build a troupe of quality dancers first, and it is
understood that the live music will eventually come, but seeing a performance
of "Rubies" danced to canned music is somewhat disconcerting.
The only live music of the evening was Pacific Northwest composer William
Bolcom's "Duo Fantasy," performed by pianist Carol A. Rich and violinist
Margaret Bichteler in a ballet by the senior Stowell. Caught in between
a subtle but yet sexually powerful contest between Roper and Tracy Taylor
is Artur Sultanov, a towering but yet submissive figure. The intricate
movements signifying tension and passion, and attraction and repulsion,
dangerously confined -- literally -- within a boxed environment are delightfully
teased out by the dancers in concert with the musicians. This is a Stowell
work to be cherished, even if a tad long.
In a similar vein, Tomasson's "Twilight" explores the relationship between
man and woman. While Tomasson gives us lyrical movements to follow, he
also leaves much to the imagination, with the help of a subtle lighting
design by Lisa J. Pinkham. Larsen and Paul De Strooper, as if in a real
life relationship that grows, exchange and borrow phrases from each other,
bringing each back in a modified form. Larsen's artistry once again is
not allowed to be confined, with De Strooper an equal partner.
The dancers of OBT gave the impression of enjoying themselves on stage
and giving every ounce to the company and its new artistic director on
Saturday night. And that exuberance surely reached the audience. Ballet
can now have a passionate and educated following in Portland.
Edited by Lori Ibay
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