Beautiful Bodies, Part Deux

Martha Ullman West returns to Oregon Ballet Theatre's season opener. Stuff gets deeper.

Xuan Cheng, all wrapped up in “The Second Detail.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert


Dance isn’t static. It changes from performance to performance, often revealing more every time. Going back to see a program a second time can change the way you perceive it, too – sometimes drastically, more often in subtle or deepened ways. On Friday I went back to Keller Auditorium to take a second look at Oregon Ballet Theatre’s season-opening “Body Beautiful” program, which I reviewed here for Oregon ArtsWatch. Here are random thoughts after that second visit, and a first visit to the Portland Art Museum’s eponymous exhibition of Greek sculpture and pottery from the British Museum, which I saw on Thursday. (Bob Hicks’s review, “Sex and the single sculpture,” is on ArtsWatch.)

First, to correct an error from the original review: Apollo learns to strum a lute, not a lyre (that belongs to Terpsichore), and Lucas Threefoot, as Apollo on Friday night, struck that first chord in such a nuanced way you could see the young god falling in love with the sound. Threefoot’s interpretation of the role differs from Chauncey Parsons’ — his is youthfully solemn rather than playful, but his dancing is at once impetuous and elegant.  Grace Shibley’s Terpsichore lives up to her own first name — musical, decorous, dignified. I hope Mr. Balanchine was watching from his Russian orthodox version of the Elysian fields.

After a too-brief visit to the museum on Thursday (I’ll go back to see this beautifully designed exhibition; if the monumental statues leave me a bit cold, the small ones and the pottery charmed me) I was on the lookout for more imagery in “ Ekho,”  and I certainly found it.  So at intermission I asked artistic director Christopher Stowell if he had looked at many images before he started to choreograph this lovely contemporary take on an ancient myth, and he said he had not.  Of course, such statues as the Discus Thrower are extremely well-known, especially in an Olympic year, and Brian Simcoe is blessed with a body that fits the Greek ideal, as is Threefoot, whose dancing in “Ekho” and “The Second Detail” made me think Terpsichore had whispered “Go for it” in his ear.

After seeing a second performance of William Forsythe’s “The Second Detail,” I’ve decided that the sheet-like garment worn by Xuan Cheng in the conclusion of the ballet is a straitjacket from which her flailing arms have escaped, an uncontrolled counterpoint to the uber-controlled, albeit speedy, choreography for the rest of the dancers.  Needless to say, flailing, jagged, near-spastic movement is damnably difficult for an impeccably classically trained dancer like Cheng to perform. And yet she did it, and everything else in this show, very well indeed.

I’d love to see this program yet another time; it’s a pity there were only four performances, plus the school show, where hordes of kids ranging in age from 6  to 17 or so were treated to Shibley and Threefoot in “Apollo” (minus the birth), and “Ekho.” Except for giggling at the very brief costumes in the latter, by and large the young audience sat rapt.

One Response.

  1. Just Dave says:

    Yet another glowing OBT review from Martha Ullman West? Shocking!

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