DANCE

Dancing inside and out of the lines

Review: Skinner/Kirk's "Within the Lines" thinks entertainingly about fear, restraint, creativity, and crossing borders

A lot of the time, Eric Skinner’s new hour-long dance piece Within the Lines isn’t. Skinner and his four fellow dancers in the Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble spend the hour onstage at BodyVox Dance Center traversing the lines – slipping below or between them, stretching them into different shapes, hog-tying them into corners, wrapping themselves up in them, tripping or tromping on them, using them as springboards, snapping them in and out of shape.

It’s an always intriguing, often beautiful exploration of a question that’s physical, metaphorical, and even spiritual: what are our limits? Well, the line is wavy. But it’s fun and invigorating to watch as these five bodies try to figure it out.

Shaw and Skinner, all wrapped up. Photo: Christopher Peddecord

Shaw and Skinner, all wrapped up. Photo: Christopher Peddecord

Where do the lines come from? Immediately, from the mind and fabrication of artist Sumi Wu, who supplies the dancers with a series of elegant forms, or booby traps, or possibilities, or however you want to think of them. Consisting mainly of very strong stretch fabric and possibly plastic slats (program notes don’t make their construction clear), they’re like little string theories for movement, solid yet malleable, shifting with and against the performers. At various times they seem like clothes lines, circus high-wire ropes, swimming-pool lane markers, big-box gift ribbon, telephone wires, crime-scene tapes. One semi-flexible structure – the same one used in 2012′s Juxtaposed? – is like a cave-sized, see-through hexagonal prism, creating a barrier and a small performing space at the same time. As lighted by technical director James Mapes (who also did some of the fabrication), the dance between performers and set pieces is a rising and falling mystery, a visual banquet.

Skinner began to create Within the Lines by thinking of fear as a motivator, and then moved into thinking about tension, perspective, and space. For a choreographer, or any artist, really, those are central questions of both form and content. It’s not too much of a stretch to say they approach philosophy. And their ramifications ripple into everyday life, from how we get out of bed in the morning to the way we think about the functioning of the culture itself.

There are no libertarians in the world of matter and physics, which has inviolable rules and predictable consequences if you try to ignore them. In a practical, palpable sense, we can never live in the land of the free: transgress the universe too rashly, and it’ll slap us down. We live in a universe of restraints, continually pushing and pulling us, channeling us, limiting and occasionally emancipating us, defining what sort of movement through time and space is possible.

Dance, at least in one sense, is a testing of those limits. How high can we jump? How much can we bend? How far can we lean without falling over? What happens when our bodies meet other bodies, also in flight? How fast can we go until there’s no more speed? The variations seem endless, but the truths of bodies in motion still hold.

As intriguing as the underlying questions are, they don’t mean a lot if the dancing doesn’t capture our interest, and it’s no surprise that Skinner/Kirk holds up that end of the bargain wonderfully well. This is a vividly physical small company of dancers, taut and disciplined and elastic, attuned to traditional patterns but fully at ease with the contemporary approach of using the whole body as a fit vehicle for expression. Skinner and partner Daniel Kirk have been dancing together for nearly 30 years, back at the beginnings of Oregon Ballet Theatre, as longtime and continuing BodyVox mainstays, and with their own company since 1998. Their background in ballet, aerial dance, contemporary dance (both worked for a spell with the inventive Gregg Bielemeier) and the hybrid upbeat Americana at the root of BodyVox is all visible in their own work, which is part of the family but distinctly itself. Brennan Boyer is a former OBT soloist; and Holly Shaw, who has deep ballet background and also works with young contemporary choreographers such as Éowyn Emerald, has a home base at BodyVox. And Katarina Svetlova, who began dancing with OBT as a teenager and was a principal at Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf, Germany, before returning to Portland, brings an unrelenting focus and expansive skills to what’s become a tight ensemble. The movement can be crawlingly slow or purposely wayward, or come in bursts, briefly unfettered. Svetlova and Skinner are often partnered, as are Shaw and Kirk, although things mix around. Skinner lays in a few jokes – not the carefree optimistic humor that distinguishes much of BodyVox’s work, or the absurd humor that Bielemeier mines, but moments of comedy for release and relief.

And although the issue is tension and restraint – how free can we be without becoming formless? – Within the Lines is very clearly formed: Skinner’s made sharp choices about how far things can stretch, and in which directions. It’s a musical dance, and the music isn’t wandering or ambient, it’s melodic and structured. The soundtrack’s a hodgepodge but of a piece, with selections from Erik Friedlander, Osvaldo Golijov, Jenõ Jandó, Kid Loco, Arvo Pärt, Trent Reznor, and Amon Tobin.

Yes, sometimes things stretch, almost until they snap. But Within the Lines makes a virtue of restraint and its inherent ability to create shape. When the lights come down on the evening’s final, memorable moment, there’s no doubt about it: this is the end.

*

Within the Lines repeats at 7:30 p.m. April 19, 24, 25, and 26. Ticket and schedule information here.

Review: OBT’s farewell to Alison

The ballet's slick and polished "Celebrate" is a tribute to its premiere dancer, Alison Roper, who is retiring after 18 years

Mostly polished, partly sophisticated, and slickly crafted, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Celebrate program, which opened at the Newmark Theatre on Thursday night, could have used more depth. Because there is huge depth and intelligence, musicality, wit and dramatic power in the dancing of Alison Roper, whose 18 years of performing with the company is the reason for the celebration. Roper’s final appearance on stage takes place at the end of this run, next Saturday night.

Jordan Kindell and Alison Roper in Nacho Duato's "Cor Perdut." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Jordan Kindell and Alison Roper in Nacho Duato’s “Cor Perdut.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

As a ballerina, she’s the real deal, able to sustain the lead role in an evening length ballet, specifically Swan Lake, her favorite, and as a chilling Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis in Giselle, a role she has developed and reinterpreted over the years.

She has become a Balanchine ballerina without ever darkening the doors of the School of American Ballet, a rare achievement, in a wide range of roles, from the “Russian” solo in Serenade, to the Siren in Prodigal Son.

She has served as muse to former OBT artistic directors James Canfield and Christopher Stowell, and to Nicolo Fonte and Trey McIntyre, and has danced brilliantly in Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush, and Liturgy. In Yuri Possokhov’s Firebird, now in the repertories of Kansas City Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, in an expanded version, she originated the title role.  Possokhov, like every choreographer who has staged or created dances on this company, loved working with her, and it was he who said she could have danced prominently with any company in the world.

While Roper has performed a number of ballerina roles throughout the season (Titania in Stowell’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream last fall; the Sugar Plum Fairy and Dewdrop in The Nutcracker; the female lead in Fonte’s Bolero in February) Celebrate actually contains no role that demands the technique and talent of a dancer of her caliber.

Roper in "Cor Perdut." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Roper in “Cor Perdut.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The meatiest is in Nacho Duato’s Cor Perdut, which, for me was the highlight of the evening. While formally constructed like a classical pas de deux, it isn’t really a ballet, but Roper, partnered by Jordan Kindell, gave it a stellar, fully committed performance.  Kindell, seemingly overnight, has developed into a sensitive partner with the stage presence of a far more experienced dancer, and Duato’s lushly expressive vocabulary, a fusion of Graham-like torso-curving modern technique and ballet, suits both him and Roper. Eloquent, passionate, fluid, like the gorgeous Catalan music, their dancing spoke to the heart, as nothing else on this program does.

Helen Pickett’s Petal, an OBT premiere, has served as a curtain-raiser for many companies, including Atlanta Ballet, where she is choreographer in residence. There are reasons for that: it showcases the dancers; and the choreography, heavily influenced by William Forsythe, in whose company Pickett danced for eleven years, challenges them to do his revved-up, fractured movement, in the improvisational way that Pickett insists that they make their own. What make this Pickett’s work, and not Forsythe’s, are its joyous tone and such tender touches as a woman tracing her partner’s face with her fingertips. And the production values, specifically lighting and costumes, are as one critic put it, “sunny,” thus warming up the audience for what’s to come.

Opening night jitters, made worse by a last-minute cast change, with Ansa Deguchi assuming the role of an injured Xuan Cheng, pretty clearly affected the way Petal was performed on Thursday night. It fell short of the go-for-broke feeling of Forsythe’s The Second Detail, to which many of these dancers gave their considerable all a couple of seasons ago, or for that matter, Smuin Ballet’s performance of Petal as seen on YouTube. But it certainly had its moments: a humorous little challenge dance between Roper and Haiyan Wu, whose innate elegance in anything she dances shone forth here. Deguchi, who is in full flower as a dancer this season, was terrific at a moment’s notice, and a couple of bravura solos by Chauncey Parsons gave it a considerable lift. As a showcase for Roper, this ballet doesn’t quite cut it. It’s a given that she danced well. She always dances well, whether she thinks so or not. Delicate and flowery, however she’s not, which doesn’t mean she can’t look vulnerable: as Odette in Swan Lake, the way she made her powerful body look fragile brought me to the brink of tears.

Jordan Kindell, Avery Reiners, and Michael Linsmeier (l-r) in Matjash Mrozewski's "The Lost Dance." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Jordan Kindell, Avery Reiners, and Michael Linsmeier (l-r) in Matjash Mrozewski’s “The Lost Dance.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Throughout the run, there will be complete cast changes in Petal and Matjashi Mrozewski’s The Lost Dance, which closes the show. Roper danced with chic and snap in Mrozewski’s ballet when it premiered in 2012, but she didn’t appear in it opening night. It’s an excellent showcase for the company’s men. I missed Javier Ubell’s explosive performance from two years ago, as well as Lucas Threefoot’s, but having said that, Kindell, Michael Linsmeier and the up-and-coming Avery Reiners were swell in the trio. And Martina Chavez, who bears a startling resemblance to Ava Gardner, laced her dancing with the the late film star’s signature sultriness. While apprentice Katherine Monogue, filling in for Cheng, doesn’t have her finesse, that will clearly come in time. Choreographically, the pelvic tilts for the men lack subtlety, to say the least, and the port de bras remain fussy and a distraction from some very good dancing by Candace Bouchard and Makino Hayashi. The Lost Dance is Mrozewski’s fifth collaboration with electronic composer Owen Belton, music that has grown on me since the premiere. And the costumes, designed by Adam Arnold, are still to die for.

Following the first intermission, a mixed media tribute to Roper put together by artistic director Kevin Irving was presented by him in a style worthy of Mad Men’s Don Draper unveiling an advertising campaign for Lucky Strikes. It was redeemed by the honesty and directness of Roper’s narration of the jagged trajectory of her career, and live performance by Roper herself as Myrtha, and students from the School of OBT School, silhouetted the way the dancers are in Stowell’s Adin and McIntyre’s Like a Samba.

Curtain calls began after The Lost Dance, and Roper, as is traditional, was pelted with single flowers coming from the boxes closest to the stage. The lady is a class act: while still being pelted, she picked one up and carried it over to fellow dancer Candace Bouchard. The cheering audience started to reach for umbrellas and handbags, but were stopped in their tracks as the curtain went up again on Roper, Brian Simcoe, and Brett Bauer, costumed for Like a Samba. As an encore, Roper reprised her own first featured role as “The Girl from Ipanema.” My seatmate loathes this ballet, always has, but Roper loves doing it, and it showed as she once again danced it with easy fluidity, humor and charm.

*

There are six more chances to say good-bye to Roper, and see a company that is dancing very well in the city’s most elegant theater. Go to www.obt.org for schedule and ticket information.

Roper in Helen Pickett's "Petal." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Roper in Helen Pickett’s “Petal.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

 

 

Dance review: In ‘Rocco’ the knockout comes at the end

Emio Greco and Pieter Scholten's US premiere of a boxing-based dance at White Bird takes some time to warm up

The dancers in the ring of "Rocco"/ Laurent Ziegler

The dancers in the ring of “Rocco”/ Laurent Ziegler

Emio Greco and Pieter Scholten have erected a boxing ring on stage at the Newmark Theatre for their US premiere of Rocco, which continues through Saturday night. A lucky chunk of the audience can sit ringside, close enough to catch a spray of sweat or a concession thrown from a usherette tray during the mock intermission. Greco established himself as an uncommonly energetic dancer by the early 90s, attracting the attention of Scholten when he attended one of the choreographer’s workshops in 1995. Greco didn’t believe he could be a choreographer, but soon after he and Scholten began collaborating, they produced not just groundbreaking performances but a manifesto of seven commandments of dance and the body.

Rocco is their newest collaboration, continuing their tradition of experimental, interdisciplinary, highly physical, high-concept works, cut throughout with slapstick humor. Inspired by the 1960 Visconti movie Rocco and His Brothers, the boxing device comes from Rocco’s ambitions and fraught career as a boxer in the film. (The shades of Stallone in his name certainly help with the boxing associations for those of us more familiar with Hollywood than ’60′s Italian cinema.) Rocco and His Brothers also lends the performance its fraternal tension, its themes of pitting one’s body against one’s station, and a heavy influence over the modish soundtrack of the second act of the piece.

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NW Dance Project wraps a decade

… still sock-footed, fluid-moving and full of surprises!

“Ten years! 160 new works!”

Northwest Dance Project’s artistic and managing directors, Sarah Slipper and Scott Lewis, veritably beamed through their opening announcements. They gloried in a successful tour to Slipper’s native Canada. They teased preliminary plans to move their company into a new space. They marvelled aloud that moments from now, the facade of the Jive Building on Southwest 10th and Stark would host a giant projected simulcast of this show. It was clearly a thrilling evening for the NWDP—a victory lap, with each of the evening’s four pieces culminating in an extended curtain call.

Parson and Nieto in "After the Shake." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Parson and Nieto in “After the Shake.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Considering the company’s huge repertoire, the “Director’s Choice” must have been a hard one, but the four pieces that made the cut were, in order of performance:

  • State of Matter, by Ihsan Rustem: A seeming conflict between nude, natural fluidity and black-clad, martial-arts-like ferocity, set to ambient/noise music and spoken word that somewhat romantically equates human beings with dust and clouds.
  • A Fine Balance, by Slipper: A pas de deux featuring Andrea Parson, Viktor Usov, a table and a chair. A seeming couple enacts the varying dynamics of power, domesticity, detainment and upset by posing selves and furniture amid filmic flashes and fadeouts.
  • Harmony Défiguréé, by Patrick Delcroix: Beginning with three couples, introducing three interlopers, culminating in a trio of love triangles. Music and action build to a whalloping climax and subside in a long denouement.
  • After The Shake, a world premiere by Slipper: Ingeniously free-standing brooms that double as pendulums are props in this religious reverie about the rise and decline of Shaker communities. ‘Tis a Gift to be Simple, as arranged by Aaron Copland, is identifiable, as are the motions of chores, barn-raising, worship, and spirit-slaying.

Just for fun, let’s suppose the Director’s Choice program is a concise current summary of the company’s identity—representing not only the benchmarks of a 10-year run, but also the hallmarks of Slipper and Co.’s celebrated vision.

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Preview: NW Dance Project’s really BIG show

The contemporary company celebrates its 10th anniversary onstage, and in a great big outdoor simulcast on the side of a downtown building

Call it the Attack of the 50 Foot Dancers.

While the 10 dancers of the Northwest Dance Project are performing onstage in the Newmark Theatre Thursday night, their giant avatars will be cavorting on the side of downtown’s aptly named Jive Building, taking their art to the streets.

“I’m not chintzing out. I’m going big,” Sarah Slipper, NDP’s co-founder and artistic director, said with a laugh a few days ago while taking a break from rehearsing her newest piece.

Andrea Parson and Patrick Kilbane in Patrick Delcroix's "Harmonie Défigurée." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Andrea Parson and Patrick Kilbane in Patrick Delcroix’s “Harmonie Défigurée.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

This week’s shows, called Director’s Choice, mark the Dance Project’s tenth season, and Slipper wanted to celebrate that landmark emphatically: in the past decade, the company’s dancers have premiered more than 160 works. So the idea of the giant projections on the side of the Jive, at Southwest 10th Avenue and Stark Street, was born. The project’s sheer size and street-accessibility create the possibility of generating an entirely new audience. “We were very interested in bringing vibrancy to the city,” Slipper said. “You know how I’m always saying I want to crack things open. Let people in. Even, it becomes visual art. It’s First Thursday, so the area’s going to be pretty active, which is cool.”

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Up-to-date: What’s kickin’ at OBT

New ballet boss Kevin Irving talks about money, a second company, Alison Roper, real estate, and the 25th season

George Balanchine’s Agon.  Three pas de deux by Trey McIntyre, Christopher Stowell and James Canfield. Ben Stevenson’s  Cinderella. Additional performances of Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. Dennis Spaight’s Crayola, to be performed by a newly formed youth company, OBT 2.

Alison Roper, around whom OBT's current season is built, with Artiur Sultanov in Nicol Fonte's "Bolero," 2010. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Alison Roper, around whom OBT’s current season is built, with Artur Sultanov in Nicolo Fonte’s “Bolero,” 2010. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

You could have knocked me over with a firebird’s feather when Kevin Irving, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s artistic director, announced next year’s season, the company’s twenty-fifth. To celebrate that landmark, the season includes works by Stowell and Canfield, Irving’s predecessors as artistic director, and by Spaight and McIntyre, important onetime resident choreographers. And it’s not the slimmed-down, contemporary season that some bystanders had expected. At $5.4 million, the 2014-15 season budget is about $400,000 higher than this season’s – for many onlookers a big surprise, considering the financial troubles the company’s been through in recent years. What’s more, Irving said, the company is looking to develop its East Side property to help stabilize finances long-term.

A new work by Nicolo Fonte on the fall program didn’t surprise me: Fonte, Irving’s partner, has several pieces in OBT’s repertory already, including the recently performed Bolero, which, as it has since its premiere in 2008, brought Portland audiences, cheering, to their feet.

A  world premiere by the hot young New York-based choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie for next April’s show at the Newmark didn’t surprise me either: Irving said last fall he wanted to focus on new American choreographers.  Moultrie, a graduate of Juilliard and a recipient of a 2007 Princess Grace choreography award, defies stylistic pigeonholing, having made work on such ballet companies as Cincinnati Ballet and Milwaukee Ballet, as well as for Beyonce’s Mrs. Carter world tour.  He has also collaborated with the phenomenal tap dancer Savion Glover.

Because of the diminished size of the company and the reduced budget that led to Christopher Stowell’s resignation as artistic director at the end of 2012, rumors had abounded over what Irving would do with OBT’s silver anniversary, the first season he would plan. His experience as ballet master and artistic assistant to Nacho Duato at the Compania Nacional de Danza in Madrid, and as artistic director of Sweden’s contemporary Goteborg Ballet from 2002 to 2007 – a failing company whose fortunes he reversed – contributed to an impression that he might remake OBT into a chamber-sized, contemporary ballet company on the order of the Northwest Dance Project, and therefore not this community’s most pressing need. The worst of the rumors from my point of view was that there would be no Balanchine, other than The Nutcracker, on the season. Balanchine is to American ballet as Sir Frederick Ashton is to British.

In fact, we are seeing no Balanchine this season, save his Nutcracker, and that did not bode well. Admittedly, the current season’s programming had already been set by acting artistic director Anne Mueller when Irving arrived in town in July. But he did make some adjustments, scrapping a new work by Mueller, stabling Petipa’s war horse Le Corsaire pas de deux, and  replacing them on the fall opener with Duato’s Por Vos Muerto.  For the upcoming April concerts, he added Helen Pickett’s swift neoclassical Petal and substituted Duato’s Cor Perdut for Stowell’s Adin.

*

The most important change he made, however, was in the season’s focus. It was originally called Tribute, in honor of  Stowell’s nearly ten years of directorship. Irving shifted the homage to Alison Roper, whose performances in the April show will be her last after eighteen years with the company.  The Duato works, especially Cor Perdut, a pas de deux redolent of Spanish fatalistic passion, were programmed to showcase aspects of Roper’s dancing that Irving feels have not yet been brought to the fore. This season, she is the official face of OBT; her image is on every poster, and she is featured in at least one ballet in every show.  As a marketing strategy, it has certainly worked well in selling single tickets at a time when subscription sales are down.  For February’s repertory show Reveal, Irving told me in a recent interview, “single-ticket sales were the best for a non-full-length ballet evening we’ve ever had.  Dream [the season opener] was fourth or fifth on the list for single tickets, so we must be doing something right.” Irving’s catchy one-word titles for programs no doubt are another thing he’s been doing right. April’s is now titled Celebrate, in honor of Roper, and the run will end, as is customary, with a retrospective tribute to her dancing.

All that being said, Roper – whose roles have called on her to portray pioneer women and princesses, Carmen  and the Girl from Ipanema – is an extremely hard act to follow. I asked Irving what the ramifications of her absence next season from OBT’s roster would be.

Roper in Balanchine's "Seranade," 2004. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Roper in Balanchine’s “Serenade,” 2004. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

“Promoting the last chance to see her as a recurring theme this season does create an absence,” he said.  “But it also creates an opportunity to begin filling it.” “There are lovely, talented women in the company at this time,” he added, citing Martina Chavez’s “quiet glamour” in the pas de deux in Almost Mozart, and Candace Bouchard’s performance in the same ballet. Haiyan Wu and Xuan Cheng are very different,” he said, “and each brings a lot of charisma to the stage.” Next season’s company will remain the same size as this year’s, with 21 professional dancers (of whom four will be new) on 30-week contracts, and six apprentices augmented by the same number of professional-division students from OBT’s School. They will be performing what is clearly a classically based repertory, representing Irving’s vision for an American ballet company in the second decade of the 21st century.

OBT 25 opens the season with a modern masterpiece. Balanchine’s Agon, a note-by-note, step-by-step collaboration with Igor Stravinsky, was radical in 1957 when it premiered at New York’s City Center, and it still is. This is partly because of Stravinsky’s jazzy, atonal score, music, which original cast member Todd Bolender told me is nearly impossible for the dancers to count in any conventional, useful way. The ballet has no plot or narrative, and the title provides only a partial clue. “Agon” means” contest” in ancient Greek, and the ballet is considered to be about competition of various kinds. It demands the free-wheeling, fearless athleticism that made Balanchine want to work with American dancers in the first place, but it also requires the facility and finesse of classical technique at its best.  Moreover, several sections of the ballet are named for traditional court dances. Bolender danced a solo titled Sarabande; Roper, a Bransle Gay in 1999, the only previous time OBT has performed the ballet. It will be interesting to see how Bart Cook, who is slated to set Agon, will cast it. He did a superb job of staging Stravinsky Violin Concerto a couple of years ago.

Irving, who danced the central pas de deux when he was performing in Canada as a young man, chose Agon to represent the company’s Balanchine heritage for a number of reasons. His personal connection to the ballet, and much else that he programs, is important to him, but Agon, he said, also “added the necessary astringent quality to the program, as it is bracing, athletic, and somewhat a challenge to the audience.” The astringency will balance Canfield’s highly emotional and very beautiful “bedroom pas de deux” from his Romeo and Juliet, part of the triptych of pas de deux that provides the middle of the program, along with one by Stowell and another by  McIntyre, all of them stylistically different from Agon and each other.

With Stevenson’s Cinderella, Irving reassures the city’s story-ballet aficionados that they won’t have to travel north to Seattle, or south to Eugene or San Francisco, to see one. OBT already has several in the repertory – Giselle, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and of course, The Nutcracker – but Cinderella is new to the company. While many choreographers have used Prokofiev’s 1944 score to tell the familiar tale of child neglect and upward mobility with a happily-ever-after ending for just about everyone, Irving selected the British-born Stevenson’s in part because it is modeled on Ashton’s iconic (and I do not use that word lightly) 1948 rendering. Stevenson, who was commissioned to make this version in 1970 for the National Ballet of Washington, retains the sweetness of the comedy in Ashton’s version, but according to a number of critics, it lacks the Ashton version’s choreographic heft. Yet American audiences from Houston to New York  have loved it for nearly forty-five years, which is partly why Irving is adding it to OBT’s repertory: “I wanted something that was really going to be the full classical experience, that would provide an access point for people to come into the world of ballet.” And while he didn’t put it quite like this, that would also provide some laughter.

Duato’s emotionally intense Rassemblement, about Haitian slaves, begins the last show of the silver anniversary season, which ends with Grand Moultrie’s world premiere.  But with the introduction of OBT 2,  dancing the late  Spaight’s Crayola, the show (titled Impact) is very much about the futureSpaight made this ballet as a very young man, winning an award from Mikhail Baryshnikov for a work performed in silence by women in point shoes, with chairs as an integral part of the choreography.  So is signing for the deaf. The dancers perform in brilliantly colored costumes in a work (inspired by Jerome Robbins’ Moves, also danced without music) that is more about nonverbal, non-aural communication than the dancing crayons suggested by its unfortunate title. After watching a number of Spaight’s ballets on video, Irving selected this one because he “wanted something that wouldn’t be just another good ballet, but would stand out for the distinct approach of its creator and be a challenge for the young dancers.”

*

Next season’s budget, at $5.4 million, is only slightly larger than this year’s $4.99 million, making it seem an odd time to expand the organization with a second company, albeit one that is largely unpaid.  “Why,” Irving told me, “is easy.  We need to be more present in the community and OBT2 can perform in venues [schools, community centers] we can’t negotiate with the first company.  We also need to make the professional development program more robust, which will support the School in a concrete way.”

OBT 2 potentially will have six apprentices and six professional division students. This year’s group of professional division students contains six girls, who augmented the cast in last fall’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Nutcracker. They are spending the spring season being mentored and coached, developing audition videos and rehearsing for the School program at the end of April.  This year’s contains all of Swan Lake’s second act in the first half, signaling that the classical direction has not changed under new leadership. Irving’s goal is to develop a repertory just for OBT2, starting with Crayola.

The plan for OBT2 is ambitious, dependent not only on a better financial foundation for the institution as a whole, but also an expansion of what Irving refers to as the infrastructure. OBT owns the entire close-in East Side block on which its current facility stands, giving the company what Irving calls its “one tangible concrete asset.” The goal is to use this asset, which is mortgaged, to get out of debt entirely and build a state-of-the-art facility for the company and the school.  Irving said discussions are under way to find a partner to develop the property, possibly into a large complex of condominiums in which OBT would be the primary occupant. Such a development would certainly provide the stable funding that the company has needed and never really had for the past quarter of a century.

Irving is guardedly optimistic about the company’s future, acknowledging that there is much work to be done in fundraising and season subscription sales. A new search for a much-needed executive director to oversee all that and more is under way.  Irving is, he says, “the leader of a really strong team” primarily on the artistic side, but he’s not functioning as the executive director.  This doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his eye firmly on the bottom line.  Asked why he didn’t program Ashton’s Cinderella, he answered succinctly, “There are cost considerations.”  Given those considerations, OBT’s twenty-fifth anniversary season looks pretty good to me.

 

 

Review: Lou Reed Butoh at March Music Moderne

A had-to-be-there recap, plus a post-show talkback with Seattle butoh dancer Joan Laage.

All butoh reviews operate on a had-to-be-there basis. If you didn’t see Seattle’s DAIPAN Butoh Collective do their site-specific performance set to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music at Three Friends Coffeeshop around midnight last Saturday….what can I say?

Something like, “The white-painted, deathmask-miming dancers moved slowly from here to there, with grotesque, meditative, transcendent energy and unpredictable tics…both interacting with and ignoring the crowd…both inhabiting and disembodying the space.” But, really, you had to be there.

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