There is, it says in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, a season for everything, including a time to dance. For the young dancers in The Portland Ballet’s Studio Company that time is now, and as they showed in the closing performance of their annual studio concerts Sunday afternoon, did they ever!
The program, designed by TPB co-artistic directors Nancy Davis and Anne Mueller to demonstrate the stylistic range of these pre-professional dancers, certainly had its challenges, as did the venue. As lovely as the studio theater is, the audience sits very close to dancers who quite rightly are being taught to project in the large opera houses and theaters in which they dream of dancing one day in the not too distant future.
Two of them already have. Lauren Kness and Henry Winslow (the sole male in the company) performed last December as guest artists in the Ballet Nacional Dominicano’s Nutcracker at the Teatro Nacional in Santa Domingo, dancing an “Arabian” pas de deux choreographed for the occasion by John Clifford.
Sunday’s concert began in neoclassical fashion with a segment of Clifford’s Concerto in F (score by George Gershwin), with Natalie Reyes radiating happiness as she executed the jazz-inflected steps, her point work precise, leading a small corps de ballet comprised of Elliana Kirk, Melanie Labs, Naomi Rux, Kerridwyn Schanck, Delci Syvertson and young (very young) Kyra Yannotta, who also seemed to be having a good time. I’ve had my eye on Reyes since she started with TPB three years ago. At 16, she’s been studying ballet for a total of nine years in a variety of places, and that shows in her secure, confident, committed performances.
A Petipa Pas de Deux, or Trois, or Quatre is de rigeur in most school performances, and a Pas de Trois from La Bayadère staged by Mueller came next. Elliana Kirk, Melanie Labs and Yannotta, the youngest company members, were costumed in the white tutus of the Shades, which looked enormous, rather than ghostly. (This pas de trois is from the scene known as the Kingdom of the Shades, in which Solor, the hapless hero, has an opium-induced dream of his murdered love, the temple dancer Nikiya.) There is lots of jumping to be done in this, which they accomplished at times with more enthusiasm than finesse. That finesse will come as they mature as dancers.
Mueller’s Heartaches, set to songs by Patsy Cline that some of these dancers are too young to relate to, I hope, begins with a duet for Kness and Winslow and ends with Winslow dancing a solo to “Walking at Midnight” in which he gives full justice to what happens to be my favorite Cline song. The opening duet gives Kness a little practice in being dragged across the stage by her partner – practice I hope she won’t need in these painfully misogynistic times, though admittedly this wasn’t so much the case when Mueller made this piece a couple of years ago.
The most infectiously joyous dancing of the afternoon was provided by the young members of the Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe, performing Sorsornet, choreographed by company director Derrell Sekou Walker, with fantastic drumming by Caton Lyles, Hakim Muhammad and Walker. TPB has been collaborating with the young company (ages 7 to 14, from 15 different schools in the Portland Metro area) for a little over a year now, offering its members free ballet classes to increase their eligibility for high school and higher education dance programs. I’d love to see the two young companies dance together: Tribal dance and classical ballet aren’t as antithetical as one might think, as Oregon Ballet Theatre’s dancers showed us several years ago in Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena.
Ashley Roland and Jamey Hampton’s Rip/Tide, lovingly staged by Zachary Carroll, closed the show on a contemporary note. The piece, performed against a projection of moving waves, with music by Aphex Twin, is one I’ve long been fond of and the company danced it very well indeed, not only with the requisite fluidity, but with wit and musicality as well.