oregon ballet theatre

OBT in Napoli: a hit and a miss

The ballet troupe opens its season with a bright and joyous Bournonville, and an overwrought Kudelka premiere

Oregon Ballet Theatre opened its 2015-16 season at the Keller Auditorium on Saturday night with excellent dancing and a bill that was mixed, to say the least.

Violinist Aaron Meyer and his five-piece band set the Italian tone, sort of, with an over-miked selection of music from the land of Chianti and pasta. This musical antipasto concluded with a slice of Vivaldi’s Seasons and a small (too small!) segment of Nicolo Fonte’s Beautiful Decay, an evening-length ballet about the life cycle, which will end OBT’s season of story ballets in April.

James Kudelka’s Sub Rosa, danced to excerpts from Carlo Gesualdo’s complicated, ground-breaking madrigals, purports to tell the sordid tale of the Renaissance composer’s murder of his wife and her lover. The choreographer, charged with making a ballet that would fit the evening’s theme of love, Italian style, wanted to make a ballet that would contrast with the second, and in the end, more successful, work on the program, August Bournonville’s joyous, life-affirming third act of Napoli.


Guest Artist Amy Watson (left) and Candace Bouchard (right) in the company premiere of August Bournonville's "Napoli." Photo: James McGrew

Guest Artist Amy Watson (left) and Candace Bouchard (right) in the company premiere of August Bournonville’s “Napoli.” Photo: James McGrew

Napoli, which comes after intermission, is the clear highlight of the evening, carrying OBT into territory it hasn’t traveled before. “Move! Move! Move!” Frank Andersen urgently, and loudly, called out to the dancers in rehearsals, and after Saturday night’s intermission, on the stage of the Keller Auditorium, move they did: quickly, precisely, musically, reveling in the detailed intricacies of Bournonville technique, their sheer joy transmitted to the audience even before they took a step, when the curtain rose on Gene Dent’s charming version of the traditional set of the Naples harbor.  Act III is the last chapter of the Danish choreographer’s masterpiece, a story of ordinary people, Teresina, (Cheng) a beautiful young girl in love with Gennaro, a fisherman (Reiners), who in Act I is being pestered by a macaroni-seller and a lemonade seller, while she waits for Gennaro to return from fishing.  When Gennaro shows up with an engagement ring, the two merchants continue to refuse to take no for an answer, so the happy couple escape in Gennaro’s boat, even though storm clouds are gathering.  At the end of the act, a desperate Gennaro returns to shore minus Teresina, who’s been swept off the boat by the violent storm.  Everyone’s mad at him, especially Teresina’s mother. He prays, is given a sacred medal by a passing friar, and returns to the sea, where in Act II he and the medal save Teresina from being changed into a naiad by an evil sea sprite.

Act III, the one being performed on this program, is the “and they all lived happily ever after” celebration of the lovers’ marriage, religious faith, and dancing itself.  That’s the context for this version of Act III, which is stripped of most of the mime and most of the character roles, and lovingly and meticulously staged by Andersen, Eva Kloborg and Anne Marie Vessel-Schlűter.

Chauncey Parsons flying high in "Napoli." Photo: James McGrew

Chauncey Parsons flying high in “Napoli.” Photo: James McGrew

The dancers did so well with the divertissements, the Pas de Six, and the Tarantella, and the audience response was so enthusiastic, I profoundly hope that OBT will perform the entire ballet, sooner rather than later. Those dancers who spent a week in Copenhagen at the Bournonville Institute last summer had real command of the technique and the bits of mime associated with their roles, specifically Reiner, who soared when he jumped, and looked completely natural in a fit of good-humored jealousy when another fisherman flirted with his bride-to-be. Bouchard’s lightness and precision in the speedy footwork and the pleasure she took in achieving it contributed to the general delight, and Jordan Kindell and Jessica Lind infused their performance with Danish warmth and charm, as did Katherine Monogue, who’s clearly headed for the top tier of this company, at the very least.

Brian Simcoe, who did not go to Copenhagen, danced the first male solo on opening night, proving that he can dance anything thrown at him with the clarity and commitment that are the marks of a true artist of the dance. Cheng didn’t go either, but she has become this company’s most versatile ballerina, in every sense of the term, and her Teresina was performed with a Bournonville heroine’s spunky charm. The same is true of the company’s third principal dancer, Chauncey Parsons.

All of OBT’s dancers, in fact, have embraced wholeheartedly a way of dancing from the 19th century, taking it into their 21st century bodies and making it both relevant and timeless.  In Copenhagen, the audience would have rhythmically stamped their feet in approval of the performance.  Here, the standing ovation these dancers received was far from the usual undiscriminating roar: the bravos were as genuine as the dancing.


Guest Artist Amy Watson and Colby Parsons in the world premiere of James Kudelka's "Sub Rosa." Photo: Randall Milstein

Guest Artist Amy Watson and Colby Parsons in the world premiere of James Kudelka’s “Sub Rosa.” Photo: Randall Milstein

Kudelka’s Sub Rosa, which opens the program’s dancing, is a vastly different story. He wanted to make a ballet that would contrast with Bournonville’s, and in several unfortunate ways he succeeded. Self-conscious, self-indulgent, and seemingly endless, Kudelka’s choreographically repetitive build-up to the story’s murderous conclusion is a mind-numbing bore. Never have I been so relieved to see a murder on stage, even one as relentlessly flamboyant as this one.

That doesn’t mean Sub Rosa isn’t well-crafted. Kudelka is a highly experienced and well-respected choreographer, and he knows how to make a ballet.  Almost Mozart, the first one he made on OBT’s dancers, is excellent. In Sub Rosa, the ensemble dances – performed with elegance and skill (and emotional distance) by Chauncey Parsons, Makino Hildestad, Michael Linsmeier, Kelsie Nobriga, Jordan Kindell, Candace Bouchard, Thomas Baker and Eva Burton – are excellent examples of the dance maker’s craft. But there are too many of them, and the absence of emotional affect means they make little or no connection with the audience.

That attempt comes too late, with a tender pas de deux, danced on a platform by the beautiful Amy Watson, a Royal Danish Ballet, principal dancer making guest appearances in this show, as Gesualdo’s feckless wife, and Colby Parsons as her lover.  Even so, the duet could have been lifted from a ballet that takes place in a different Italian city, called Verona. A homicidal pas de quatre follows, with the ill-fated couple joined (and separated forever) by Peter Franc as Gesualdo and Sarah Griffin in the role Martina Chavez described in an interview as the Angel of Death. (Chavez, alas, was injured in rehearsal last week and won’t be dancing for a while, a big disappointment for her and for OBT’s audience.)  The murder itself was executed with a large blood-red cloth symbolizing none too subtly the murderer’s jealous rage.

The production itself, which featured a large, slightly vulgar rose suspended from on high, is quite pretty; and the costumes, black tutu-like dresses and a nightgown for the women designed with period details by Christine Darch and built in OBT’s costume shop, are gorgeous.  Michael Mazzola, who also designed the set, rendered his usual magic with the lights.


There are alternate casts in both ballets; check OBT’s website to see who’s dancing before you go, and for ticketing and schedule information. Remaining performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings.

Love and death in Naples: OBT’s Mediterranean adventure

The ballet season opens Saturday with Bournonville's 19th century "Napoli" and the premiere of James Kudelka's Naples-set "Sub Rosa"

Oregon Ballet Theatre opens its twenty-sixth season on Saturday with a Manichean program of narrative ballets titled Amore Italiano. The Manichean idea of dualism, you might recall, views the world as conveniently divided between good and evil, light and dark, or love and hate.

And that’s the great divide of Amore Italiano. Both ballets on the program at Keller Auditorium, as it happens, take place in Naples – James Kudelka’s Sub Rosa in the 16th century palace ballroom of composer Carlo Gesualdo, who was also Prince of Venosa (part of the Neapolitan kingdom); August Bournonville’s Napoli, Act III,  in the city’s sunny harbor.

(From left) Paige Wilkey, Emily Parker, and Sarah Griffin in rehearsal for August Bournonville's "Napoli." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

(From left) Paige Wilkey, Emily Parker, and Sarah Griffin in rehearsal for August Bournonville’s “Napoli.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Sub Rosa, set to Gesualdo’s complex, innovative madrigals, is, in today’s pop-culture parlance, a bio-ballet. It tells the tale of the composer’s brutal murder of his wife and her lover, that dramatically expressive action taking place on a platform, while the members of the court move obliviously through Kudelka’s contemporary take on the patterns of the social dances of the time.

The third act of Napoli, on the other hand, is a celebration of life itself, as well as the triumph of good over evil, and love over avarice.  Here’s the back story: Bournonville, the great 19th century Danish choreographer, served as director of the Royal Danish Ballet at the king’s pleasure. In 1842, Bournonville displeased his boss and was exiled for a year. Urged by his friend Hans Christian Andersen, he traveled in Italy, where observation of street life in Naples fed his creative soul. The result was a masterpiece called Napoli, which is not, repeat not, about peasants, happy or otherwise, but rather about fishermen, merchants, religious faith and dancing itself: light as air, intricate, fiendishly difficult, glorious dancing.

Sub Rosa and the finale of Napoli offer very different challenges for OBT’s dancers, many of whom have featured roles in both. Martina Chavez, whose sinuous eloquence in the pas de deux in Balanchine’s Agon in last season’s opener earned her a well-deserved promotion from company artist to soloist, is well aware of them.

Martina Chavez and Brian Simcoe in Balanchine's "Agon," opening last season at OBT. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert/2014

Martina Chavez and Brian Simcoe in Balanchine’s “Agon,” opening last season at OBT. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert/2014

“Oh my God,” she exclaimed. I’d just asked her about the difference between performing Kudelka’s dramatic classicism and the joyous precision of Bournonville technique. “Sub Rosa is heavy, dark, oppressive.”  Working with Kudelka, she said, she had to be flexible about the intentions of her role, which changed while the piece was being choreographed from being the odd woman out in a love triangle to the manipulative woman in charge. “I think I’m an angel of death,” she added.

Napoli, on the other hand, “is freeing, a celebration, and I’m loving it. I don’t feel classical ballet is my strong suit, but [the Bournonville technique] has brought it into focus, and given me more to offer.”  She referred specifically to the signature low port de bras (carriage of the arms), which made her much more aware of the use of her upper body.  “[My role] in Sub Rosa is expressive without moving much,” she said.  “Both are a pleasure to dance.”

Chavez had just come out of a company class taught by Eva Kloborg, wife of Frank Andersen, former artistic director of the Royal Danish Ballet, both of whom spent four weeks in Portland meticulously, lovingly, staging Napoli. Kloborg next March celebrates her 40th anniversary with the company, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her when she demonstrated the combinations she was teaching OBT’s dancers.

Left to right: Choreographer James Kudelka, Candace Bouchard, Eva Burton, and Jordan Kindell in rehearsal for the world premiere of Kudelka's "Sub Rosa" with music by Carlo Gesualdo. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Left to right: Choreographer James Kudelka, Candace Bouchard, Eva Burton, and Jordan Kindell in rehearsal for Kudelka’s “Sub Rosa.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

I fell in love with Bournonville in 2005, when I went to Copenhagen as a member of the international press corps covering the third celebratory festival of his work, which Andersen organized in honor of the 200th anniversary of the choreographer’s birth. There were eight nights of performances, all of  them attended by Denmark’s queen.

Andersen fell in love with the dancers of OBT, he told me, when he was in Portland for two weeks last January-February to teach Bournonville technique through some of the divertissements in Napoli’s finale. What he specifically fell in love with was “the dancers’ hunger, openness, interest, and their always wanting more.” Six of them – Chavez, Candace Bouchard, Avery Reiners, Jordan Kindell, Katherine Monogue, and Jessica Lind – spent a week in Copenhagen last summer immersed in all things Bournonville.

Peter Franc in rehearsal for "Sub Rosa." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Peter Franc in rehearsal for “Sub Rosa.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Andersen is using the whole company in Napoli, including children from OBT’s School. Nine days before performance, the company was looking good, but judging from observation of a couple of Napoli rehearsals and 10 minutes or so of Sub Rosa, dancers to watch are guest artist Amy Watson, principal ballerina of the Royal Danish Ballet (I saw her perform in 2005 when she was a soloist), new OBT soloist Peter Franc, Colby Parsons, Bouchard, who was born to dance Bournonville, Xuan Cheng, Reiners, and Kindell.

The only live music of the evening will be provided at the beginning by violinist Aaron Meyer and his six-piece band, who will play Italian classics: probably not Puccini, but certainly something by  Vivaldi.


Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Amore Italiano opens Saturday at Keller Auditorium and continues for five performances through October 17. Schedule and ticket information are here.

Left to right: Eva Burton, Thomas Baker, Jordan Kindell, and Candace Bouchard in rehearsal for "Sub Rosa." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Left to right: Eva Burton, Thomas Baker, Jordan Kindell, and Candace Bouchard in rehearsal for “Sub Rosa.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Dance Watch: The return of White Bird and OBT

Conduit news plus the beginning of the season for White Bird and Oregon Ballet Theatre

Big news for the Portland dance community this week: Conduit Dance Inc., Portland’s incubator for independent contemporary dance, has found a new home in the historic Ford Building, at 2505 SE 11th Ave., suite 120. The front of the building opens onto Division street, near the new Max Orange Line, in the quickly growing SE Division community. The new space is practically move-in ready. It is a bright and open, 3,001 sq room, with laminated wood floors, mirrors and ballet barres already installed. The space also has a small kitchen and two dressing rooms.

Last March after 20 years in the Pythian Building in downtown Portland, Conduit was  evicted by its landlord, Nia Technique. Since that time, Conduit’s programs went mobile, and the center continued presenting classes and workshop as well as its annual Dance+ series throughout the city. The artistic team at Conduit—Tere Mathern, Vanessa Vogel, Emily Running and Sara Himmelman—have been working tirelessly to find a new space that met all of Conduits needs, and it has finally payed off. Stay tuned for more news on Conduit as they move forward in their new home.

Momix in Alchemia. Photo by Max Pucciariello.

Momix in Alchemia. Photo by Max Pucciariello.

Presented by White Bird
Oct 8-10
Newmark Theater, 1111 SW Broadway
Inspired by the ancient practice of Alchemy, Moses Pendleton, the director of contemporary dance company Momix, has created a phantasmagorical multimedia spectacle manipulating the four elements of the earth and exposing the sexuality of nature. “Alchemia is about invention and beauty, transformation and renewal, performed with astonishing skill by 10 performers who are as much acrobats as dancers.”-Moses Pendleton. This show kicks of White Bird’s new season.

Amore Italiano
Napoli Act III & Sub Rosa
Presented by Oregon Ballet Theater
October 10-17
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St
Opening its 26th season, Oregon Ballet Theater takes us on a cultural and historic tour of Italy with the world premier of Sub Rosa by James Kudelka and the OBT premier of Napoli, Act III, by August Bournonville.

Sub Rosa comes with a warning label, “Not suitable for children” and is inspired by the infamous life of Italian prince and Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo. He may or may not have been a murder, an adulterer, a vampire,and/or a necrophiliac. haunted by ghosts and plagued by witches.

Napoli, inspired by everyday life in Naples from the streets to the harbour to the Blue Grotto, was choreographed in 1842 by Danish dancer and choreographer August Bournonville. Bournonville technique is characterized by quick footwork, small jumps, understated elegance in the arms and dramatic impact through pantomime.

Portland violinist Aaron Meyer and his six-piece band will open the evening with selections of Italian classics.

The sights and sounds of Cuba Libre: Tiempo Libre's Xavier Mili and choreographer Maija Garcia. Photo: Owen Carey

The sights and sounds of Cuba Libre: Tiempo Libre’s Xavier Mili and choreographer Maija Garcia. Photo: Owen Carey

Cuba Libre
Presented by Artist Repertory Theater
October 3-November 8
Winningstad Theater, 1111 SW Broadway
Broadway in Portland! Cuba Libre is a contemporary musical inspired by the collective histories of the members of the three-time Grammy-nominated African-Caribbean band, Tiempo Libre.

With the majority of the dialogue in English and the music in Spanish, the tale is told from present day Miami, flashing back to 1990’s Cuba. The story centers on a Cuban musician who is tormented by the sacrifices that were made for him to pursue his artistic dreams in the United States.

The creative team, primarily Latino, includes Tony-nominated producer Susan Dietz (Fela!, Topdog/Underdog, It’s Only a Play), playwright Carlos Lacámara,  choreographer Maija Garcia, and Artists Rep artistic director Damaso Rodriguez. The company consists of twenty-two actors, dancers and musicians and is a theatrical event on a grand scale.

d. Sabela Grimes, Visiting Artist Lecture
Reed College, PAB Performance Lab, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.
6:30 pm October 8
A lecture/demonstration by d. Sabela Grimes on his artistic process. Grimes is a 2014 United States Artist Rockefeller Fellow and Assistant Professor at University of Southern California. He is a choreographer, writer, composer and educator whose interdisciplinary performance work and pedagogical approach are rooted in the “meta-physical efficacies of Afro-diasporic cultural practices.”

Evidence of a dance, Marginal Evidence by Katherine Longstreth.

Evidence of a dance, Marginal Evidence by Katherine Longstreth.

Marginal Evidence (an interactive experience of dance-making)
Katherine Longstreth
October 1 – November 14
White Box, 24 NW 1st Ave.
6 pm October 1, Opening Reception
Marginal Evidence is a visual art installation about the intimate act of choreography. Dance is ephemeral and when it is gone, what is left? How do we know it existed? What is the evidence left behind? Using the approach of a forensic investigator, Longstreth reveals the private process of dance making and exposes the inner life of archival materials. You can read the full preview here

ArtsWatch Weekly: Cuba Libre, love-dance of Italy, Open Studios

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Saturday’s official opening night of Cuba Libre (it’s already in preview performances) will do the downbeat on one of the most eagerly anticipated shows of Portland’s theater season, and if ticket sales are your measure, it’s already a hit: it’s been held over before it even opens, and several infill shows have been added, too.

Why all the excitement? It’s a world premiere – not just any premiere, but one with big national ambitions, and a national cast and creative team to match. Dámaso Rodriguez brought the project with him when he came north from Los Angeles to take over as artistic director at Artists Rep, and everyone’s eyes are on bigger things: it can’t hurt that it arrives at a time when Cuban/U.S. relations are finally thawing after more than 50 years. Splitting its time and tensions between Cuba and Miami, Cuba Libre takes its cues from the lives and rhythms of the multiple Grammy-nominee timba band Tiempo Libre, which will play at every performance. Dance, Latin fusion, and a drama stretched across two cultures make up the core of what Artists Rep is calling a “Broadway-scale new musical.” The 21 performers will be squeezed into downtown’s Winningstad Theatre, which is a boost in size from Artists Rep’s home stages but smaller than any Broadway house. The show runs through November 15.

The sights and sounds of Cuba Libre: Tiempo Libre's Xavier Mili and choreographer Maija Garcia. Photo: Owen Carey

The sights and sounds of “Cuba Libre”: Tiempo Libre’s Xavier Mili and choreographer Maija Garcia. Photo: Owen Carey


While Cuba Libre‘s kicking up the sights and sounds of Havana and Miami on Saturday night, Oregon Ballet Theatre starts its own season with a trip to Italy – or Amore Italiano, as the company’s labeling the show. (Here at ArtsWatch World Headquarters, we’re abashed to admit that the program’s overtly alluring title immediately brought to mind Connie Francis’ mid-’60s album Love, Italian Style. This does not reflect well on the adolescent priorities of ArtsWatch management.) OBT’s season kickoff will feature Sub Rosa, a new piece by Almost Mozart choreographer James Kudelka, to music by Italian Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo, plus the third act of August Bournonville’s snappy Napoli. For ballet fans, it’s always fascinating to see the company’s first show of the season and discover who’s new and who’s picked up the pace. Bonus: violinist Aaron Meyer and band will play Italian tunes. Amore.

Oregon Ballet Theatre soloist Candace Bouchard: the company kicks off its fall season on Saturday. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Oregon Ballet Theatre soloist Candace Bouchard: the company kicks off its fall season on Saturday. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert


A few things to scribble on your calendar:

  • MOMIX. White Bird brings the legendary illusionist dance troupe to town for four shows Thursday through Saturday of its full-length piece Alchemia. Portland has a special affinity with MOMIX: Ashley Roland and Jamey Hampton, founders of BodyVox, performed with MOMIX earlier in their careers, and although the companies have developed along very different lines, you can still see the family tree.
  • Cock. Defunkt Theatre opens Mike Barlett’s gender-teasing play about a guy who falls in love with a woman, which upsets his longtime boyfriend. Then there’s a dinner party designed to hash things out, and, well … the metaphorical crockery starts to fly. Jon Kretzu directs. Thursday through November 14.
  • Ekphrastasy: Seven Poets Respond to Art. Culture happens in all sorts of situations around Oregon, and at all sorts of price points. This one happens to be free. The poets – John Morrison, Jon Sinclair, Kristin Koebke, Michael Jarmer, Michael Kerr, Michelle Delaine Williams, Woesha Hampson – will read new and old works responding to the art on the wallsof Gallery 114 by Curtis Settino, Jerry Wellman, and Rich Powers. 7 p.m. Friday.
  • Poets Between Worlds: Steve Cleveland & Eric Walter. While we’re thinking about poetry, a subject Portlanders take far from prosaically, these two writers and musicians will read from their work at the Multnomah Arts Center, stripping it down to the words and the sound. 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
  • Rope. The nights are chilly, we’re veering toward Halloween, and Bag&Baggage is here with a little mayhem on its mind: Patrick Hamilton’s play Rope, based on the infamous Leopold & Loeb thrill-killing case. Hitchcock used Hamilton’s play as the base for one of his most disturbing movies. Thursday through November 1.


Michael T. Hensley, The Bluffs, mixed media on wood panel, 32 x 36 inches. Hensley is a community and featured artist at Portland Open Studios.

Michael T. Hensley, “The Bluffs,” mixed media on wood panel, 32 x 36 inches. Hensley is a community and featured artist at Portland Open Studios.

PDXOS sounds like a Greek island or a computer operating program. In fact, it’s the new moniker for Portland Open Studios, one of the city’s more intriguing annual events. Open Studios is a two-weekend event – this year, Saturday and Sunday, October 10-11 and 17-18 – and it’s exactly what it sounds like: a chance to visit the studios of working artists, see what they’re working on, what their creative spaces look like, chat with them and maybe even see them at work.This year’s lineup features 106 artists, some with gallery representation, some not, and a broad range of styles and media. Some, like Christopher Mooney and Shawn Demarest, are known for their urbanscapes. Some work in fabric (Beth Yazhari) or wood (Christopher Wagner, Stan Peterson) or encaustic hot wax paint (Karl Kaiser) or steel and enamel (Joel Heidel and Angelina Marino-Heidel, who make sculptural bike racks). All are happy to open their doors to you. And who knows what you might pick up?

Poppy Dully, Mrs. Dalloway, monotypes on found pages, 7 x 26 x 1 inches. Dully is one of 106 artists taking part in Portland Open Studios.

Poppy Dully, “Mrs. Dalloway,” monotypes on found pages, 7 x 26 x 1 inches. Dully is one of 106 artists taking part in Portland Open Studios.


APainting drones: a scene from Sabina Haque's video installation "Remembrance."

Painting drones: a scene from Sabina Haque’s video installation “Remembrance.”

When art and world tensions collide. Pakistani American artist Sabina Haque’s newest installation, Storylines: Art & Remote Conflict, opens Wednesday in the Littman Gallery at Portland State University and continues through October 28. The Portland artist spends part of each year in Karachi, where she grew up. Storylines, a three-part installation exploring loss, memory, and renewal, is an extension of her video performance Remembrance, about the devastation of drone warfare, which ArtsWatch wrote about last year in the essay Remember This: The Price of Drones.


ArtsWatch links

Artist Blair Saxon-Hill, wrapped in paper, tied in rope on a pedestal, and lit in the bright glare of a 1980s projector. Photo: Sabina Poole

Artist Blair Saxon-Hill, wrapped in paper, tied in rope on a pedestal, and lit in the bright glare of a 1980s projector. Photo: Sabina Poole

Blair Saxon-Hill: Fit To Be Tied. Sabina Poole’s trek across Oregon to capture artists in their studios and photograph them turns this week to an Industrial Southeast Portland studio and an extraordinary photo session that involved some highly unusual gift-wrapping.

Katherine Longstreth’s Marginal Evidence. In her most recent Weekend DanceWatch, Jamuna Chiarini gets down to the details of Longstreth’s installation, which is rooted in her discovery of an accidental film recording of a dance rehearsal twenty years ago. The piece continues through November 14 at White Box Gallery. Look for new versions of DanceWatch and MusicWatch later this week on ArtsWatch’s home page.

A tightly sprung turn of the screw. I look into the shadows of Portland Shakespeare Project’s spry and stimulating two-actor version of Henry James’s classic ghost story, which “seeps in and slithers out, raising the hair on your neck and revealing almost nothing but impressions of what may or may not have taken place.”

Chris Harder and Dana Millican at Portland Shakespeare Project: the alpha and omega of The Turn of the Screw. Photo: Russell J Young

Chris Harder and Dana Millican at Portland Shakespeare Project: the alpha and omega of The Turn of the Screw. Photo: Russell J Young


About ArtsWatch Weekly

We’ve been sending a letter like this every Tuesday for a couple of years now to a select group of email subscribers. Now we’re also posting it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.

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Portland dance companies on the move hither and yon

Oregon Ballet Theatre, Polaris and Conduit are relocating from their long-time home bases

As Portland continues through a cycle of redevelopment fed by an influx of new residents, a good economy and a hot real estate market, Portland art organizations have found their grasp on studios in the central core to be looser than maybe they hoped. Those that own property, such as Oregon Ballet Theatre, have been able to cash in, but renters have faced the necessity and expense of finding new homes. Polaris Dance Theatre, for example, has just announced that it has found new digs, and Conduit, evicted suddenly in March, is in the process of locating space, too.

We don’t have much we can add to Oregon Ballet Theatre’s announcement that it was intending to close the sale of its current building in Southeast Portland and move to a new South Waterfront location by the end of the year. The initial press release was pretty vague, and though we’ve heard a few additional things, nothing approaching “official” or “confirmed.”

The sale will allow the city’s biggest dance company to pay off its accumulated debts and set up “a protected reserve fund, not utilized for day to day operations of OBT, but for the future capital needs of the organization,” as the press release put it. The company didn’t announce how much that fund would amount to, though we’ve heard some numbers batted about in the neighborhood of $4 million. Feel free to disregard that number completely, because it was speculative. When and if OBT tells us how much exactly—and presumably the company won’t know until the sale closes—we’ll let you know.


OBT: after 25, a leap into the future

The ballet's vigorous school shows and season-ending company performances balance new and old directions

“And how do we keep our balance?  I can tell you in one word, it’s tradition.”

I thought of those lines as I watched 14 would-be ballerinas – backs straight, heads held high, some in yellow tutus, some in red – make their imperial entrance onto the stage of the Newmark Theatre to take their places late last month in Paquita,  the opening piece of the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s 25th anniversary showcase. The show, which had two matinee performances, was, as it should have been, very much a part of the company’s silver anniversary celebrations. Those celebrations conclude May 28 with a fundraiser at the Left Bank Annex on North Weidler Street, near the east end of the Broadway Bridge. And they could well include an unofficial bonus: As it enters into its second quarter-century, OBT is expected to announce very soon its long-awaited plans to move into a new office, studio, and rehearsal center.

Sarah Griffin leaps high in Nacho Duato's "Rassemblement." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Sarah Griffin in Nacho Duato’s “Rassemblement.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The lyrics from Fiddler on the Roof address Jewish survival in the pogrom-driven Russia in 1905, a matter of human and cultural life and death.  The cultural part of that can also be applied to the survival of classical ballet in the United States in 2015, where Oregon Ballet Theatre, which was born in 1989, is scarcely the only company finding it difficult to stay afloat. If Ballet San Jose, for example, doesn’t raise $3.5 million by October, the 29-year-old company is likely to close its doors forever, and where have we heard that before?

Paquita, Marius Petipa’s 1881 arrangement of the pas de deux and divertissements from the 1846 French story ballet about an officer in Napoleon’s army whose life is saved by a gypsy girl (she’s not Carmen!), fairly oozes the traditional set pieces we associate with the same choreographer’s trinity of ballets set to Tchaikowsky.  These are The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and Swan Lake, for which Petipa choreographed Acts I and III, and Lev Ivanov Acts II and IV.  OBT has danced all three ballets in various versions in the past 25 years, and currently has George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker in the repertoire. Throughout that time, SOBT students have been integral to fleshing out the corps de ballet, and the performance of children’s roles.


Every SOBT director has been responsible for passing on the torch of tradition, schooling his or her charges in the tour jetés, pas de chats, pirouettes, bourrées, fouettés and port de bras of l’École de la Danse, whose language is French, but can be, and is, “spoken” in a variety of accents, from the finish and flourish of Russian style, to the speed and directness of Balanchine’s neoclassicism. The Danes dance these steps with the ease and buoyancy of Bournonville; the British with controlled theatricality; the French with arrogant chic; and today’s Americans in whatever accent the repertoire requires. Each school director (the principal ones have been Haydee Gutierrez, brought in by James Canfield, and Damara Bennett, who came and went with Christopher Stowell) has worked closely with OBT’s artistic directors to prepare students to dance in whatever repertoire reflects  their particular vision. Now, Anthony Jones, who staged Paquita, leads SOBT in tandem with Kevin Irving, OBT’s third artistic director.


Fabrice Lemire’s class act at OBT

The artistic director of Cirque du Soleil's soon-to-open "Varekai," a onetime Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer, returns to lead company class

“I will now pretend to teach,” Fabrice Lemire tells Oregon Ballet Theatre’s dancers.  The dancers and Lemire–artistic director for Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai, a Cirque favorite that made its debut in 2002 and plays May 6-10 at Portland’s Memorial Coliseum–are assembled on a Tuesday in OBT’s main studio for the daily ritual known as company class.

For Lemire, this is something of a homecoming after almost two decades away. Paris-born and Paris-trained, he performed with Oregon Ballet Theatre from 1993 to 1996, and remains one of the most versatile and technically impeccable dancers the company has ever had. He was memorable as Hilarion in the company’s first version of Giselle, and equally so in Josie Moseley’s modern-inflected With. He displayed his considerable talents as a character dancer when, in Coppélia, he thoroughly inhabited the role of the doll-obsessed toymaker Dr. Coppélius.

Fabrice Lemire, artistic director of "Varekai," leads company class at OBT, where he once danced. Photo: XXX XXXXX

Fabrice Lemire, artistic director of “Varekai,” leads company class at OBT, where he once danced. Photo: Molly Ishkanian

On this day, as he walks around the studio and watches the dancers repeat the combinations of steps he has assigned them, he speaks frequently of épaulement, the aristocratic yet flexible carriage of the shoulders that classical dancers work long hours to acquire. His own épaulement was, and still is, elegant and beautiful; very much a part of the way he moves onstage and off.  While he makes no individual corrections, as a group he instructs the dancers to “breathe through the spine,” and “feel the épaulement right from the start.”  The dancers are extremely attentive, weary as they are after the first weekend of their last concerts of the season.

“Use the floor as a partner,” Lemire tells them. It’s something I’d expect to hear from a modern dancer, but then I remember that he arrived in Portland in 1993 as guest artist and assistant to Donald Byrd, when OBT’s founding artistic director James Canfield brought in the crossover choreographer to set Crack’d Narrative on the company. Byrd, who now directs Seattle’s Spectrum Dance Theater,  combines classical ballet and modern movement in much of his work, and also has specialized over the years in his own versions of the classical repertory, including Life Situations: Daydreams of Giselle, which turns the Wilis into a gang of castrating women.  Canfield put it on the same mixed bill as the traditional Giselle, and it provided a brilliant illustration of his belief that contemporary ballet is rooted in the classical tradition.

Photo courtesy Fabrice Lemire.

Photo courtesy Fabrice Lemire.

Lemire, who has been teaching in sock feet, sits down to put on les sabots du pays, namely a shiny new pair of Nikes.  The dancers clear the studio of the barres and he figures out a combination he wants them to try: the center work that is also a part of this ritual begins. The class ends traditionally with the dancers, each of them, bowing their thanks as they leave the room.

Several interviews have been scheduled for Lemire after class.  When I take my turn in OBT’s board room, before I can ask a question, he makes a long statement he has obviously made before—that he is proud of his journey from dancer to choreographer to administrator, from art to entertainment.  I ask him about the differences between them, the distinctions between fine art and commercial art.  In dance terms, he says, “The intention behind the movement” is applicable to both; both “allow escape.” At Cirque, where most of the performers are not trained dancers, they nevertheless “have to tell stories with their bodies, and they need to surprise themselves, and me, or they won’t surprise the audience.”

I ask how his experience as a dancer, an itinerant choreographer,  and a stager (until a few years ago he was still staging much of Byrd’s work) helped him to succeed with Cirque du Soleil.  In July, he starts to develop and direct a new show whose story, he told the dancers, is a prequel to the film Avatar. His response was immediate: “Donald Byrd is so clear about his aesthetic, and he taught me never to be satisfied with the status quo as a performer.”  Elsewhere, he spoke of his ability to transfer Verakai from the tent version seen in Portland in 2006 to the arena version that will be performed at the Coliseum in May. Stagers and choreographers must know how to accommodate movement for the space in which it is performed.

The Russian Swings act from "Varekai." Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca Costumes: Eiko Ishioka © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

The Russian Swings act from “Varekai.” Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca Costumes: Eiko Ishioka © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

Lemire is on a tight schedule, and it’s time for him to do another interview. I tell him I will never forget his performance in Bebe Miller’s A Certain Kind of Heart, Also Love. He smiles softly, nostalgically, and tells me it was the last thing he performed in Portland, when it was revived in the spring of 1996 at the Newmark. “You remember? The curtain comes down on me dancing in a pool of feathers. I never came back until today.”

Many of us at the studio, including Tracy Julias, who danced with OBT at the same time, were glad to see him.

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