A farewell to arms and legs: Threefoot heads to Europe

Homegrown ballet star Lucas Threefoot prepares for Oregon Ballet Theatre's season-ending program, and his own move to Monte Carlo

Threefoot soars in Stowell's "The Sleeping Beauty." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Threefoot soars in Stowell’s “The Sleeping Beauty.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Oregon Ballet Theatre’s current season began last fall with a program that included George Balanchine’s “Apollo,” and ends on June 16 with the same choreographer’s “Prodigal Son,”

While Balanchine famously said that “ballet is woman,” the title roles in “Apollo” and “Prodigal Son,” as OBT soloist Lucas Threefoot said in a recent interview, “give male dancers a chance to shine in their masculinity. In ‘Apollo’ [in which he debuted last fall] you can just be full-on power straight to the audience.”

OBT ends its season with its June 14-16 all-Balanchine program, and with it, Threefoot ends his career with his home-town ballet company. As the company’s board is poised to choose a new artistic director – possibly this week, company insiders say – he’s in Washington, D.C., to perform tonight and Wednesday night with OBT in the Kennedy Center’s Ballet Across America Festival. Then, in August, he relocates to Europe to join Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. He joined OBT as an apprentice in 2006, became a company member a year later, and was promoted to soloist in 2011. Throughout his career here he’s used his tall, broad-shouldered, long-legged body to dance  “full-on power” in a wide range of ballets. He’s brought expressive technique, acute musicality and thoughtful interpretations to Apollo, Lysander in Christopher Stowell’s version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” as Anne Mueller’s partner in Stowell’s “Rite of Spring,”  Petrouchka’s Friend in Nicolo Fonte’s smashing revisionist rendering of Fokine’s eponymous ballet, and one of the pre-Civil War pioneers in Trey McIntyre’s recent premiere, “Robust  American Love.”

Threefoot, in fact, has been outstanding in everything of McIntyre’s he’s danced, from the full-bodied, swooping solo in “Like a Samba,” the first work that McIntyre made on OBT, to the jazzy duet to rap music that is “Speak,” which he danced with Mueller at the company’s 20th anniversary gala. I asked Threefoot about his favorite roles.  “Just,” he replied, “was the first that really pushed me.” McIntyre in turn very much appreciates Threefoot’s approach to dancing, finding him “a joy to work with,” and adding: “It is unique to work with a dancer of such a young age who possesses the clarity, intelligence, and gratitude that he does. He brings the best of himself to the rehearsal process as a dancer with great depth and presence.”

At 24, Threefoot also brings to the rehearsal process a decade of piano lessons and nearly two decades of classical training with the School of OBT, where he started in Creative Movement at age five. He’s also spent two years in San Francisco Ballet’s summer program, and one summer at the School of American Ballet, where he especially enjoyed Jock Soto’s teaching.  Modern training with Josie Moseley at SOBT, he told me several years ago, enhanced his ballet training:  “Ballet is different; there is so much focus on technique. Modern can make you feel the dance more.”

While he danced in many performances of James Canfield’s “Nutcracker” as a kid (in several as naughty Fritz, with Mueller as Marie) he didn’t study with Canfield. From Stowell, as teacher and coach, however, he has learned how to present himself on stage and interact with the audience, connecting the classical technique he learned first from Haydée Gutierrez, and then from Damara Bennett. The proof of all that was in his performances in February’s “Swan Lake” run, in which he was required to dance the traditional Act One court dances and Act Three divertissements – not his favorite kind of dancing, since he’s more interested in building a character or having a musical through line to follow, such as exists in the neo-classical repertoire, particularly Balanchine’s.

To prepare for Apollo, Threefoot watched some of his predecessors on YouTube, and drew on his memories of Adrian Fry and Ronnie Underwood, former OBT dancers who performed the historic role the first time around, several years ago, as staged by Francia Russell. But when Threefoot danced it in a school show, and then as a substitute for an injured Brett Bauer last fall, he had “more of an abstract ideal I was reaching for rather than a person in mind.” As the toddler god, learning how to strum his lyre, and partner to no less than three muses, Threefoot did just fine, especially since he got no stage rehearsal for the birth scene, possibly considered too graphic for the student audience by the outreach people.

During a break from rehearsal in late May, as the company prepared for the Balanchine program, Threefoot revealed the intellectual curiosity of a modern dancer as he discussed the differences between working with Pontus Lidberg on “Stream,” and with McIntyre on “Robust American Love,” in both of which he had featured roles in April’s repertory program.

“This was a really interesting time,” he said, “because I got to see Trey McIntyre’s and Pontus’s approach and they were totally opposite. Trey would choreograph a bunch of different steps without a lot of a repetition. Pontus wanted a lot more play; he would use steps [he choreographed on me] on other people, then change it around. He played a lot more with the choreography than Trey.  Usually you learn a ballet and you do it, not so much changing stuff around.”

Threefoot, who departs for Ballets Monte Carlo in August, won’t get a crack at the juicy role of the Prodigal Son, made famous in this country first by Jerome Robbins when Balanchnine revived it for him in 1950, then ten years later when Balanchine revived it again for Edward Villella.

That’s a shame, because based on his performances in “Petrouchka,” Stowell’s “Ekho,” “Robust American Love,” and “Rite of Spring,” Threefoot has the expressive technique and acting abilities that are essential to convince the audience that the title character knows he has sinned and is in need of redemption. Sin is not a 21st century concept, and most dancers don’t do it very well on stage.  Having said that, I have every expectation that Chauncey Parsons, whose remorseful Albrecht in “Giselle’s” second act was completely believable, and Javier Ubell, who seems to be able to do anything called for, will be able to pull it off in OBT’s coming all-Balanchine program, both technically and dramatically.

Threefoot regrets not performing “Prodigal,” but as he says, he has a lot on his plate.  He’ll be seen in “Square Dance” and “Stravinsky Violin Concerto,” also on the Balanchine program,  and is one of the five cast members in James Kudelka’s “Almost Mozart” at the Kennedy Center’s Ballet Across America Festival tonight and tomorrow night. He has much to do to prepare for a new life in Europe, from polishing his French to getting the necessary visas to saying good-by to his many friends and family members.

Threefoot is a Portland native who has been thinking of trying his wings elsewhere for quite a while.  “Leaving was a little seed in my brain even my first year in the company,” he said.  “But I wanted to wait until I was ready. There was no objective [deadline for] that. I solidly wanted to leave a couple of years ago, but I’d been enjoying the way things were going so much, and I got so many opportunities that I felt it was a good choice for me to stay here and see how things played out. When Christopher decided to leave, it was kind of the impulse I needed, so I made my own decision to leave.”

Threefoot spent part of January on a whirlwind European tour, auditioning for companies in Germany, Holland and Monte Carlo.  After a grueling series of auditions, he was accepted as a corps member into Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Ballets de Monte Carlo.  He is excited to be going there, because the repertory is made up of the kind of contemporary work that most interests him, including modernized versions of the classics, and he finds Maillot to be an extremely musical choreographer. That’s very important to him. Not only did he study piano for ten years, he also took composition and has done a little music composing of his own, all of which he feels has helped his musicality as a dancer: “There is nothing worse to me than seeing a dancer who isn’t really hearing the music.”

Asked how Maillot’s musicality differs from Balanchine’s, Threefoot said, “I think sometimes he plays a little less with counter-rhythm than Balanchine does. It seems like he follows it in more of a straight direction, like if there’s a sharp accent, there’s a sharp ending.” The step back in rank is compensated by a better salary, and many more opportunities to perform, since Threefoot’s one-year contract stipulates a five-week holiday, and he assumes the rest of the time he will be rehearsing and performing.  Moreover, the company tours a lot, all over Europe and even, this past season, to Brazil.

Does he feel that his experience as a student and performer at OBT has prepared him for this next adventure?  “I wonder that myself,” he said, his eyes sparkling.  “I’m excited to see how this environment shapes me.  I really have no idea.  I’m a hard worker.  And I think I need to figure out what to do in order to shine, to stand out in the company.”

It’s a safe bet that won’t take him long. He’s talented, intelligent, hard-working and well-trained, hallmarks of American dancers since the 1950s – and unlike most American dancers, he speaks excellent French!

NOTES:

  • Threefoot isn’t the only OBT dancer giving farewell performances in the Balanchine program.  Since artistic director Christopher Stowell resigned at the end of December, several of his dancers have also decided to move on after the season ends. Julia Rowe and Grace Shibley (a knockout in Stravinsky Violin Concerto last year) are headed to San Francisco Ballet.  Yang Zou is retiring.  Olga Krochik, who danced so beautifully in the American Music Festival program is, it is rumored, headed to nursing school. And Javier Ubell is going to a contemporary dance company in Munich.  If Arts Watchers want to attend the all-Balanchine program as prepared, mentally anyway, as the dancers, they can do no better than boning up on “Prodigal Son,” “Square Dance,” and “Stravinsky Violin Concerto,” my personal favorite of the three,  in Nancy Goldner’s “Balanchine Variations,” short, detailed essays with a good deal of interesting information.
  • OBT’s all-Balanchine program runs June 14-16 at Keller Auditorium. Ticket information is here.

 

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