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OBT and Kevin Irving part ways

Resident Choreographer Nicolo Fonte also declares he's leaving the ballet company.

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UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect Resident Choreographer Nicolo Fonte’s resignation from OBT.

In a surprise move, Oregon Ballet Theatre and Kevin Irving, its artistic director for the past eight years, have parted ways. The decision was made Wednesday and announced in a press release Friday afternoon. The release said Irving had resigned, and OBT board chair Allison Lane Lyneham, speaking via Zoom, confirmed that.

But in a separate letter emailed on Friday to friends and supporters, Irving said the board asked for his resignation. 

“I was informed on Wednesday of this week that the board has decided to go a different direction in the AD role and that my resignation was required by [the end of the day]. This was an unexpected development. Having lost the confidence of the board, and given the alternatives available to me, my only choice was to accede to their request that I resign – albeit with a heavy heart.”

Kevin Irving rehearsing Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers in the company premiere of Nacho Duato’s “Por Vos Muerto” in 2013, early in his tenure at OBT. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Peter Franc, former OBT principal dancer and manager of OBT2, the ballet’s junior company, will take over as interim artistic director, working with recently hired executive director Thomas Bruner, the press release said and Lynehoom confirmed. 

The uncertain nature of Irving’s departure raises the question of whether resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte, who is Irving’s life partner, will remain with the company. Lyneham said Fonte will continue as resident choreographer. UPDATE: In an email to ArtsWatch, Fonte said he is, indeed, leaving the company: “I am NOT remaining the Resident Choreographer of OBT. I notified the Executive Director and Board Chair on June 25 and requested the immediate removal of my name and biographical information from the OBT website as the Resident Choreographer.”

Irving’s departure comes on the heels of a highly successful series of six sold-out return performances by OBT and OBT2 in June at the Jordan Schnitzer CARE Summerstage at OMSI – a new outdoor space shared by Portland Opera, the ballet company, and the science museum to safely bring back live performances. The concert featured two world premieres, one by renowned Canadian-via-Brooklyn choreographer Jennifer Archibald, and one by OBT’s Fonte. 

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Since the beginning of the pandemic, Irving, along with OBT’s dancers and staff, worked tirelessly and with some success to find creative solutions to rehearse, perform safely, and stay in the public eye. OBT created an online portal that housed dance films, performance clips, behind-the-scenes videos, dancer-made films and TikTok videos, dance classes for kids and adults, and a tutorial video with instructions and a supply list on how to make your own ballet barre at home. Irving also led a series of open online discussions with dance-world leaders on a range of social issues and the evolving role of ballet in contemporary culture.

To OBT, Irving brought 30 years of experience performing with and managing world-renowned cultural organizations and dance companies, including The Göteborg Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, and Compañía Nacional de Danza in Spain. While at OBT, he was committed to collaborative partnerships with Portland artists and organizations that included the Portland Art Museum, Multnomah County Library, and the big band Pink Martini. He expanded the company’s classical repertoire – with premieres of Ben Stevenson’s Cinderella and August Bournonville’s Napoli – while actively preserving OBT’s legacy and restoring significant works such as James Canfield’s Romeo & Juliet and Dennis Spaight’s Scheherazade. He introduced the work of contemporary masters Nacho Duato and Jiří Kylián and internationally acclaimed choreographers Darrell Grand Moultrie, Helen Pickett, and Fonte.

Peter Franc, who takes over as interim artistic director, also serves as the dancing company’s chosen representative on OBT’s board of directors. He joined the company as a soloist in 2015 and was promoted to principal at the end of his first season with OBT. He had previously danced with Houston Ballet and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Jamuna Chiarini is a dance artist, producer, curator, and writer, who produces DanceWatch Weekly for Oregon ArtsWatch. Originally from Berkeley, Calif., she studied dance at The School of The Hartford Ballet and Florida State University. She has also trained in Bharatanatyam and is currently studying Odissi. She has performed professionally throughout the United States as a dancer, singer, and actor for dance companies, operas, and in musical theatre productions. Choreography credits include ballets for operas and Kalamandir Dance Company. She received a Regional Arts & Culture Council project grant to create a 30-minute trio called “The Kitchen Sink,” which was performed in November 2017, and was invited to be part of Shawl-Anderson’s Dance Up Close/East Bay in Berkeley, Calif. Jamuna was a scholarship recipient to the Urban Bush Women’s Summer Leadership Institute, “Undoing Racism,” and was a two-year member of CORPUS, a mentoring program directed by Linda K. Johnson. As a producer, she is the co-founder of Co/Mission in Portland, Ore., with Suzanne Chi, a performance project that shifts the paradigm of who initiates the creation process of new choreography by bringing the artistic vision into the hands of the dance performer. She is also the founder of The Outlet Dance Project in Hamilton, N.J.

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One Response

  1. I saw one of OBT’s last performance on the outdoor stage. I’m not knowledgeable about dance, nor do I know anyone involved here, but the performance was inspiring. I couldn’t believe the effort it took to make the stage safe for dancers in that rainstorm. The Fonte piece, Choros, was emotionally stirring and deserved its ovation. I’m sad for OBT and those involved.

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