duke ellington

All-American at the ballet

Oregon Ballet Theatre "dances like real people" in a vibrant program of works by Alvin Ailey, Trey McIntyre, and BodyVox's Roland & Hampton

“Dance like you’re real people,” Trey McIntyre told the original cast members of his Robust American Love when he made it on Oregon Ballet Theatre for the 2013-14 season.  McIntyre’s take on the real people, particularly the women, who settled the American heartland is the centerpiece of OBT’s The Americans, the concluding repertory show of the 2018-19 season.  It opened Friday night at Portland’s Newmark Theatre and repeats Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, June 13-15.

Actually, Alvin Ailey’s Night Creature, which opens the show, and Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland’s Big Shoes, which closes it, are also about real people, arguably one of the overriding characteristics of American ballet that distinguishes it from the European tradition.  That characteristic dates back to 1936, when  Lincoln Kirstein founded Ballet Caravan, a small touring company with a repertoire of ballets about gas jockeys, outlaws (Billy the Kid), sailors on a whaling ship, and the urban poor.  Most of their scores were commissioned from American composers.

The OBT company in Alvin Ailey and Duke Ellington’s Night Creature. Photo: Jingzi Zhao

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Getting a drop on the New Year

Forget Times Square: For New Year's Eve, the Oregon Symphony downloads a concert hall of balloons at the climax of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy"

Photographs by JOE CANTRELL

First came the audience, filling downtown Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Then the musicians, and the tuning, and the program, which was fitting for a celebration: some selections from Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s sprightly and creative Nutcracker Suite; leading to a pair of pieces by the great stride pianist and composer James P. Johnson, Drums: A Symphonic Poem and Victory Stride; the full windup for Beethoven’s glorious Ninth Symphony and its Ode to Joy. Don’t forget the full-throated applause.

And then the balloons: a full concert hall’s worth, cascading from the rafters and into the crowd, bright and bubbly promises for the year to come. Eat your heart out, Times Square: This is the way to celebrate the arrival of the New Year.

Photographer Joe Cantrell was on hand for Sunday night’s big blowout of a performance by the Oregon Symphony, and captured the vitality and celebratory spirit of the scene. There was plenty of both, with vocal soloists Jenny Schuler, Sienna Licht Miller, Andrew Haji and Richard Zeller, and with a sterling chorus made up of singers from Portland State University, the Oregon Repertory Singers, and the Pacific Youth Choir. “Music, both ‘big band’ and LvB 9, was superb, fresh and bright, and Ethan Sperry’s combined choruses with the soloists embraced the Ninth for the monument to all that’s good,” Cantrell reported, adding that this year, the hall’s first few rows were left empty for the balloons to bounce freely.

What better way to celebrate New Year’s Eve? The concert repeats tonight, Monday the 31st, at 7:30 p.m. Ticket information here.

The map to the music: tracking the score.

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