Hiyan Wu

Revealed: ballet for the 21st century

OBT's newest program is hampered by a lack of live music, but tells exciting stories of our time

Oregon Ballet Theatre opened its post-Nutcracker season at the Keller Auditorium last weekend with four 21st century story ballets, and despite the absence of live orchestra, the dancers tell the stories very well. No surprise there. With the exception of Christopher Wheeldon’s Liturgy, a pas de deux made originally on New York City Ballet’s Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto, all were created on these particular dancers, most of them anyway, and that shows.

Two of the dances on the program–which is called Reveal, and which repeats Thursday-Saturday, February 27-March 1–are overtly political.  Christopher Stowell’s curtain-raising world premiere A Second Front deals with Joseph Stalin’s persecution of Dimitri Shostakovich. The whispering soundtrack that alternates with excerpts from two of the composer’s suites for dance is also highly suggestive of the eavesdropping by today’s intelligence agencies, and not just ours.

Ye Li in Stowell's "A Second Front." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Ye Li in Stowell’s “A Second Front.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Like Ekho, the last piece that Stowell made for the company he directed for close to a decade, A Second Front, is for seven couples.  Packed with classical steps, often executed at top speed in intricately designed floor patterns reminiscent of Balanchine’s, it takes place in a ballroom that the skeletal metal chandeliers suggest has seen better days. The women dance in identical silky gray evening gowns, with pleated skirts slit to the waist to reveal their beautiful legs in attitude or arabesque. The men are costumed in dreary gray suits reminiscent of those worn by members of the politburo.  Mark Zappone designed the costumes, and they, with Michael Mazzola’s lights, help to set the oppressive atmosphere of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

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