Rimsky-Korsakov

The Adventures of Fred and Aurore

Stuck at home with nowhere to go? A musical tale with mules, trolls, a bumblebee, a dog, a cat, a composer, a writer, and a little imagination.

People who love the arts all have felt the impact of the global pandemic on their favorite genres and arts experiences. We may forget that our children are moved by the arts as well, and have experienced similar losses of opportunities, whether children’s theater, museums oriented to young people, movies in a theater, or live music.

This brings us to the story of Fred and Aurore. Fred played and composed music for the piano. Aurore was a writer. Fred was one of the most famous pianists and Aurore one of the most well-known writers in the time they lived. She used the name George when she wrote books, plays, and magazine articles, because people did not want to publish the writing of women at the time she lived.

Aurore had a little dog named Marquis, who liked to dance in circles chasing his tail. Aurore suggested to Fred that he create music inspired by Marquis, so he composed a waltz, sometimes called the Waltz of the Little Dog, but today most people call it the Minute Waltz. Can you imagine Marquis chasing his tail when you listen to Chopin’s Minute Waltz? 

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Wit, speed, a blast from the past

Oregon Ballet Theatre lights the fireworks with Forsythe, Balanchine, and the dazzling return of Dennis Spaight's 1990 "Scheherazade"

From the sharp angles of William Forsythe’s  In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated to the lavish curves of Dennis Spaight’s Scheherazade, Oregon Ballet Theatre celebrated the company’s 30th anniversary on Saturday night  with technical fireworks, wit, drama, and the speed, energy, and adaptability that are the hallmarks of American dancers.   

George Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto, which contains much of the source material for Forsythe’s once-radical ballet, was the equally elevated middle piece on this highly charged sampler of works exemplifying three of the creative forces that made ballet American. The third force is Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and the ways in which choreographers such as Spaight and OBT’s current resident choreographer, Nicolo Fonte (e.g. his Petrouchka),  reacted to that tradition.

It’s brilliant programming, and OBT Artistic Director Kevin Irving is to be commended for it. Each ballet is a gift to the audience, and a gift to the dancers as well, offering them opportunities to stretch and grow, hone their technique, and refine their artistry, starting with the curtain-raising In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. This was Irving’s calling card, as a German critic once put it, referring to another artistic director’s vision for a different ballet company.  In this instance, Forsythe’s 1987 ballet, replete with revved-up classical shapes and steps mixed with insouciant, natural walking and standing, represents perfectly Irving’s vision of a contemporary ballet company supported at the box office by evening-length story ballets.   

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Brian Simcoe in William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated at Oregon Ballet Theatre. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

IT NEVER OCCURRED TO ME when I saw the company premiere of Forsythe’s work two years ago that Middle’s  relentless, high-tension propulsion of dancers across the stage, with only the walking and standing  giving dancers and audience a chance to breathe,  provides the same opportunities for bravura turns as the second act of, gulp, The Nutcracker, which will return for its annual run at OBT in December, or The Sleeping Beauty, to be seen in February.  The difference, of course, is musical: Thom Willems’s score for In the Middle ain’t pretty and it tells no stories. But as several critics have pointed out, the pounding rhythms demand as much precision from the dancers as the arias in Violin Concerto or the melodies in Scheherazade

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