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Bolero Bolsters

Oregon Ballet Theatre

by Dean Speer

June 5, 2010; 2:00 p.m. matinée -- Keller Auditorium, Portland, Oregon

One of the best things about Portland – in addition to its people-friendly city blocks, great shops, museums, historic downtown library, and Powell’s Books – is its parks. The downtown is littered with them, including three of my favorites: the famous “Parks Blocks” which begin at Portland State University running north; the park in front of City Hall which includes some neat statuary, including a fountain intended for horses to hydrate themselves; and a manmade waterfall park that thunders and sparkles and cools as it entices people enjoy its charms – either by allowing the mists to lift themselves over you or by directly wading right on in. It’s located smack across the street from Keller Auditorium, which has a wall of windows that open up to and reflect back on the tumbling waterways.

One of the other best things about Portland is one of the tenants of Keller – Oregon Ballet Theatre – which gave its concluding repertory program of the 2009-10 season, before taking a hiatus and coming back to work in August with a tour of its Balanchine “Nutcracker” production to Korea.

This program included Yuri Possokhov’s staging of the famous Petipa work, “Raymonda,” a revival of last year’s “Hush” by Canadian choreographer James Kudelka, and topping out with a revival from two years ago, Nicolo Fonte’s “Bolero” set to the Ravel score of the same name.

“Raymonda” should have been performed using the piano reduction. It just should have been, particularly since the principal ballerina’s solo, the “Seventh Variation,” is virtually a piano solo anyway. Why not the rest? OBT already “soft-mikes” its orchestra, so if the concern is that a solo piano might not be clearly heard in Keller Auditorium, what’s the difference? Never the less, Possokhov’s staging and the artists of OBT’s rendering were among the highlights of the afternoon.

From the classical adagio duet of Alison Roper and Ronnie Underwood to the excellent corps and soloist work, this ballet was a standout winner. This excerpted last-act builds to a tutti czardas that included fast exciting footwork – double time passés and half-breaks – which concludes in a classic ballet pose, the ballerina and her consort being surrounded by everyone else.

Dazzling in their Hermitage-blue costumes [tutus and tunics] and their variations were Leta Biasucci, Grace Shibley, Martina Chavez, Olga Krochik, and Andrea Cooper; the men whose double tours were spot-on – Chauncey Parsons, Brian Simcoe, Christian Squires, and Lucas Threefoot; Roper and Underwood. Possokhov’s work for the men is more interesting from a compositional standpoint than the bland and predicable choreography that can be seen on tape from the Bolshoi’s production where they stand in a row and each do sequential tours en l’air.

“Hush” is long and rambling. Described by its creator as meditative, it certainly is that. I did not care all that much for this piece when it premiered in the smaller Intermediate Theatre at Newmark, but I do have to report that while it’s an intimate piece, it did benefit from being seen in a larger venue. I also understand and appreciate the reasoning behind wanting to show a work more than once and give it another chance; yet this ballet, sadly, does not merit a return performance.

While it’s neat having the live harp music, it’s also the piece’s weakest link. As the old saying goes about gravity fountains – “A fountain can rise no higher than its source.” There are other harp pieces that I believe would work better for dance. Canadian composer Rodney Sharman’s score felt and sounded like something out of the plains of Saskatchewan – some of it lovely, but with some bare and cold patches along the way. It doesn’t sustain interest, nor, from what we could see choreographically on stage, inspire brilliance.

Its best sections are when the men and veiled women intersect in dance that seems to be about remembrance and the work’s concluding duet, neatly and romantically danced by Kathi Martuza and Artur Sultanov.

“Bolero” is one of Nicolo Fonte’s best works to date. He has tackled a very difficult score, choreographically speaking, and has come out on top. I’ve seen many choreographic attempts, some embarrassing, some okay, over the years and Fonte’s is the most outstanding.

It begins with metal roofing sheets (from Lowe’s) which are placed and hung vertically in layers, right to left and down to up, across the stage. Dancers move behind, in front of, and around these, which eventually rise, disappearing to the flies above the stage, and in the last moments, dramatically concludes with a blood-red drapery lowering out of the flies and Kathi Martuza being tossed into it, caught by Adrian Fry, as the music crashes through its last chords of “poomp-bah-bah-bah-poomb!”

This too was probably our last chance to see Fry, who is decamping to Ballet West. He will be missed. It’s been fun seeing this young dancer grow over the last few years, and I’m confident his talents will be well put to use and showcased in Utah.

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