OBT’s Petrouchka and Carmen revisited

petrouchka_5_500pxJames McGrew

By Martha Ullman West


Last night I returned to Keller Auditorium because I wanted to see again Nicolo Fonte’s highly detailed urban rendering of Petrouchka, and to see Haiyan Wu dance Micaela in Carmen. I’m very glad I did.

Apparently, for some readers, I failed to convey in my original review for The Oregonian that I loved Fonte’s re-imagining of Fokine’s ballet when I saw it the first time on opening night.  I’m pleased to report that after a second viewing, I’m even more impressed by the way it reflects 21st century concerns, in the same way that the original imparts the zeitgeist of early 20th century Russia.

One hundred years ago, when the ballet premiered, Russia was between revolutions, culturally part European and part Asian, and Stravinsky and his collaborators were searching for a national identity. That Petrouchka was all about engagement and its dangers. Fonte’s, with its faceless corps de ballet and the title character’s search for an identity, seems to me to be about the perils of disengagement.

Visually it’s gorgeous. Its set pieces are integral and integrated into the choreography; its stripped-down costumes are perfect for Fonte’s hard-edged movement. While it was certainly well-danced opening night, by Friday night the dancers had absorbed the blend of contemporary and neo-classical movement into their very bones, and that showed.

Fonte’s Petrouchka distances itself from emotional affect. Stowell’s Carmen packs an emotional punch that in some places goes right to the gut, in others stabs at the heart. Haiyan Wu’s Micaela is full of innocent bewilderment in the first pas de deux and knowing futility in the second. Xuan Cheng, who danced the role on opening night, was lovely as well. But Wu’s interpretation is more textured, more shaded.

I was impressed with Brett Bauer’s Escamillo on Friday night. His performance had far more authority than I’ve seen him present on stage in the past. And in both ballets, Lucas Threefoot stood out — in Petrouchka as the Friend, in Carmen as a soldier. He’s a committed performer, able now to inhabit whatever technique is required of him in the way of a true artist. It’s a pleasure to watch him come into his own, as he is clearly doing in this program.

I hope, oh lord do I hope, that something can be done to quiet down the set pieces for Carmen before it’s performed again. While slightly more muted last night than they were on opening night, their audible bumping and grinding truly spoils the mood of a ballet that’s all about emotional highs and lows.


PHOTO: Stravinsky’s Petrouchka, presented by Oregon Ballet Theatre. World premiere choreography by Nicolo Fonte. Photo by James McGrew.