OBT’s ‘Chromatic Quartet,’ Take 2

OBT performs the world premiere of Matyash Mrozewski's "The Lost Dance." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Art Scatter’s chief correspondent, Martha Ullman West, keeps a sharp and steady eye on the dance world for a variety of publications. A week ago she reviewed the opening of Oregon Ballet Theatre‘s “Chromatic Quartet” program for The Oregonian. (Art Scatter’s Bob Hicks followed with this take on Oregon Arts Watch.) Then, on Friday night, Ullman West returned to the Newmark Theatre to see what a week’s experience and some different casting had done to the show. Sometimes, quite a bit. Here’s her report.


By Martha Ullman West

Just as you think you can’t stand to see Lambarena again, ever, Yuka Iino dances the lead female role with such charm, such energy, such abandon and such pleasure, you want to see her do it again.

Grace Shibley and Brett Bauer in Balanchine's "Stravinsky Violin Concerto." Photo: Blaine Truitt CovertI had fully intended to leave the Newmark Theatre at the second intermission Friday night, having watched many companies (well, three) perform a ballet I don’t think really works. But I was curious to see how convincingly Iino and Chauncey Parsons would de-classicize themselves in Val Caniparoli’s blending of tribal dance and ballet. In movement that is antithetical to classical epaulement, Iino was terrific, Parsons had the right energy, and Yang Zou’s undulating shoulders looked like they’d been oiled at the joint.

What I’d wanted was to see Iino and Parsons dance principal roles in Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto. Instead I got the opening-night cast, abandoning opening-night caution to the winds, the complicated counts and fancy footwork thoroughly in their minds and muscles, giving the piece what Nancy Goldner in her book Balanchine Variations calls “that gotta dance energy.” This was especially true of the corps, and of Grace Shibley, who is the physical embodiment of the Balanchine ballerina: long limbed, high-waisted, built for speed.

Shibley, as my seatmate pointed out, has come into her own this season, and what a pleasure it is to watch her. In Friday night’s performance there were plenty of opportunities: in addition to Violin she was cast in The Lost Dance and Lambarena, three very different roles, calling for very different style and musicality, although social dancing of various kinds is a component of every one of them.

Lost Dance, which had the same male cast as opening night performing this time with Candace Bouchard, Julia Rowe and Kathi Martuza, doesn’t hold up very well for me. I found my mind wandering, maybe because the music isn’t very interesting, maybe because it follows Balanchine’s choreographic genius on the program. (I know, that’s not fair, and the audience, as it did opening night, liked it much better than Violin.) It was, however, lovely to see Martuza, back from maternity leave, as one of those very elegant women. Her arm and hand movements were sharp, hard-edged, and made sense. Rowe, too, was terrific in this ballet, especially in a short, punchy duet with Javier Ubell.

Wheeldon’s Liturgy, danced on Friday by Alison Roper and Brett Bauer, certainly has its moments, particularly in the Asian-style port de bras, and this couple’s rendering makes it look quite different from Haiyan Wu’s and Simcoe’s, in quite subtle ways. The tone is different, like the glaze on two pieces of pottery that are molded the same way. I’d like to see Parsons and Iino dance it as well.

OBT’s spring repertory show is always challenging for the dancers, requiring them to shift aesthetic and technical gears as fast as they change from tights to trousers, leotards to skirts. They met those challenges and more in Chromatic Quartet, as did ballet master Lisa Kipp, who’s in charge of the details of these ballets once the choreographers and stagers have departed. Arguably, this was OBT’s best repertory show to date, showing the company’s enormous growth and maturity in quite a short time.

  • Top Photo: OBT performs the world premiere of Matyash Mrozewski’s “The Lost Dance.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert
  • Inset: Grace Shibley and Brett Bauer in Balanchine’s “Stravinsky Violin Concerto.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert