Sweet civility in the new ballet season (if nowhere else)

Art Scatter’s chief dance and decorum correspondent, Martha Ullman West, takes a look at Oregon Ballet Theatre’s upcoming season and discovers hope for artistic manners in the midst of a meltdown of civil rudeness.

Yuka Iino and Ronnie Underwood, center, in 2007 OBT performance of "The Sleeping Beauty" Act III. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The ballet just might be the last bastion of civility in what used to be a civil society.

Consider the evidence:

  • A certain Supreme Court Justice, in attendance at Wednesday night’s State of the Union address, mouthing a contradiction of the President on camera.
  • So-called Tea Party activists shouting loudly enough to shatter a bone china cup.
  • Drivers, discourteously at best, cutting in ahead of other drivers in traffic.
  • Bicyclists — righteously, oh, how righteously — taunting drivers in the same way.

All of this occurred to me last night as I was watching Yuka Iino, a principal dancer at Oregon Ballet Theatre, balancing her way through the Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty. The scene of this very tasty preview of the company’s first full-length production of the Tchaikovsky classic was OBT’s studio on the east side of the Willamette River in Portland. The occasion, complete with nibbles and name tags, was the ballet company’s announcement for press and supporters of its 2010-11 season. The Sleeping Beauty will open the season on October 9, accompanied by — oh, joy! — the live orchestra that has been mostly missing since the company’s financial disaster last spring.

Artur Sultanov and Daniela DeLoe in a 2009 OBT performance of Nicolo Fonte's "Left Unsaid." Photo: Blaine Truitt CovertThe Rose Adagio, for those who have never seen Beauty, takes place at Princess Aurora’s birthday ball in the ballet’s first act, when she dances, briefly, with four suitors, portrayed Thursday night by Lucas Threefoot, Brian Simcoe, Christian Squires and Brennan Boyer, who were dressed in ordinary practice clothes, as was Iino.

She, however, was so thoroughly steeped in the character of the young girl going through this aristocratic rite of passage — infusing her performance with the same shy charm and radiant smile that Margot Fonteyn had in 1949 — that she transported me to a place where decorum counted and manners mattered.

And of course the plot of this ballet is driven by an act of discourtesy by Aurora’s father’s Major Domo, who fails to invite one of the fairies, Carabosse, to the celebration. Carabosse then crashes the party and gives Aurora a spindle to play with, which punctures her finger so that she dies. Only it’s a fairy tale, and the Lilac Fairy mitigates this rudeness by having everyone fall asleep for 100 years instead. Y’all know the rest, I’m sure.

The rest of OBT’s 2010-11 season is more reflective of today’s society, with Trey McIntyre’s Speak, to rap music, on one program. Stowell’s and Anne Mueller’s Rite of Spring will be reprised on an all-Stravinsky program that also includes collaborative works by Ashley Roland and Jamey Hampton of BodyVox, Mueller, and Rumpus Room’s Rachel Tess. There’s decorum on that program too, with a revival of Yuri Possokhov’s staging of Firebird.

Stowell’s programming also includes an alternative to The Nutcracker in the form of a holiday revue that will run concurrently with it at the Keller Auditorium. And the season closer reprises Nicolo Fonte’s terrific Left Unsaid and Stowell’s own Eyes on You (like the Rose Adagio, it’s all about balance) — works that are fun, or thoughtful, or serious, that take us out of the present or into the future, or remind us of our better selves.


Photos, both by Blaine Truitt Covert:

Top: Yuka Iino and Ronnie Underwood, center, in OBT’s 2007 performance of Act 3 from “The Sleeping Beauty.”

Inset: Artur Sultanov and Daniela DeLoe in a 2009 OBT performance of Nicolo Fonte’s “Left Unsaid.”