Tag Archives: Gavin Larsen

Anne Mueller: Goodbye and hello

Anne Mueller with Jon Drake in Christopher Stowell's "Eyes on You," 2005. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

By Bob Hicks

This afternoon’s top story comes from ace reporter Cole Porter, who broke the news ┬áthis way:

You’re the nimble tread
Of the feet of Fred Astaire,

You’re an O’Neill drama,

You’re Whistler’s mama!

You’re camembert.

In plainer English, Oregon Ballet Theatre announced today that principal dancer Anne Mueller, who has been with the company 15 years, will retire in May after OBT’s spring program, Song and Dance.

Anne Mueller and Lucas Threefoot in Trey McIntyre's "Speak." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.The company also announced that Mueller, who has been preparing for her post-dancing career for several years, will remain at OBT as its artistic coordinator, following the behind-the-scenes lead of another fine dancer, Gavin Larsen, who retired from performing last year and joined the OBT School’s faculty.

Porter’s song You’re the Top (and Blaine Truitt Covert’s photo above of Mueller perched on Jon Drake’s shoulder, rising above the crowd in Christopher Stowell’s ballet Eyes on You) seems apropos for Mueller, whose ebullience onstage has helped make her one of OBT’s most popular performers.

Porter’s lyrics also include the line You’re the nose on the great Durante, which seems especially apt to describe Mueller’s carbonated comic spirit, which audiences will miss mightily. They’ll also miss, even if they aren’t fully aware of it, the hard-earned and impressive technical skills that have made Mueller a dancers’ dancer and allowed her to show off that personality so well.

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Conduit at 15: the art of failing

By Bob Hicks

Let’s hear a great big round of applause for failure, art’s best friend.

Conduit turns 15!Mr. Scatter got back to Puddletown just in time to take in Sunday night’s final performance of Conduit‘s four-night 15th anniversary benefit celebration, for which he’d been asked to give a little halftime talk with drummer/writer/arts instigator and general man-about-town Tim DuRoche.

We’d had about a minute and a half to compare notes, but of course, we’d both been thinking about it, and Tim’s comments were, as usual, as sharp as a full-lather shave in a Wild West tonsorial parlor.

Pressed into speech, Mr. Scatter found himself to his own surprise abandoning his sparse notes and talking instead about the joys of failure. Over the years, he confessed, he’d seen some things in the Conduit space that had made him shudder. Then he’d gone home and thought about them, and after he’d thought a bit, sometimes he’d still shudder. But other times he’d think, “Aha! That’s what they were getting at!” and his window of perception would open a little wider.

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Goodbye to Lena, swan song for Gavin, the Brontes and kickin’ with Cedar Lake

By Martha Ullman West

Art Scatter is always pleased as punch to accept an essay from its chief correspondent and occasional world traveler, Martha Ullman West. MUW has been a busy woman lately. Herewith we offer her personal recollections of the late, great Lena Horne; her thoughts on the swan song of dancer Gavin Larsen, retiring from Oregon Ballet Theatre (plus other thoughts about OBT); Cedar Lake Contemporary Dance; and a comic theatrical riff on the Bronte sisters. Whew: That covers some territory!

Cropped screenshot of Lena Horne from "Till the Clouds Roll By," 1946. Wikimedia Commons

First and second thoughts on a Monday morning —

I was going to start this post with some second thoughts about Oregon Ballet Theatre‘s recent Duets concert series and specifically last Sunday’s matinee performance, Gavin Larsen‘s last as a principal dancer.

But I logged on to my e-mail an hour or so before I began writing and found that a high school classmate had forwarded me the New York Times obituary for Lena Horne, so I’ll start with some extremely vivid memories of her that go back, oh dear God, 58 years.

Original poster from Lena Horne's 1941 movie "Stormy Weather." Wikimedia CommonsHer daughter, Gail Jones, was a year ahead of me at a Quaker boarding school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., called Oakwood. The glamorous Lena Horne was a loving, devoted mother, who always came to Parents Day — and so did my father, believe you me.

First memory: October of my freshman year, Lena in a red velvet suit, prowling (no other word for it) along the football field, definitely deflecting fatherly attention from the game as well as the nubile cheerleaders, although Dad claimed for years he heard a Quaker referee calling “Thee is out.”

Second memory: Two years later, a cold wintry day, I was running barefoot down the hall of my dormitory when that unmistakable voice called from Gail’s room, “Child, put your shoes on — it’s freezing in here.” I stopped dead in my tracks, turned around, and there she was; looking, needless to say, stunning. And stern. I put my shoes on.

Third memory: The American Masters PBS show twelve years ago in honor of her 80th birthday (and she looked about 50, I might add), which I imagine PBS will reprise and I urge all Scatterers to watch. Daughter Gail Jones’s history of the Horne Family is also well worth reading. As is the Times obituary. Lots of “Stormy Weather” in Lena’s life; damned if she did, damned if she didn’t, and did she ever overcome, with astonishing glamor and grace.

*

There was plenty of grace
of a different kind, and glamour best described as casual, as Oregon Ballet Theatre’s dancers filed past Larsen at the second intermission a week ago Sunday. Larsen was still in her Duo Concertant practice clothes costume, crowned with a ballerina’s tiara. The casual part applies to the jeans-clad dancers who each gave her a single rose and a kiss as they walked past her: It’s a tradition that began, I believe, at the Paris Opera Ballet.

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Lithe Talented Dancers wow Large Smelly Boy

obt_emeralds

“Did you notice how the first lady soloist started dancing just with her hands?”

Intermission had just begun Saturday night at Oregon Ballet Theatre‘s season-opening performance, which had so far consisted of the company premiere of George Balanchine’s green dream of a dance, Emeralds. Mrs. Scatter had scarpered to the coast for one of her intermittent weekends of popping corks and doing crafty stuff with her girlfriends, and Mr. Scatter was in the company of the Small Large Smelly Boy, two weeks shy of his twelfth birthday and taking in his first non-Nutcracker ballet.

“No, Dad,” the SLSB replied patiently. “It was her whole arms.”

So it was.

Those arms belonged to the highly talented Yuka Iino, the fleet princess in this picture-book of a ballet to Alison Roper’s imperial queen.

Premiered in 1967 and seeming older than that (this is definitely a pre-Beatles universe onstage) Balanchine’s ballet is a visual stunner: Karinska’s glittering emerald costumes; the spare vivid set with its falling sweep of white drapery and its lone elegant chandelier high above the stage; the astonishing lighting (originally by Ronald Bates, executed here by OBT’s masterful designer Michael Mazzola) that reminds me somehow of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, with its conceit that there are old worlds and new worlds, and that in the new ones everything is brighter, more vivid, more cleanly outlined, and the air seems alive.

But the SLSB, freshly showered for the occasion, isn’t looking at the set. He’s looking at feet. This boy is an observer (and, I think, more a classicist than a postmodernist), and he’s captivated by something that’s captivated millions of people for almost two hundred years: toe work.

obt_speak“How do they dance up on their toes like that?” he asked. “Do they have to work a lot to do it? That must be hard!”

“Yes,” I replied. “That’s called dancing en pointe. It’s very hard. You have to practice for years and years. Even professional dancers keep practicing it, all the time. Dancers are athletes, did you know that? They have to be as athletic as anybody in a sport, plus they have to be artists.”

“How do they know what to do?”

“Well, the dancemaker, the choreographer, decides on how they’ll move to the music. There are five basic positions that your feet and legs can take, and then there’s lots of variations and different ways you can combine them. But it all starts with those five positions you need to learn. And you work on those all the time.”

I was afraid the SLSB might be bored by Emeralds. It’s hardly the cutting edge of contemporary ballet, after all, and although I love Gabriel Faure’s music, it can be deep and reserved. Perkiness is not its game.

I shouldn’t have worried. My son’s attention was perfectly focused through this long dance, absorbing it, homing in on particulars. He caught the importance of the shoes in absorbing the impact of the weight and pressure on those elevated feet. (Later, watching Dennis Spaight’s fluid and sassy Ellington Suite, he was also impressed that the dancers can dance in high heels.)

The second act of this expansive evening of dance consisted of 10 shorter pieces, in whole or in excerpt, from the company’s history — including one, a scene from The Sleeping Beauty, performed by the young dancers of the company school. This is OBT’s twentieth anniversary season, and it kicked off with a celebration of the company’s past, although with a gaping hole: For reasons that I don’t understand (I know he was asked) the program includes no dances by James Canfield, artistic director for the company’s first fourteen years.
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Hot and sweaty at Conduit Dance: Don’t think, just feel

Here’s what I think. I think we think too much.

Sometimes.

About art.

Linda Austin. Photo: Daniel AddyAbout visual art, definitely. We’ve created a mumbo-jumbo priesthood of commentary and pretend the intellectual abstraction is more important than the physical experience of the art itself. Which it is, but only sometimes. And far less often than the priesthood likes to think.

Also about dance, which on the face of it is about as physical and sensual as an art form can be: One’s body is one’s art. That doesn’t mean dance isn’t driven by ideas, from folk styles to ballet and modern and the most contemporary expression. Yet in no other art form is it so literally true that an artist creates a body of work.

On Friday night Portland was happily busting the spine of an unPortland-like heat wave, but the word hadn’t drifted up to the fourth floor of downtown’s Pythian Building, where giant fans were whooshing to keep the sticky air circulating at Conduit Dance. Conduit’s in a bit of a pickle financially right now, and so it’s putting on a series of benefit performances this weekend and next, and Friday was opening night.

A hot and sticky affair, as it turned out: For a change, the audience got a feel for what it’s like to be out on the floorboards, sweating under the lights. Because so much of the audience was made up of dance people, anyway, it just helped to create a here-we-are-together mood. And because the wet heat had the mildly giddy effect of a low-grade fever, it encouraged dispensing with analysis and just experiencing the thing. As Paul McCartney put it, Let it be.

For years I’ve watched Linda Austin, a smart and funny woman who’s established herself as one of the city’s leading contemporary performers, and for years I just haven’t quite got what she’s up to. Linda’s out there, and I’ve spent a bit of time trying to figure out where “there” is and exactly why she’s taking us to it. In that suss-out-the-puzzle sense her Friday night performance, a solo study for her work-in-progress Bandage a Knife, was pretty familiar in its unfamiliarity: Who besides Linda knows what that chanting and waving of lights was all about?

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Scatter hits the ballet, and revels in the next generation

Pianist Carol Rich and Olga Krochick, The Concert. BLAINE TRUITT COVERT

Loyal readers know that Art Scatter is fiercely in favor of protecting Oregon Ballet Theatre from the financial wolves that are nipping at its heels, eager to drag it down and devour it for a mid-recession munch. I’ve made the case that this is Portland’s finest theatrical troupe, a company on the rise nationally, and that to lose it would be a devastating blow to the city. I remain confident, cautiously, that Portlanders will pull together like a hardy band of foresters and help carry the wobbly sojourner out of the economic woods to safety, where it can get its feet back under itself and figure out a prudent path into the future.

So on Saturday afternoon I went with more than usual anticipation to see OBT’s season-ending program of Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush and three dances by that Broadway-driven balletic dramatist, Jerome Robbins. Martha Ullman West, a frequent contributor to Art Scatter, reviews the program perceptively for The Oregonian and, I’m hoping, might post more thoughts later here. Scatter cohort Barry Johnson was there, too, writing on his Portland Arts Watch blog; and The Oregonian’s Grant Butler had a good update in Sunday’s Oregonian on this Friday’s coming benefit blowout. I won’t repeat what they had to say, but give ’em a read!

I went to the Saturday matinee partly because I knew some of the major roles would be performed by the “second stringers” — the alternate casts that don’t do opening night. I like to do this because it’s a terrific way to get a sense of the depth of a company. Yes, several principal dancers and soloists perform in the matinees — Gavin Larsen was superb in Rush, for instance, and Artur Sultanov was an electrically restrained faun in Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun — but the matinees also give you a chance to see who’s developing in the corps.

Let me tell you who: Grace Shibley, one of the company’s youngest dancers, who paired beautifully with Sultanov in Afternoon of a Faun and simply ran away with the role that company star Alison Roper danced on opening night in Robbins’ witty, gorgeously performed lark The Concert. Shibley is graceful and funny and superbly trained (she came through OBT’s school, which under Damara Bennett’s leadership does wonderful work) and she has personality. The future, if economic troubles don’t bring it tumbling down, is big for her. As for the rest of Saturday’s dancers: Any number of companies across the country would be thrilled to have a starting lineup as good as these “reserves.”

And that got me to thinking about something that I want for this company and this city: I want the joy of succession. Other cities and companies — San Francisco and its San Francisco Ballet, Seattle and its Pacific Northwest Ballet, New York and its New York City Ballet — have the honor and pleasure of seeing their great dancers come to the end of their careers and leave on high notes, secure in the knowledge that capable, fresh young dancers are ready to fill their shoes. It’s how traditions are created; how they’re refreshed and reinvigorated for the future. That tradition is taking root here.

Roper and Sultanov and Larsen and Anne Mueller and Yuka Iino and other OBT stars won’t be dancing forever. Dancers are like professional athletes: They have their time, and then a time comes to hang it up. The Grace Shibleys are always in the wings, ready to learn, ready to take their place in the spotlight, ready to pass the torch on to someone new when their time comes.

And audience members will smile, and cheer, and say, “Isn’t that girl marvelous!” and “Remember when …?” and “Doesn’t he remind you of …”

And the show will go on, always changing, always reinventing itself, always the same.

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And now, on to tonight’s Drammy Awards at the Crystal Ballroom. What fun: Should I pull out my tux?