Tag Archives: Trey McIntyre

Ballet in do-si-do; Mueller flies high

Anne Mueller in Christopher Stowell's "Eyes on You" at Oregon Ballet Theatre. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.Anne Mueller in Eyes on You. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

By Bob Hicks

“Oh, look!” Mr. Scatter said, glancing up from his program. “The music is by Wiwaldi and Corelli. You’ll like that.”

The Small Large Smelly Boy snickered. “Why do you always say ‘Wiwaldi’ for ‘Vivaldi‘?” he asked.

“Because sometimes you need to do things just for the fun of it.”

One works small life lessons into the conversation when one sees the opportunity.

Julia Rowe (foreground) and Olga Krochik in George Balanchine's "Square Dance." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.When George Balanchine created Square Dance for New York City Ballet in 1957, he must have done it at least partly just for the fun of it. What a mashup! — the measured musical courtliness of two Baroque master composers, a stage filled with neoclassically trained ballet dancers, a small Baroque-style orchestra about the size and sonic configuration of an acoustic hillbilly band, and off in the corner, resplendent in Western shirt, bolo tie and cowboy hat, a 20th century American square-dance caller shouting out the do-si-do’s. It took a brilliant creative leap, on a much higher level than the whimsical substituting of a few “w”s for “v”s, to make these cross-century connections, and to make them seem so obvious after the fact: the balanced regularity of Baroque music and country-dance music; virtuoso turns on the 18th century violin and the 20th century fiddle; the stylized courtship patterns in both Baroque and modern country dance; the easy back-and-forth between high and popular art; the backward glance, from the modern ballet stage, to the more rudimentary yet charming forms of the art in Corelli’s and Vivaldi’s times. The incongruities work because, underneath, they really aren’t incongruous at all.

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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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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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Martha Ullman West on Dance United: a personal take

Like so many great art forms, dance is a series of interlinked relationships and memories, a tradition that continually redefines and reinvents itself. It lives in the past, and the present, and the future, and its story is written in the memories and associations of open-hearted observers as well as the muscles of dancers and the patterns in choreographers’ minds.

Dance writer Martha Ullman West, one of our best observers, took in last Friday’s Dance United, and for her it was like biting into a madeleine: The reminiscences and connections just began to flow. Somehow, no matter how far-flung, they all looped back to Oregon Ballet Theatre, its history and successes, and this extraordinary event to keep the company alive and vital.

Here is the link to Martha’s review in The Oregonian of the performance. And here, below, is her more personal report on what it all meant:

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Daniel Ulbright, New York City Ballet. Photo: BLAINE TRUITT COVERTReally, it was a cross between a potlatch and an Obama rally, a gathering of the clans.

Dancers came from Texas, Utah, Massachusetts, Canada, Washington state, California, Chicago, Idaho, and that other geographical location, in New York called Downtown, here designated as Portland’s modern and contemporary dance community.

The gifts they brought were generous: their talent and their time. And they were welcomed to Keller Auditorium with the same enthusiasm as Obama’s supporters do and did, reaching into their wallets with many relatively small donations to keep Oregon Ballet Theatre alive. On Tuesday, OBT had in hand $720,000 of the $750,000 it needs to make up THIS season’s deficit.

I’ve been watching dance in Portland and elsewhere for more decades that I wish to reveal, and professionally since 1979, when I wrote an essay on postmodern dance in New York for Dance Magazine. In so many ways, this gala triggered some Proustian moments, also making me think of all the ways that dance and dancers are connected to each other.

Linda Austin’s thoroughly postmodern “anybody-can-dance, any-movement-on-stage-is-valid” Boris & Natasha Dancers (on catnip) took me back to New York’s SoHo and a performance created by Karole Armitage consisting of a group of dancers on their hands and knees, painting stripes on the floor, in humorless silence. They were not skilled at either painting or dancing, but it was the same democratic approach to the art form as Austin’s new dance, which featured such pillars of the Portland community as two Bragdons (Peter and David), Scott Bricker, James Harrison and Peter Ames Carlin galumphing across the stage, one of them wearing red sneakers that I wondered if he’d borrowed from White Bird’s Paul King. (Armitage, you may remember, also made work on OBT’s dancers on James Canfield’s watch.)

Sarah Van Patten Damian Smith, SFBallet. Photo: BLAINE TRUITT COVERTThe Joffrey Ballet’s Aaron Rogers, performing Val Caniparoli’s Aria, recalled for me the profound pleasure of watching Val work with Portland dancers, first at OBT’s precursor Ballet Oregon, and then at OBT. Caniparoli’s kindness and courtesy in the studio turned out to be extremely productive when the company performed his Street Songs and other work. Rogers looked like he was enjoying himself, flirting with that mask, and certainly seduced the audience in the process.

And I thought about Mark Goldweber, ballet master at OBT under Canfield, then for some years at the Joffrey, and now at Ballet West. (He gave the only authentic performance in Robert Altman’s dance film The Company, in my view.) I wondered what Mark thinks about the way Adam Sklute, now Ballet West’s artistic director, staged this version of the White Swan pas de deux.

When I encountered this ballet’s real-life Prince Siegfried, Christopher Ruud, at OBT’s studios earlier in the week, I spoke with him about his father, who had helped Todd Bolender at Kansas City Ballet (Bolender is the subject of a book I’m working on). Ruud told me he had staged one of his father’s pieces on the company several years ago.

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The week that was in dance: fusion and confusion

Trey McIntyre Dance/Chris Riesing

Friend of Art Scatter Martha Ullman West got back to Portland from a lengthy stretch in Kansas City, where she’s been researching a book on ballet legend Todd Bolender, just in time to take in one of the Rose City’s busiest dance weeks in quite a while. Here’s her report — and thanks, Martha, for Scattering!

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Portland Dance Journal, Saturday Feb. 21 through Friday Feb. 27, 2009

I didn’t realize it until I sat down to to write this Scatter post, but what we had in Portland last week was fusion, fusion, fusion, and some con-fusion. It was not a week for purists, that’s for sure — from Oregon Ballet Theatre to the Trey McIntyre Project to Tuesday and Wednesday night’s performances at Reed College by Pappa Tarahumara, a Japanese company that performed what it claimed was a version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, this one set in rural Japan in the 1960s.

Moreover, critic and historian Marcia Siegel was in town to give two lectures to Portland State University’s dance history students on fusion in ballet, and also to teach composition students in the same place. In addition, she showed two extraordinary films, Carolyn Brown’s Dune Dance and Merce Cunningham’s Biped. She also led a session with Reed students on how to write about dancing, based on the Pappa Tarahumara performance. And if you haven’t read Howling Near Heaven, her recent book on Twyla Tharp and her work, or The Shapes of Change, a book published in 1979 that is an indispensable part of my library, go and do so immediately.

Herewith a log of sorts:

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Saturday, 8 p.m.: I go to opening night of Oregon Ballet Theatre and the premiere of Christopher Stowell’s Rite of Spring. The program opened with Peter Martins’ Ash, with Yuka Iino and Chauncey Parsons in the principal roles and doing a sparkling job of dancing them. Bang off, the company showed how well-schooled it has become under Stowell’s leadership, how fast and how accurate in its technique: In Ash the dancers contributed artistry to what is basically an aerobic workout danced to an unstructured score.

"Rite of Spring," Stowell/Stravinsly/OBT. Blaine Truitt CovertGod knows Stravinsky’s 1912 Sacre du Printemps, played brilliantly here in its two-piano version by Carol Rich and Susan DeWitt Smith, is structured. Its lyrical beginning builds to a pounding crescendo in music that is still startling for its highly stylized brutality.

Seeking to do something new with Vaslav Nijinsky‘s anti-classical ballet about a primitive Russian fertility rite that calls for the sacrifice of a Chosen One (female, it’s almost needless to say), Stowell, assisted by Anne Mueller, has come up with an episodic narrative that is more about 21st century Americans and our seemingly endless search for community and catharsis than anything else. Or is it an episodic narrative? It’s definitely episodic, but the narrative may be up for grabs.

Michael Mazzola‘s movable-set-piece walls contribute to this effect, as do his lights. But on opening night, while I was impressed with the dancing and the production values, I was also more than a little mystified by Stowell’s intentions, and glad to know I’d have a chance to see it again.

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