You Can Dance!

Well let me just say that saving a ballet company has never been so much fun! Last night's emergency gala fundraiser performance, Dance United, thrown together in three weeks flat, was an extraordinary evening of dance and community involvement. The audience was a who's who of arts supporters, and the dancers were, in a word, amazing.

Bodyvox founder Jamey Hampton emceed the event, and reminded audiences what a watershed moment this really was for the company and for the arts in Portland. He reported that the ballet was $690,000 toward their $750,000 goal, so it appears that the immediate crisis will soon be over and that the ballet can begin rolling up its sleeves to do the hard work of presenting the 2009-2010 season while bringing down the organization's accumulated deficit of approximately $1 million. The organization will be about 28% smaller next year, but I don't think any of that will be evident to audiences, and lots of little things are taking place behind the scenes to help reduce the organization's operating expenses, including concessions recently made by the PCPA to reduce the user fee (basically a ticket tax) from $1.50 to 50 cents per ticket for all three major users (the ballet, symphony and opera) for the next few years. (PCPA also donated the hall for last night's benefit.) Many folks are anxious for an announcement regarding the fate of their somewhat controversial lead executive, Jon Ulsh, so that's something to keep an eye out for this summer.

But enough on the administrative details. Let's talk dance.

The program opened with OBT's "Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude," which was a little short on exactness for my taste, but the costumes were fun. (Is that being too harsh?) John Michael Schert of the Trey McIntyre Project was brilliant in a short excerpt of some Peter, Paul and Mary in "Leatherwing Bat." Bodyvox performed third with their lovely, haunting Victorian fantasy, "Falling for Grace."

Ballet West gave us a beautifully performed pas de deux from "White Swan," followed by Aaron Rogers who represented the Joffrey Ballet fantastically with his "Aria," which was visually intriguing as he danced in and out of his mask. More visual stimulation followed in the form a silly little Linda Austin Dance number, performed by David Bragdon, Peter Bragdon, Scott Bricker, Peter Ames Carlin and James Harrison with fish on their heads. This dance provided a light interlude before OBT returned to the stage with a pas de deux from "Almost Mozart." Here, the heart and soul of OBT shone through brilliantly -- Alison Roper and Ronnie Underwood were exquisite. Absolutely exquisite.

New York City Ballet took the stage to close the first act, and let me tell you. What. A. Treat. Their "Tarantella" was as energetic and athletic and flawless as a person could ever ask for. Dancers taking flight. I've heard it said that OBT is a Balanchine company, and at first I thought they were only referring to the style of Nutcracker they present. I'm still not quite sure exactly what it means, but if this is ballet and if this is Balanchine then I want a permanent box seat. Even if I have to fly to The City for every performance.

At intermission I did the obligatory mingling -- you know, the major arts leaders, the press, the mayor, blah blah blah -- and everyone was absolutely beaming with enthusiasm and renewed confidence in the organization and the power of dance. As I took my seat for the second half, I noticed that it was a very full house -- only a few empty seats at the far back of the first and second balconies.

After a brief video designed to loosen more of one's purse strings to ensure OBT's survival, Pacific Northwest Ballet performed a lovely pas de deux with "Diamonds," and Minh Tran & Company danced beautifully with excepts from "Kiss." Houston Ballet, the country's fourth largest ballet company, gave us an absolutely fantastic performance in "Falling," a Mozart pas de deux.

Chauncey Parsons from OBT gave us a brief and delightful variation on "Don Quixote," followed by Oslund + Co. and their trademark ultra modern style. "Antatomica," Oslund's newest piece, was performed very well here and resonated in the large Keller hall better than I thought it might.

Next up: Boston Ballet. "Zero Hour," from Vivaldi's Four Seasons, was as impeccable a ballet as I have ever seen, choreographed by the very dancers who performed it here last night. I apologize that my description here could never do it justice, so I won't even try, but I'm still trying to find out if/when Boston has performed this number before, since the program notes don't list a premiere date like most others. Boston was followed by Zdenek Konvalina of the The National Ballet of Canada and a Greek dance that was thoroughly charming and inventive.

The San Francisco Ballet gave us "After the Rain," one the most technically precise and beautiful dances of the entire evening. Sometimes I lose my attention with these slower dances, but I was completely transfixed on the artistry of these two beautiful dancers. And then, to close the show, OBT came out with their big-company number, the third movement of "Rush," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. A fine exclamation point on a truly remarkable evening.

Clearly, I am not an aficionado of dance and I fear that my comments may have revealed some of my ignorance of the form, which is why I invited my next-seat neighbor and a smart little cookie in her own right to provide a follow-up review and commentary this weekend. Look for it here soon. I also see that in the time it has taken me to write this post, Barry Johnson has given us his complete run-down at Arts Watch. Have a look.

In the meantime, this much is certain. OBT and their comrades from across the country gave us an amazing gift last night, and I am confident that the citizens of this City will return the gift in spades and support OBT's shot at a second life.


David said...
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David said...

Clearly, I am not an aficionado of dance, and I fear that my comments may have revealed some of my ignorance on the form...

On the contrary, your description of the performance and how it made you feel demonstrates perfectly that one doesn't have to be some kind of "ballet snob" to enjoy and appreciate this wonderful art form. OBT needs to fill the audience with more people just like you.

Thank you for sharing your impressions!