Christopher Stowell is a child of ballet's neoclassical impulse. Growing up in a household aglow with George Balanchine's influence (his parents, Pacific Northwest Ballet former co-directors Francia Russell and Kent Stowell, both danced with Mr. B), Stowell's proving himself not just a neoclassical foot soldier but an imminent creative force, moving the legacy of Balanchine forward with swift, appropriately lyrical momentum. Four years into Stowell's leadership, OBT is ably engaged in the honest interplay between tradition and experimentation, music and the body, and modernism's kissing cousins: narrative and abstraction. And it feels right.
The fall program offers three works that are full of light and spring-like promise. Balanchine's "The Four Temperaments" is a gorgeous, transitional work of modern ballet—as bold in its austere, introspective staging as it is eye-opening in its expansive gestural vocabulary of flexed hands, chorus-girl gallops and saunters, and forward-thrust pelvic movements. Standouts: the redoubtable Anne Mueller; newcomer Alexey Dmitrenko's Melancholic (a role Stowell once danced in San Francisco), which, despite some rough landings, was a marvel of coiled, athletic precision—a welcome addition to the already strong male corps; Kathi Martuza and Artur Sultanov's Sanguinic duo; and Alison Roper's Choleric. Roper has a steely core, elastic momentum, and a countenance that seems made for Balanchine's work.
Adin, by Stowell, is a painterly, Rachmaninoff-propelled piece that opens with smoldering tango-like intensity and is off and running from there. Countering the emotionally didactic Rachmaninoff score, Stowell amplifies the dynamics of complexity, love and ambiguity between his dancers. The other star is the stage lighting—weighty and geometric in its poetry, providing a masculine, constructivist gravity.
The finale, Jerome Robbins' sidesplitting 1956 "The Concert," is a sophisticated parody set to Chopin (performed with deadpan aplomb by pianist Carol Rich). With Edward Gorey sets, this skewering of high-and-mighty culture archetypes is surely one of the greatest works of comedy outside Buster Keaton or Chaplin—and not easy to pull off. Hearing the shrieks of joy from the child next to me, it's clear that on Stowell's watch, OBT has reached a rarefied level of rigorous craft and scintillating execution.
Oregon Ballet Theatre, Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., 222-5538. 7:30 pm Friday-Saturday, Oct. 20-21. $10-$105.