Without question, the sexiest couple on Portland stages right now is Kathi Martuza and Jon Drake in Julia Adam's il nodo at the Newmark Theatre. About halfway through Adam's darkly comic ballet from 2004, Drake and Martuza—in pancake white makeup and muscle-clinging costume—bring a capable if lackluster performance to thrillingly erotic new heights. In their brief, herky-jerky pas de deux, the two tangle and tussle in Adam's odd-angled dance, wrangling out a sexual power play to the Renaissance-era score of rustic strings, flute and tam-tam.
Although there are also first-rate contributions from company members Steven Houser and Yuka Iino in il nodo (the knot), it says something that there is more crackling energy in the Martuza-Drake three-minute duet than in most of the rest of Oregon Ballet Theatre's two-hour spring concert.
The rest of that program included the company debut of the George Balanchine/Igor Stravinsky Apollo from 1928. At its coolly neoclassical core, Apollo offers many Balanchinian pleasures and challenges, including an athletically virtuosic solo male role. Adrian Fry made a physically imposing Apollo, but is not yet in full control of his body and lacked the seething virility so essential to the role. Gavin Larsen was an articulate Terpsichore; Anne Mueller (Calliope) also made a strong showing. The score was prerecorded and piped in (with no recording credit offered).
Christopher Stowell's Eyes on You, last seen in 2005, is a feel-good romp through classic Americana—all time-step and Charleston and waltz—set to 10 swell Cole Porter tunes, half of them sung and played live by the dynamite Portland duo of soprano Pamela South and pianist Richard Bower. With her elegant solo and partner work, senior company member Alison Roper continues to set the bar for classy dancing, even if her work tends to come across as more polished-professional than out-and-out inspired. And who knew that chiseled Ronnie Underwood—in addition to being a technically superior dancer—was such a plastic clown?
In the end, Eyes on You disappoints. Though Stowell may stir up the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Busby Berkeley and Jerome Robbins in his frothy high-ball drink of a dance, it ultimately causes little more than a low-grade buzz.