What awaits us when Oregon Ballet Theatre's globally themed Grand Tour season stops in France? Only one of the country's best known—and most heavily freighted—compositions: Ravel's Bolero, which, depending on your age, may stir up emotional memories of Bo Derek in 10, Torvill and Dean in the '84 Winter Olympics or the Ford Escort circa 1991.
OBT Artistic Director Christopher Stowell, who likes the music's recognition factor, persuaded choreographer Nicolo Fonte to create work to it for OBT's forthcoming French program (the global theme refers to composers, not choreographers). But Fonte turned him down at first. "It has so many popular associations—I didn't want to carry that baggage," Fonte said. However, despite Ravel's own assessment of Bolero ("There's very little music in that music"), Fonte gave it a second chance; eventually he began studying the composer's fascination with industry and machinery in a way that Bronislava Nijinska (who choreographed Bolero at the Paris Opera in 1928) had not. "Nijinska envisioned a Spanish tavern with a woman dancing on the table," Fonte said. His own version reflects Ravel's interests more the music's Spanish-isms; it's set against metal panels to convey a raw, industrial feel, and the choreography, Stowell says, is both tough and flattering for the dancers.
Before Nijinska did Bolero, her brother Nijinsky did Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun for the Ballets Russes; his scandalously sexual interpretation of the Mallarmé poem behind the music was a hit. In 1953, Jerome Robbins revisited the score after spying a young Edward Villella lazily stretching at the barre. Robbins' Afternoon, which OBT tackles here for the first time, takes place in a dance studio, where the interest between a young man and woman relies more heavily on dramatic tension than technical fireworks.
Stowell's own works round out the program. There is Pas de Deux Parisien, which excerpts Delibes' Sylvia for what he calls a "slightly circus-y, slightly tongue-in-cheek" affair, and Zais, an ornate, full-company tribute to French baroque gardening and architecture with vocal embellishment by soprano Lisa Mooyman and the Portland State University Choir. The OBT Orchestra performs live.
Keller Auditorium, Southwest 3rd Avenue and Clay Street, 222-5538. 7:30 pm Friday-Saturday, Feb. 23 & 29, March 1; 2 pm Sunday, Feb. 24. $14-$130. For information about OBT's collaboration with the Portland Art Museum's exhibit
, visit thedancerpdx.org.