There are gun-slinging gangsters, a sultry stripper and some surprisingly animated corpses in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, but the real eyebrow-raiser here is the talking. You just don't hear chatter on dance stages every day. When Oregon Ballet Theatre debuts this novelty piece, one of the speaking role--a hitman--will go to Live Wire! Radio performer Sean McGrath. The other--a preening Russian ballet star--will be filled by company dancer Artur Sultanov, who has the advantage of actually being Russian. Even so, OBT Artistic Director Christopher Stowell says, "I'm having him increase his accent."
Everything's a little over the top in Slaughter, which centers on a romantic rivalry in a speakeasy. New York City Ballet founder George Balanchine originally choreographed it for the 1936 Rodgers and Hart musical On Your Toes, proving himself adept at yet another genre: show jazz ("It's kind of annoying," Stowell admitted). Wizard of Oz Scarecrow Ray Bolger and Balanchine's starter wife, Tamara Geva, danced it first. Balanchine retooled Slaughter in 1968 to stand on its own. The musical has also been exhumed periodically, most famously in a screen version with Gene Kelly and Vera Allen, and later in the '80s, when Russian ballerina Natalia Makarova wowed viewers with her aptitude for comedy and jazz.
Broadway show jazz can, of course, be a challenge for classically trained dancers; in this production, company men Ronnie Underwood, Jon Drake and Steven Houser will be hoofing it up in tap shoes. Pennsylvania Ballet, one of the few companies to stage Slaughter these days, sent ballet mistress Tamara Hadley to coach the company on technique and style. Back in the old days, Stowell said, there was plenty of cross-pollination between Broadway and the ballet world, because there wasn't enough work for dancers to specialize. Now, dancers can make a living from ballet alone, but they're being asked to absorb new styles fast, as companies program stylistically divergent work. And most companies, OBT included, are doing just that: Slaughter shares a bill with Trey McIntyre's taut, abstract Just and Kent Stowell's vaguely vaudevillian Through Eden's Gates. HEATHER WISNER.
SEE IT: Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 222-5538. 7:30 pm Friday, April 18 and Thursday-Friday April 24-25; 2 and 7:30 pm Saturday, April 19 and 26; 2 pm Sunday, April 20 and 27. $14-$130.