There are two solid additions and one sorry subtraction in Oregon Ballet Theatre's spring program, Duets.
First the good news: OBT has beefed up its rep with two musically and choreographically engaging contemporary pieces. Known By Heart Duet
(2001) is the first Twyla Tharp
work to which the company can lay claim. It's set to selections from Donald Knaack's Junk Music
, which is built from “found” instruments and recycled materials. The sometimes-noisy percussive score has plenty of interesting sonic embellishments (steel drums, bells) for the dancers to work with. The piece opens with flashes of bright white light, like the pop of flashbulbs, framing different poses. At Saturday night's performance, Alison Roper
and Brennan Boyer
began tentatively but gradually warmed up to Tharp's technical and artistic demands. Duet
is a lightly comic mix of Western and Eastern steps: one minute, a balletic fourth-position plié, the next, bent knees and cocked wrists in an open posture, like temple dancers. In between, there are slides on pointe, mock boxing matches and the occasional mugging.
North Carolina native Emery LeCrone
isn't the known quantity that Tharp is, but her OBT world-premiere piece Divergence
bodes well. It's a collection of duets, solos and ensemble sections danced in, around--and at one point, on—a moveable pyramid split down the middle. Thus we find one dancer scrambling to the top and clinging to it while her half of the pyramid slowly advances forward. Joby Talbot's String Quartet No. 1, Falling
and String Quartet No. 2
are an excellent soundscape, a cinematic mix of strings laced with electronic effects. Of particular note was Kathi Martuza
(partnered by Adrian Fry
), who sliced through the movement with surgical precision.
Now, the bad news: principal dancer Gavin Larsen is retiring after this season
, which seems especially unfair after watching her in the 1972 Balanchine-Stravinsky joint Duo Concertant
. Chauncey Parsons
was a gallant partner to her lyrical movement and serene stage presence. This chamber duet, with live violin and piano onstage, showed off Larsen's beautiful port de bras and épaulement, the upper-body carriage that gives movement shading and style. Larsen will remain on the school's faculty, but her onstage appearances will be missed. Catch her while you still can, in a program that (with the additional of OBT Artistic Director Christopher Stowell's Tolstoy's Waltz
and Trey McIntyre
's gently jazzy Like a Samba
) offers a satisfying evening of dance.
GO: Oregon Ballet Theatre performs at the Newmark Theatre, Portland Center for the Performing Arts, 1111 SW Broadway, 248-4335. 7:30 pm Thursday and Saturday, April 29 and May 1; 2 pm Sunday, May 2. $17-$134.