December 20th, 2010 | by HEATHER WISNER News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

LIVE REVIEW: Oregon Ballet Theatre's Holiday Revue and Nutcracker

Oregon Ballet Theatre's Holiday Revue

On the last night of Oregon Ballet Theatre's new Holiday Revue, OBT Artistic Director Christopher Stowell made it official: The show was so popular, he announced onstage, that the company was declaring it “a new annual OBT event.” Stowell's gamble—creating and staging an original production in tandem with The Nutcracker, which is a logistical challenge unto itself—seems to have paid off.

It's a good-looking show with a sleek setting: hanging panels, a piano, a stack of gifts and a projection of a fire flickering on a TV screen. A series of vignettes in five sections: (“Parties and Celebrations,” “Wintertime,” etc.), are set to holiday hits spanning Vince Guaraldi to the Barenaked Ladies. These were jazzily rendered live onstage by Susannah Mars, accompanied by pianist Richard Bower. Costumer Mark Zappone's dressed the dancers in retro-hip party clothes, and Michael Mazzola's shifting lighting design complemented the show's ever-changing moods.

The vignettes, inspired by the dancers' own holiday memories, were performed by 11 company members. In the comedy department, we got “Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise,” which sounded like a reading from The Gallery of Regrettable Food and looked, with Anne Mueller in horn-rimmed glasses, like a postscript to Jerome Robbins' The Concert. “Eight Nights of Hanukkah,” a cousin to “The 12 Days of Christmas” drew laughs for its recurring movement themes, including three yentas yelling and five mohels moheling. On the serious side, Javier Ubell distinguished himself in “Far From the Home I Love,” which, with its deep knee bends, hinted at its source material, Fiddler on the Roof. Snowflakes fell from the rafters in the “Wintertime” section, and the dancers brought extra zeal to an onstage snowball fight, set to Irving Berlin's “Snow,” before the evening wrapped up with everyone singing around the piano, including new company member Brett Bauer, who turned in an able duet with Mars.

Oregon Ballet Theatre's Nutcracker

There is room to expand A Holiday Revue, which clocked in at just over an hour. There appears to be enough of an audience for it and The Nutcracker, which continues its run through Dec. 24. Though the two productions share artificial snow, the similarities more or less end there. The Nutcracker is a more extravagant production, with big sets and props, an army of dancing adults and children and a full orchestra, led by veteran conductor Niel DePonte. (Even without the dancing, it's a pleasure to hear Tchaikovsky's score played live in its rightful setting, far from the car commercials and sitcoms.) OBT's version, which comes from George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet, follows tradition more closely than some of the newer Nutcrackers, which range from dance-along to undersea versions.

Casting varies from show to show, but in the Dec. 18 matinee, there were standouts in an already solid production: Ubell, an excellent jumper, wowed viewers as an airborne toy soldier in Act I and a nimble hoop-hopping Candy Cane in Act II. A coquettish Leta Biasucci hit the musical accents just right in Hot Chocolate, while Andrea Cooper was a surefooted leader to the marzipan shepherdesses. As the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier, Yuka Iino and Chauncey Parsons danced an occasionally shaky pas de deux but fully recovered in their solos, with him soaring through jumps and her flying through turns. There were plenty of adults enjoying the show, but half the fun, as always, was hearing the commentary and dodging the twirling of junior viewers at intermission. OBT now sells tiaras at its merchandise booth, and more than one theatergoer left the Keller with a little extra holiday sparkle this year.

GO: OBT's The Nutcracker at Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., 800-745-3000. 7:30 pm Monday-Tuesday, Dec. 20-21, 2 and 7:30 pm Wednesday-Thursday, Dec. 22-23, noon Friday, Dec. 24. $21.70-$141.05. Tickets to Monday evening's performance are available for $20 at http://www.obt.org/mystery.

Images courtesy of Oregon Ballet Theatre.
 
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