March 1st, 2011 | by HEATHER WISNER Arts & Books | Posted In: Dance

LIVE REVIEW: Oregon Ballet Theatre’s The Stravinsky Project

TheStravinskyProjectOregon Ballet Theatre's "The Stravinsky Project" - Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert
An exploding egg, electronic birdsong and dancing in the lobby: maybe not what you’d expect to find at the ballet, although you will encounter all three at Oregon Ballet Theatre’s The Stravinsky Project.

The three-part program, which runs through this weekend, is united by the Russian composer’s music, in live, recorded and remixed forms. It opens with Yuri Possokhov’s version of Firebird, a short-story ballet concerning a young man’s adventure with a princess, a villain and a magical bird. Possokhov deftly develops the characters and offers context through movement (good thing, as Yuri Zhukov’s modernist panels don’t really help set the scene). On Sunday, Steven Houser danced the evil Kaschei with glee, curling his hands into claws as he skittered across the stage, while the princesses and their escorts embodied free-spirited Russian youth with flexed-footed jumps, stomps and heel clicking. Yuka Iino was a delicate Firebird, lingering wistfully as princess Kathi Martuza boureed away with the man they both loved. As for the exploding egg, well, Kaschei’s afternoon did not end well.

The show’s title piece, The Stravinsky Project, begins in the lobby, a rarity at the Keller. Rachel Tess, co-founder of Portland contemporary company Rumpus Room, created movement phrases that OBT students dance on platforms, altering shapes and tempos based on instructions called out by a monitor. Tess, an OBT alum, took chances with the move she contributed to the project, on which she collaborated with OBT principal dancer Anne Mueller and BodyVox’s Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland.

The piece itself is enigmatic: Its common thread is Alison Roper, who dances her way through a maze of onstage choreography, encountering various and sundry—and occasionally vocal—characters along the way, including what seems like another version of herself. Highlights include designer Michael Mazzola’s single fluorescent light (another rarity in ballet) under which Roper carves deliberate figures as other dancers rush past. And composer Heather Perkins creates an ear-catching electronic soundscape as pianist Susan DeWitt Smith plays Stravinsky live, eliciting a woozy barroom piano sound here, layering echo-y plinks with murmurs and bird calls there. Less successful is Morgan Walker’s costume design and the accompanying makeup, which suggest a pack of cartoon baddies.

Artistic Director Christopher Stowell’s version of The Rite of Spring concludes the program, accompanied live by pianists Smith and Carol Rich. Stowell plays with the idea of inclusion and exclusion here, placing dancers in red leotards and trunks within or just outside a set of spring-green hanging panels that migrate across the stage, expanding and contracting the space in which the dancers work. It’s a mesmerizing piece, propelled by sharp angles, sudden directional shifts and the ferocity of lead dancer Anne Mueller’s attack. Mueller retires after OBT's spring program (Song & Dance, April 21-May 1) and her performance alone is worth the trip, although the entire project has much to recommend, artistic departures included. Perhaps Stravinsky would approve.

GO: The Stravinsky Project at Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., 222-5538. 7:30 pm Friday-Saturday, March 4-5. $10-$140. Tickets at obt.org.
 
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