Alison Roper begins Bolero with steely energy, surrounded as she was in 2008, when the piece premiered, by metal panels that gradually rise as Ravel’s snare drum-driven score increases in intensity. Within moments, Artur Sultanov bursts gallantly from stage right and rushes to her, completing the time warp to six years ago when the pair first danced the piece by Nicolo Fonte.
Sultanov, who at 6-foot-4 is a visually matched partner for the 5-foot-9 Roper, was part of the draw for Roper to dance one more season before she retires. Graceful and strong, he’s an elegant force and an imposing presence—his deltoid is about the size of dancer Xuan Cheng’s head. He and Roper cap off the night for Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Reveal program, a selection of three of the company’s popular works and a premiere by former artistic director Christopher Stowell.
Like Bolero, the other works have a contemporary bent. As artistic director Kevin Irving notes in the program, “Classical ballet, like any other art form, is part of a continuum,” and the pieces here show that in a mix of pointe work, parallel positioning and modern partnering. James Kudelka’s minimalist Almost Mozart, first performed in 2006 but reprised several times here and elsewhere, begins as a complex weaving of three human bodies, pushing and pulling but always attached. It’s performed almost entirely in silence. Christopher Wheeldon’s Liturgy, a likewise austere duet set to sacred music by Arvo Pärt, was performed on opening night by Haiyan Wu and Brian Simcoe with fluid lines and a mystical intimacy. Both pieces are simple and crisp, nearly blank canvases for the dancers to show off their skill.
Stowell’s premiere work A Second Front is much larger in scale but leaves a smaller impression. Set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich, the piece walks the line between the opulence and danger of Soviet Russia. Stowell picked some of Shostakovich’s more lighthearted rhythms (the composer's work can get quite angry) and set fourteen dancers in an elegant ballroom scene. Dressed in gray suits and shimmering skirts, the dancers briskly move in and out of different formations. At times, the scene is eye catching—every coordinated extension by the women unfolds their pleated skirts like huge silver fans—but at other times the effect is busy, a chaotic gray blur. The element of danger is somewhat muted, seen primarily in the dancers’ ubiquitous blindfolds and in an almost precarious crowd surfing-like lift, in which Ansa Deguchi is carried by a cluster of men. The dancers are deft, though, shifting between exuberant group numbers and emotional solos, performed on opening night by Cheng and Simcoe, as well as Wu and Michael Linsmeier, who was just promoted to soloist. It’s a spectacle of an opener, but it's surpassed in dramatic impact by the restraint of the rest of the program.
GO: Oregon Ballet Theatre is at the Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., 222-5538. 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 27-March 1. $25-$150. Tickets here.