"I'm a bit of a reality TV show junkie," says Oregon Ballet Theatre artistic director Kevin Irving, holding a velvet bag tied with gold ropes, à la Project Runway. The dancers, wearing rehearsal clothes, stand in a line behind him.
The two dancers whose names are selected from the bag will be the performers in a stunt that seems almost cruel: a public rehearsal, under Irving's direction, of a piece they're only starting to learn.
It's not the first time the dancers have done something like this; the company holds public rehearsals in its studio all the time. But for this, the company's Create program, the dancers have a larger stage—and audience. The idea is to show the work of learning a piece, to highlight how dancers must attend to intricacies that an audience might overlook in the final, perfected performance. The creative process also gets a spotlight: Seven dancers show works in progress they've set on the company.
On Thursday, May 29, the lucky tributes are Michael Linsmeier and Ansa Deguchi. Upon hearing their names, they toss back their heads with embarrassed laughter. Irving says they haven't rehearsed very much. They're learning Nacho Duato's Cor Perdut, which Alison Roper and Jordan Kindell danced in the company's Celebrate program last month.
Linsmeier and Deguchi often partner, and they like dancing together (Deguchi calls Linsmeier "Linsy"). They're probably the best couple to watch in this exercise, too, with Linsmeier, his head wrapped in a bandana, being kind of a jokester. He takes the critiques—moving into a cambre too quickly, not grounding himself—with an appropriate levity. You can see the improvement in his corrected movement.
âThis in fascinating!â a gray-haired man in the row below me whispers.
In another segment, Deguchi moves from an arabesque into a turn, and then kicks her legs as Linsmeier lifts her. "No jump," Irving tells her. "Just lift your knees up. The easy way is to jump, but that's the wrong quality." Deguchi smiles and nods. The final product, a performance of the piece, is a little bumpy, but the dancers make most of Irving's corrections.
Coincidentally, Linsmeier's and Deguchi's works in progress are my two favorites. Linsmeier, a drummer in local punk band Taint Misbehavin', riffs on the form with Found You, a piece set to local band Guantanamo Baywatch. Dancer Avery Reiners, dressed like a beach bum, leaps around cans of PBR in front of a video projection of what looks like a Sauvie Island shore. Then Deguchi and Katherine Monogue emerge, looking like seaweed-draped pixies in hot pink pointe shoes, and seduce Reiners...before eventually ripping out his guts (illustrated with red ribbons).
Deguchi's piece, Nuevo, is a balletic tango set on Xuan Cheng and Chauncey Parsons to music by Ástor Piazzolla. The choreography—dips and kicks, lifts and jumps—is remarkably sharp for the pace of the music. It also builds in interest, showing Deguchi has more than a few ideas. No doubt part of the success is Cheng, who is especially captivating. She knows when to look at Parsons, seducing him, and when to wink at the audience—they're knowing looks that let us know she has Parsons just where she wants him.
In all, the seven short works, and even the public rehearsal, offer glimpses into the dancers' personalities seldom seen at more formal OBT shows. Often so rigid and refined, it's nice to see the dancers give us more of a taste of their unique artistic expressions.
GO: Oregon Ballet Theatre is at BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave., 229-0627. 7:30 pm Friday-Saturday, May 30-31; 2 pm Saturday-Sunday, May 31-June 1. $24.60. Tickets here.