So get this: At the end of this show, people throw roses. Roses! As if this were Europe! Point is, bring roses to this show, because you get to throw them.
The show, of course, is Celebrate, Oregon Ballet Theatre's season closer and the last performance for principal dancer Alison Roper, who's retiring after 18 seasons with the company. Roper's been all over local media in the past few weeks, from our Q&A with her to a feature with OPB, in which she danced in random places around Portland, including at Laurelhurst Park and inside a Bishops barbershop (it's actually pretty fantastic). This show continues the Roper love, featuring her in three of four programmed performances, including a pas de deux and a special tribute.
The first act, the company premiere of Petal by Helen Pickett, is a vibrant, refreshing opener, perfect for spring. Four men and four women wear a palette of bright blue and yellow while merrily performing a sort of court dance-cum-iPod commercial. Strings turn to eerie piano as dancers come in and out of formation and on and off stage, almost everyone getting his or her own energetic solo. It's a lively piece and a pleasure to watch.
Having established that the evening is not entirely about Alison Roper, artistic director Kevin Irving introduces the next piece, cutely titled Alison Wonderland, by reading a handful of letters from Roper fans. Then the piece begins, a multimedia presentation with three staggered screens showing an expertly crafted animation of Roper's story from childhood to present, all while Roper's recorded voice narrates. She describes how, while dancing a Trey McIntyre piece set to "The Girl from Ipanema" for the first time, she imagined the audience as an ocean as she walked along a Brazilian beach. "I really fell in love with being a professional dancer through that experience," she says.
Roper then dances Nacho Duato's pas de deux Cor Perdut with Jordan Kindell. It's a seemingly odd choice for her to be partnered with one of the younger company members in a piece set to a score heavy with snake-charming flutes. The pas de deux, though, is performed with finesse, and Kindell shows he has the chops to parter with someone of Roper's caliber. He and Roper turn their bodies in ornate postures—backs arched forward, arms scooping up air. Both bounce with energy, Kindell dancing with the same carefree joy Roper embodies so well. The piece ends as if it were Roper's final performance—she's not in the last programmed piece—but (spoiler alert) it is not.
The last programmed piece is Matjash Mrozewski's The Lost Dance, set on the company in 2012 and costumed by Portland's Adam Arnold. The piece recalls a really cool party, the men dressed in slender slacks and shirts that miraculously never come untucked, and the women in long, backless gowns, all different colors. The piece bends back and forth between soulful electronica and a trace party vibe, punctuated with overhead claps by the dancers. They move with sex as their motivation, often crawling, often challenging each other with domineering postures. The piece ends, but the show continues.
I won't say much here about Roper's final performance, as I'm sure it's meant to be a surprise. But she does have one, and it displays enough of her grace and humility to make you, excuse the cheesiness, fall in love with her all over again. Go, and bring roses.
GO: Oregon Ballet Theatre's Celebrate program is at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 222-5538. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, April 17-26; 2 pm Saturday-Sunday, April 19-20. $25-$142. Tickets here.