In Oregon Ballet Theatre's Impact, you'll see everything you'd expect, with a twist. There are iconic tutus, on men. There are dancers en pointe, but without music. There are stories of longing and passion, and they're about slavery.
Impact opens with the world premiere of Instinctual Confidence by Darrell Grand Moultrie, who has set work for the diverse Dance Theatre of Harlem and Beyonceâs Mrs. Carter World Tour. Beyonceâs choreographer is a sharp turn away from the fluid arabesques and swift chaines we expect from OBT. Instead, his 12 company dancers crouch and mime monster claws, then stomp and slap their thighs. Chauncey Parsons, dressed in a Superman-blue tutu, enters the stage with a quirky, loose-limbed walk like an awkward bird and alternates between repetitive, limp falls and sudden, taut extensions.The most impressive, and unsettling, highlight is watching one soloist shift elastically on and off pointe, seemingly without ankles or any leg bones at all. This trick, and the entire piece, gives a nod to the companyâs classical roots and then blatantly breaks away.
Crayola offers less satisfying contrast. Originally premiered in 1979 by OBTâs first-ever resident choreographer, Dennis Spaight, the ballet tries to be stark. Dancers from the youth company OBT2 wear rainbow-colored costumes, mimic synchronized swimming by doing the wave with their feet, and draw chuckles from the audience. But soon, Crayola takes on a tight, constrained air, and the sound of pointe shoes tapping is the only music as dancers stiffly march around carrying white chairs, sit down suddenly and whip their heads abruptly to one side. The mechanical movements and vibrant hues make for an off-putting clash between warmth and cold.
From the schoolroom-like constraint of Crayola, Presto throws the doors open. The exhilarating, fast-paced score piles up anticipation and tension to launch Simcoe's scissoring leaps. Soloist Martina Chavez demands attention, confidently raising her arms like a bullfighter, and we're happy to oblige because she shows such emotion.
Nacho Duato's Rassemblement is the final, and most divergent, dance. A piece about slaves longing for their homeland set to songs by Haitian singer Toto Bissainthe, it weaves together multiple stories of imprisonment and defiance. Company dancer Jordan Kindell expertly balances shows of force—the heavy, square splits that he often lands in, for instance—and deflating sorrow, crumpling to the floor after being taken prisoner. The staging is unsettling: Flickers of light dart across the dark, looming backdrop. And background sounds such as echoing bells and oars dipping in water are an unusual addition.
OBT gets its tutus, dancers en pointe and drama, but the program does run two hours without one pirouette in sight. Not that we're complaining. KAITIE TODD.