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Expect daring approach to dance in resident choreographer's 'Giant'

COURTESY: BLAINE TRUITT COVERT - Nicolo Fonte, the new resident choreographer, has worked with Oregon Ballet Theatre for many years, including last year on the acclaimed 'Beautiful Decay' with dancers Chauncey Parsons and Gregg Bielemeier.For the past 25 years, Kevin Irving and Nicolo Fonte haven’t been too far apart — geographically, maybe sometimes, but not when it came to ballet works, careers and personal lives.

And now they’re together again at Oregon Ballet Theatre — Irving as the artistic director joined by Fonte, OBT’s new resident choreographer.

“Kevin and I have been (life) partners for 25 years, and we’ve also been working together professionally for a good chunk of that time,” Fonte says. “We were dancers, and then he assisted me as choreographer and also staged my ballets at different companies, cities and countries. There’s no one who knows my work more than him, other than myself.

“It seemed like a natural evolution for me to become resident choreographer at OBT. For freelance choreographers without their own companies, landing a residency is great because it’s comparable to having your own company. And, I’ve worked with the same dancers, so you’re not starting from zero. ... It’s a great thing to happen, since I share so many of the artistic and creative values that Kevin does.”

Indeed, Fonte isn’t a stranger to OBT. He started doing ballets for the company in 2008, when Christopher Stowell served as artistic director.

Irving took over in 2013, moved to Portland — and Fonte wasn’t too far behind.

They live in the Pearl District.

“I’m really happy being part of the OBT family,” says Fonte, 50, a native of Brooklyn, New York. “I love Portland. It seems pretty cosmopolitan to me. It’s a welcome change for me. I love being on the West Coast.”

Fonte, who also is resident choreographer at Ballet West in Salt Lake City, will work for OBT for several years as resident choreographer. He’ll work on one major piece per year. Rehearsals have started for Fonte’s world premiere, “Giants,” that will be part of OBT’s opening show, Oct. 8-15. Works by George Balanchine and William Forsythe also will be featured.

He’ll also collaborate on other projects for OBT.

Fonte has done many ballets for OBT, including “Bolero,” “Petrouchka,” “Never Stop Falling (In Love)” and last season’s “Beautiful Decay.” He’s recognized internationally for his daring approach to dance.

Fonte says that he and Irving work “great” together.

“There are moments, where you sort of don’t necessarily want input or feedback,” he says. “It’s always positive, it never goes to a place where it’s bickering or fighting. Dealing with one creative person is hard enough, then you have two trying to critique each other it can get tricky. We’re adults, and we’ve been working together for a long time.”

COURTESY: JIM THOMSON - Nicolo Fonte is working with pianist Hunter Noack on 'Giants Before Us,' a ballet set to the virtuoso composition of Franz Liszt.
He has experience choreographing with OBT’s principal dancers: Xuan Cheng, Chauncey Parsons and Brian Simcoe, and the promoted Peter Franc and the new Jacqueline Straughan. Soloists are Candace Bouchard, Martina Chavez, Ansa Deguchi and Michael Linsmeier, and the troupe also includes company artists and apprentices.

“They are fabulous,” Fonte says. “Since Kevin has taken over, the artistry has risen to another level. The company was always technically strong and versatile; now the artistry, he really cultivates that. You can’t just execute steps, it’s not enough. ‘What are we saying, what’s the poetry in this, where’s the humor, the friendliness, the compassion?’ You have to invest your imagination in that. I feel that’s visible now. The dancing is bigger and more robust and more alive. The company’s in a great place right now.”

His first piece for OBT is just beginning to come to fruition. Rehearsals have started, but details haven’t been finished.

Fonte speaks in generalities for now, as he puts choreography to the virtuoso composition of Franz Liszt.

He says: “It’s for nine men and one woman, and a live pianist (Hunter Noack). Because of my schedule and other projects, and OBT’s schedule, I started now, early in the season. ... It’s a warm and tender ballet, but it’s also very exciting, and there are high energetic peaks, tender moments, real humor and guffawing humor. I’m really happy with it.”

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