It's an art form forged in Europe, but our country also has its share of ballet history. And Oregon Ballet Theatre plans to highlight the history with the new series "The Americans." It begins this year at Newmark Theatre, June 7-15, with works by Alvin Ailey, Trey McIntyre and Portland's own Ashley Roland and Jamey Hampton.
"There's so much that is American ballet, we're going to take a look at it and what makes it unique," says Kevin Irving, OBT artistic director.
Many great choreographers hail from the halls of Europe, even George Balanchine, the Russian-born dancemaker who lived his influential years in the United States.
"What American ballet has really going for it, what is true across the board, is our lack of fear in breaking the rules," Irving says.
"We like our traditions, but we're unafraid to break the rules. There's a real sense of lack of pretension (with American ballet)."
The three works of the first installment of "The Americans" are special in their own way.
Irving danced for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater on scholarship, starting at age 18.
"I had great affection for what Alvin did with dance," Irving says. "He turned it into a social movement, something that took away some of the baggage that dance has."
The program "Night Creature" is accompanied by Duke Ellington music and "its (the Ailey company's) own wink at classical ballet."
McIntyre, who has transcended each of OBT's artistic directors (Irving, Christopher Stowell, James Canfield), returns with "Robust American Love," set to music by Seattle indie band Fleet Foxes. He's working with Irving for the first time.
"I love the experimentation of Trey McIntyre," Irving says. "He's endlessly thoughtful and energetic, very generous, demanding in the best possible way."
And Irving didn't have to look far for other great American dancemakers. Roland and Hampton are the brains behind Portland's BodyVox, which has collaborated with OBT in the past. A variety of musicians — Brian Eno, Alphone Mouzon, Moises Simons, DJ Spooky, Philip Glass — provide the music for their world premiere of "Big Shoes."
"They're wonderful and they're so creative," Irving says of Roland and Hampton. "They like to be light-hearted and cheeky, as well as innovative and using different techniques, especially cinematic. It's nice to have our two houses intercept like this."
Next year's lineup for "The Americans" has already been determined. It'll be works by Twyla Tharp and Canfield, as well as "Rodeo" by Agnes de Mille.
"The Americans" stages at Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, June 7-8, 2 p.m. Sunday, June 9, and 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, June 13-15. For info/tickets, see www.obt.org.