Ballet history takes center stage
In the big picture, considering the age of companies around the world, Oregon Ballet Theatre turning 30 years old means it's basically still in the growing phase, said Artistic Director Kevin Irving.
The third artistic director after James Canfield and Christopher Stowell, Irving has experienced ballet around the world, including in Europe, and it's really old there.
He considers it to be a "younger audience" in Portland.
"There is a natural evolution that happens and a need to refresh," said Irving, who leads OBT in its 30th season-opening show, "OBT ROAR(S)," a retrospective of works by Canfield, Stowell and him, Oct. 5-12 at Keller Auditorium.
"The difficulties that OBT faced over the years can be ascribed to, for a long time, growing pains, trying to establish itself and an audience for what we bring to the table. It's wonderful to see how the community is responding to the company. So many people have supported us for the entire history of the company — donors, season ticket holders."
Irving helped plan the 25th season after he arrived, and he has learned much about the history of ballet in Portland.
Oregon Ballet Theater formed from a merger between Ballet Oregon with Dennis Spaight and Pacific Ballet Theatre with James Canfield, but Jacqueline Schumacher reigned as "the godmother of ballet in Portland," Irving said, teaching dancers for many years.
She died recently.
"I did know her, and she came often to shows," Irving said. "She taught many people in Portland. Her reach and impact was really remarkable."
The show "OBT ROAR(S)" will pay tribute to OBT's history with three ballets:
• "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated," by William Forsythe, "is really the beginning of the 21st century of ballet, even though it was choreographed in 1989," Irving said, "because of the impact it had on the art form. It's super hard and modern, but very pure from a classical standpoint."
• The second work is "Stravinsky Violin Concerto," which features the work of choreographer George Balanchine and composer Igor Stravinsky, and it'll be presented with live music, featuring violin soloist Nelly Kovalev.
"It connects to Christopher Stowell's time, when they had an expanded repertory of Balanchine ballets and emphasized the neo-classical aspect of ballet," Irving said. "Musically it's such an incredible piece."
• The company last presented "Scheherazade" in 1993. It was created by Spaight as the first combined work of Pacific Ballet Theatre and Ballet Oregon. It featured Canfield and Patricia Miller. It's about a Persian queen who marries a sultan — who has a habit of marrying a woman and killing her by morning — and the newlywed figures out how to outwit him.
As OBT turns 30, it's worthy to emphasize the contribution of many others in the company.
Kembe (Staley) Adams, an OBT School instructor, was hired by OBT's first school director, Joe Wyatt. Tracey Sartorio, company manager, danced for Canfield back in the day. Lisa Kipp, rehearsal diector, worked with Pacific Ballet Theatre. Kasandra Gruener, director of education and outreach, goes back to the early 1990s with OBT. Carol Shults, the stager for "Scheherazade," was an original OBT employee.
Kipp has seen all the changes, including working with Canfield, Stowell and Irving.
She said the best development in ballet, and in arts in general, is that companies are trying to appeal to a broader demographic, to be more inclusive and diverse.
"We used to be able to get by putting together programs that we found artistically interesting," she said. "Now, we have to consider what will be interesting to the audience, and attract them and consider what they take away from it."
Gruener has always been part of OBT's education and outreach efforts to kids and their parents.
"We support learning experience and making movement relevant ... helping kids find out that their bodies are expressive tools," she said. Gruener has created a retrospective of thank you notes from kids that will be hanging in the Keller Auditorium lobby for performances.
"I care very deeply for the mission of OBT and to keep ballet alive," she added, "to make ballet meaningful and to support the tradition and embrace the reality of new work constantly being created. That's why my work feels so important."
Showtimes for "OBT ROAR(S)" are 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5; 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6; 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 10-12, at the Keller Auditorium, 222 S.W. Clay St. For tickets, see ticketmaster.com. For more info, see www.obt.org/obt-roars.
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