Monday, March 31, 2008

"The Dancer" at PAM

Yesterday I went to see "The Dancer" exhibit at the Portland Art Museum. (Here's a lesson on the evils of procrastination--- if you put off going to see an exhibit at a museum, when you finally do have the time to see it, you may not be able to walk). I had to put my already somewhat deflated pride on the floor and run over it with a wheelchair. I was able to smile about it, a little, when I saw this sign and begged the security guard to let me take a picture with it:

Too ironic for words...

I have been gaining a whole new appreciation and sympathy for handicapped people over the past few weeks, and this outing was another chapter in that lesson. Art exhibits are arranged for adults who are standing upright, looking at the art on the wall. Children and wheelchair-bound people have to look at it from below. I realized that I've also always taken for granted the simple ability to turn around easily and at will. In a wheelchair, you can't see what's going on behind you unless you crane your neck or are skilled enough to maneuver your chair around quickly. I felt like I had blinders on, was bulky and awkward and in the way (I can't believe I didn't run over someone's foot), and very quickly was stiff and achy from sitting in this uncomfortable chair. It was hard to appreciate what I was there to look at.

Just another page in this chapter of my life, I suppose. I can't say that I'm going to come out of this unchanged, that's for sure.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Adrian Fry's Working Hard

Well, Adrian ALWAYS works hard, so this is nothing new. I talked to him a little bit about what is on his plate right now and how he's handling the ballets for the upcoming rep.

Adrian has roles in the American program that are both familiar and new to him. He learned the Tango in Through Eden's Gates last season when Kent Stowell first choreographed it, but there wasn't a lot of cast-switching so he did not perform the part. This time around he's working on it with Kathi Martuza as well as reprising his original role in the corps of the ballet. The tango's quite long and intricate (really, the entire ballet is intricate), so just learning the steps, coordination, and especially the partnering, needs some time. And time is always at a premium around here, so when Tamara Hadley arrived to stage Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (which is a company premiere), Adrian and Kathi had to put the tango on hold for a week or so while they learned their roles in Slaughter.

Slaughter is a ballet that (from what I hear and what I've seen) everybody loves. From what Adrian's told me, even just learning the ballet from Tammy was great fun and a nice change of pace from the intensity of the other work being done for this rep. "She was so encouraging, was excited to work and to share this ballet with us", he said. That's a fabulous feeling-- when someone really lets you know, through their attitude, that what we're doing is really all about the work. It's about the ballet, the choreography, and all of us honoring it, enjoying it, and preparing to give it away again, to the audience. I think it sounds like that is what Adrian feels about all three of the ballets he's working on right now.

Just was choreographed for OBT in 2006. I remember the dancers in the piece talking about how it was one of, if not THE, hardest ballets they'd ever done. And that's easy to believe when you watch them dance it-- when you can see the gut-wrenching difficulty of the movement, the way they have to push themselves practically outside of their own skins to cover space and time. Adrian told me a little bit about the learning process with this piece:
"There's an overload of information and detail, which kind of melts your brain. It's really helpful to have the original cast in the room, because there's a richness of information and choreography that tests your mental capacity to a new level." (The original cast of Just worked very, very closely with Trey McIntyre, the choreographer. Although every dancer will perform a role differently, of course, it's invaluable to have the person on whom the choreographer made the ballet pass along what they recall as the original intent, idea, and musicality of the piece.)

I asked how he felt about the anticipation of doing the piece, once he gets past the learning the choreography, and Adrian mentioned some things that I think we all, as dancers, are aiming for whether we are able to pinpoint them or not--- things like being able to "feel more as opposed to think more", "discover things about the piece through doing it".

That's what I've always felt the rehearsal process was all about, really. It's certainly about the technicalities of steps, spacing, partnering, and music, but all that cut-and-dried work is done so that in the end (meaning on stage) we can stop thinking about it and give the audience the impression that it's just been tossed off and is second nature. Which sometimes by then it is, but not always. Sometimes it takes a few performances to get to that place, in which case the stage becomes something like an extension of the studio. Learning always goes on onstage, and in fact I've learned most of what I know about being an artist when I've been performing. Interestingly enough, Adrian and I have danced a couple of wonderful ballets together over the past year, and I would have to say that they were both rich, productive, and illuminating experiences for me--- and I think for him, too! Here are photos of us in Apollo and The Nutcracker. Some of my favorite memories are from these performances.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lots of Activity in Wardrobe

Spring is always an exceptionally busy time of year for OBT's wardrobe department. The company is preparing the last two programs of the season, with a total of six ballets. At the same time, the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre is about to do its annual workshop performances, which is typically a very ambitious program involving every child in the school and, therefore, several ballets and/or excerpts of ballets. The wardrobe department and costume shop are charged with making sure that the dancers of both company and school have the right things to wear for all those performances--- and that doesn't mean just shaking out a tutu and hanging it on a rack. It means cleaning, fitting, altering, and adjusting a huge variety of costumes, and for a couple of the ballets this spring, designing and building them from scratch.

I spoke with Kathy Scoggins, our master-at-multitasking Head of Wardrobe, about all the activity down in the shop lately (all of OBT's costume activity happens in the never-quite-large-enough shop down in the basement of the building. Storage overflow goes to the warehouse a few blocks away). First I asked her about the costumes for the ballets that OBT is doing on the upcoming American program. We own the costumes for two of them, Through Eden's Gates and Just, because they were both world premieres created for OBT within the past couple of years. The costume designers for each piece worked closely with the choreographers as the ballets were made. (It's a fabulous experience to have a costume made just for you as a ballet is choreographed-- it always makes me feel really like a tool that brings the art to life...)

I asked Kathy about the process of getting those costumes for Eden and Just ready to be danced in again:

"For shows that we have done recently (since Christopher {Stowell} has been here), most of the cosutmes are either stored together and hanging in the warehouse or they are stored in boxes here in the costume shop. The costumes have hang tags that identify the pieces and who wore them last. Each also has a label with the same information. If it is an older show (meaning a ballet that hasn't been performed by OBT in several years), it often involves a real hunt through a lot of wardrobe boxes in the warehouse. I also have a wonderful record in the "show bibles" that have been kept by this department which are very helpful in knowing what to expect and how the show is supposed to run."

It can be hit or miss in terms of costuming when a ballet in OBT's rep comes around again and there are several new dancers going into various roles. It's great when limited alterations are needed, but usually there are at least a few changes that need to be made to make sure everyone's comfortable. Beyond merely refitting some costumes, sometimes the designer uses the opportunity to make some changes to certain costumes that they were never quite satisfied with the first time around:

"The only change we're making in Eden's Gate is a new shirt for the Tango man. Larae (Hascall), the designer, wasn't completely satisified with the shirt for Ronnie (Underwood) last year and wanted it a little glitzier, so she sent down some different fabric and I remade it with a little more structure to the collar and the front band. I am having to make a new pair of pants for one the men due to having two casts this time. The costumes for Just have always had some problems with comfort, so we decided that for the sake of the dancers, we would remake the costumes and make them more comfortable."

I can attest that not much makes a dancer happier than when wardrobe actually goes so far as to totally remake a costume just to make it more comfortable!

(Paul Destrooper and I in the costumes for Through Eden's Gates last season)

More interesting stories about the process of keeping us all fashionably clothed still to come!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hello, and welcome to the latest source of insight into the inner workings of Oregon Ballet Theatre. I'm Gavin Larsen, one of the dancers with OBT, and I am really excited to be able to escort you into the studio, backstage, and through the halls of OBT so you can get a peek at what we're doing when we're not actually onstage giving you a performance. You'll see how all the different departments of our organization work together to put that show onstage, what goes on before, during, and after a performance, and how it looks from the vantage point of each area of OBT-- artistic, production, sales, development, the school, and more. I like to think that we're going to get you, as an audience member, out of your seat so you can see how it looks from OUR side of the footlights.

I'd like to start by explaining why it is that I am the voice, or the narrator, of this journal. I have a unique and somewhat unusual viewpoint on the goings-on at the moment because I am currently joining you in watching from the sidelines. I injured my ankle exactly four weeks ago today while taking company class. It was just an ordinary day, a typical class before a routine afternoon of rehearsals-- until I began to prepare to do a step in class and heard (and felt) a snap in my ankle that was utterly bizarre and terrifying. It turned out to have been the rupture of a ligamentous structure that covers the tendons in the ankle (a better prognosis than if a tendon itself had ruptured). I had surgery a week and a half later to pin the tissue back to the bone from which it had snapped. I've just graduated from the post-surgical splint into a hard cast, and am looking at two more weeks like this before I can start weightbearing again, wearing a walking boot. It's going to be a long haul through rehab this summer, but I can do it--- one step at a time.

So, in light of my current situation, I'm going to use this opportunity to walk with you (so to speak) along the way from classes, to rehearsals, costume fittings, physical therapy sessions, production meetings, development events, marketing efforts, and of course, into the wings of the theater. I'll also keep you updated on how my own recovery goes as I progress so you can see what it means for a dancer to be injured, how we deal with it.

I hope you enjoy the tour! I know that I will.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


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