Thursday, March 31, 2011

Your Daily Dance Break: Singing in the Rain

A true classic that proves that all these rainy days we've had in Portland don't have to be gloomy.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Your Daily Dance Break: A Contotionist Does a Yoga Inspired Dance

A quick survey of other dances inspired by yoga (like Nicolo Fonte's Left Unsaid in our upcoming Song & Dance program) reveals the following:

We think she must be made out of rubber. Don't you?

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Your Daily Dance Break: Tanaquil LeClercq & Nicholas Magallanes | Jacob's Pillow Dance Interactive

Today's Daily Dance Break comes from the Jacob's Pillow Dance Video Archive, an amazing online resource for historical dance video.

It's a Balanchine piece filmed at the Festival in the '40s and well worth a look. The only downside? The archive doesn't let you embed video so you'll need to click on the link to check it out. Enjoy!

Tanaquil LeClercq & Nicholas Magallanes | Jacob's Pillow Dance Interactive

The Life and Times of Anne Mueller Part Four: Anne on Christopher

OBT staffer Claire Willett sits down with Anne Mueller to talk all things Christopher Stowell – how she met him, how she would describe him in three words (HINT: she can’t), her favorite Stowell role, how she’s grown as a dancer over the past few years, and the one time she got to dance with him.

by Claire Willett

CW: What was the first role you danced for Christopher?
AM: Well, the first rep was Duo Fantasy, which was a ballet of his father’s; Rubies; a Helgi Tomasson pas de deux called Twilight, which sounds weird now because of the vampire books but I think that’s what it was called; and then [Paul Taylor’s] Company B. I danced the "Pennsylvania Polka" in Company B. I also danced in the corps of Rubies, and I was second cast in Duo Fantasy, which was a trio. And I really liked Duo Fantasy, it was very much a kind of movement that I was really comfortable doing and liked doing a lot. But the first kind of featured role he put me in was the "Pennsylvania Polka".

What’s your favorite thing you’ve worked on since Christopher got here?
I think my most favorite thing of my time with Christopher is the new works that he’s created. I absolutely love the process of the creation of new work, from all angles – I like it at the front of the studio, I like to be a dancer doing it, I just like everything about it. And his approach to how he wants us to work extends to his creation of new material, so I suddenly felt like I had this outlet and opportunity to bring more of myself to what I was doing. And it’s really exciting when you do that and somebody’s interested in it. It makes for – I hesitate to use the word “collaborative,” because it’s not a collaboration; when he makes work, it’s his work – but you as the paint on the canvas get to define a little more about where the paint goes. (Laughs) Not a perfect analogy. But you know what I’m saying.

What’s your favorite role that Christopher created on you?
Rite of Spring. Definitely. I feel like that choreography and dramatic tone and musical design, I think all of it captures who I am as a dancer and a person more perfectly than anything else I’ve ever done.

Anne Mueller and Lucas Threefoot in Christopher Stowell's The Rite of Spring, 2011. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

Did it feel differently doing it again? Was it more relaxed having it under your belt the second time, because you’d been there before, or do you like the adrenaline of doing it the first time?
Both times were an amazing experience. I think a lot of times with me, when I come back to something, I want more. I want more the second time around, like, this position needs to be bigger, longer, deeper, I just wanted to give it more volume. But I did dance with a different person the second time around, and that inevitably changes the process too. Which is a fabulous experience. But it wasn’t like returning to what it had been before – it was sort of inherently different.

What have you seen in terms of how the company has grown and changed since Christopher got here?
Well, when he got here, the group that he started with was an amalgam; some people were holdovers from the James  years, and then there were all these other people he had pulled together from various different auditions and places – some of them he knew well and some he barely knew at all. It was a real potpourri of people initially. I think it really helps to have a director that’s a choreographing director, because I think through the creation of work and through having the dancers dance the work of the director, we build an understanding of – I don’t want to say “style,” but, what is important in the vision of this director. I think that he chooses people that are performers. Not in a Broadway, jazz-hands kind of way, but I think he likes people to be exciting and in the moment and really give themselves to the performing experience, and not, like, be careful at all. He doesn’t want us to be careful. So I think generally we’re a group of people that really like to just get out there and put on a show. …. Christopher, he wants you to explore yourself as an artist, you know, so there’s a lot more freedom to interpret and be musical, for instance. He himself, you can tell, is an incredibly, incredibly musical person and performer, and he really increased my level of awareness about that and certainly opened up that as an area of exploration for me. He also encourages a really sophisticated use of the upper body – of port de bras and the upper body “epaulement” we call it, “shouldering.” So that’s something that’s very important to him, and you can see it in the dancers in the company.

So I think that we’re courageous performers, we’re musical, and we try really hard to have sophisticated port de bras. (Laughs) And, you know what? Even more than that, I think personality-wise, like, we have a lot of very funny people, you know? These things are important when you’re going to be in the studio with somebody for long hours and under lots of stress with them. It’s important that the working environment be a place that feels . . . I don’t want to use the word “comfortable” because that’s not the right word, but feels good and is positive and creates an environment in which we can excel.

Christopher Stowell choreographing for the world premiere of The Rite of Spring in 2009. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.
That you like coming to work with those people.
And he likes working with those people. And we like working with him.

And I think that comes through in the dancing. Like, I didn’t come here with any ballet background and it was astonishing to me, when I first saw The Concert, that ballet could be funny. It just wasn’t –
It wasn’t in your consciousness.

Right. And then all of a sudden you’re like, “This is hilarious.” And those personalities come through, so the dance can be funny, or sexy or compelling –
Or scary.

Or scary, yeah.
Any of those things.

Emotions that people who don’t know a lot about ballet don’t think of as –
As being part of the spectrum.

Yeah, as being something that ballet evokes.

What is Christopher like backstage on opening night? Does he get fidgety, or is he pretty calm?
You know, he’s really good about knowing when it’s time to step away and let the experience be in the dancers’ hands. It’s really uncomfortable for the dancers, once you’re dealing with the stress of even dress rehearsals, let alone opening night; and if someone’s, like, breathing down your neck, that doesn’t help. So he’s great about knowing when to just let it be in our hands. I’m sure he has an amount of stress or anxiety or anticipation or nervousness, but he does not put that on us.

Anne Mueller and Christopher Stowell backstage before The Stravinsky Project. Photo by Motoya Nakamura for The Oregonian.

He can sort of walk away.
Yeah. Which is great. (Laughs) Because you have your own to deal with.

So in terms of transitioning into your new role at OBT, what are you most excited about in the new dynamic of how you’re going to work with Christopher? I mean, you’ve been doing it –
Yeah. That’s exactly what I was going to say. What I really like about this is it’s NOT a new role. It’s an expansion of a role I’m already filling, so I don’t feel like I’m leaping into some great vast unknown. I work in the studio with the dancers, I set ballets, there’s a dynamic that’s established. And there’s a dynamic as to how I work with him on matters outside the studio that’s already established too. So I look forward to just doing that a lot more. I feel like I already have a pretty good level of involvement with the administrative staff, but I look forward to more of that, getting to know people better and work with them more closely and know more about what everybody does. (Laughs) That’s kind of a lame answer.

Tell me a funny Christopher story.
I got to dance with him one time, which was really a lot of fun for me. He was the surprise guest artist at Susannah Mars’ Mars on Life show one year. She wanted Christopher to dance, and he asked me if I would dance with him, and of course I was very, very flattered and said yes. And to make it even more fantastic and surprising, we did a dance choreographed by Yuri. So it was like in the middle of Nutcracker, Christopher and I were in the studio together as dancers with Yuri Possokhov, choreographing, I think it was Irving Berlin’s “Let Yourself Go.” It was hysterical. I think I was just trying to behave, and be what I was supposed to be in the moment, and the two of them, they have so much camaraderie, so I was seeing a side of their relationship that I’d never seen before. So that was surprising and new. And actually performing was a total blast. It was great. I feel like it never would have happened that we would have ended up in the same place at the same time dancing together, but I could tell even before that that he’s someone I would have loved to have had the chance to dance with. So that was very cool to do that.

So then the next year we went back, and he says “I’m not dancing again, I’m retired. So what are we going to do this year?” So we engineered a sort of audience participation number, which was just a hysterical good time. We made up some super basic vocabulary that anyone could do. We just met in the studio on one off day and made up about eight basic moves, and then we put the eight basic moves together in three different phrases. One of them was “Elf Walk,” one we called “The Sugarplum Fairy” which was a very simplified version of something the Sugarplum Fairy does in her variation, and then I think we did (she does a huge “jazz hands” arc) “Snowflakes!” They were fun, a little bit goofy, and very easy. So we designed this dance for I think nine people. We got nine volunteers from the audience and we taught them their material and cued them to do their material on the music, so it was like (snapping her fingers) “Group A, 6, 7, 8! Group B, 6, 7, 8!” And then we sort of marched them into a new, mixed-up pattern, so it was like ABA in the first line, then CBC in the second line, and then cued them to do their material. So it looked super fancy. It was great because we were showing the audience “This is how you make choreography – you start with these themes and then manipulate them in these ways.” But it was just absolutely hysterical; the audience was having a blast and the people dancing were having a blast. It was a really good time. I had a wand, I wore a crown, it was great.

And you’ve done Susannah’s show with him every time, right?
Right. And then this year Steven and I danced and he came and talked. Those were fun.

So if somebody came to you who had never seen anything Christopher had choreographed before, and was like, “What’s his choreography like?”, how would you describe it?
Well, I would probably pick a couple different ballets and say “Go look at these,” so they could kind of experience the range of where his work goes. I would pick something classical like Sleeping Beauty, and then I would pick something like Rite of Spring, and then I would pick something like Eyes on You. I think what I would say is that because he’s such an incredibly musical person, the work that he creates – the style of it – is absolutely defined by what the music is. He does not choreograph Rite of Spring the same way he choreographs Eyes on You, you know?

I’d think you’d get to know somebody very quickly when they’re making work on you and you’re collaborating in that way. Yes? No?
Well, within the confines of the studio. I mean, the way we work in the studio, you’re not sitting down having tea with someone, talking about the finer points of life. It’s a very mission-oriented time. I’m kind of thinking back on when he made Eyes on You. Adin was the first thing he choreographed on me, actually, but I was with a partner, a much more experienced partner who had been choreographed on a lot, and I think in that experience I kind of just responded to the dynamic that was happening between the two of them, so I was like, “Oh, okay, I see how this is going here.” And then for Eyes on You, when he first started it, I think the very first rehearsal for that piece was the two of us in the studio with just each other. And that can be a really intense situation – one dancer, one choreographer, nobody else around. It’s very vulnerable for everyone. But I think we got over the initial thing of, “Okay, this is a little weird,” pretty quickly. Once I realized that it was funny – that there was a sense of humor to the piece – once I caught on to that, we had a blast.

Anne Mueller and Karl Vakili in Christopher Stowell's Adin, 2004. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

I come at it from a background in theatre, so first rehearsals are often, like, everyone sits around and talks about their feelings.
Nobody talks about their feelings in ballet. It’s the opposite of that. Not that we stuff them away, but –

But it’s a whole different ballgame.
A whole different ballgame.

What are three adjectives that describe Christopher’s personality to you?
Curious. “Creative” is so generic . . . I don’t want to say that. Thoughtful, without being overly analytical. That’s not an adjective, but –

No, I’m with you.
Okay. And then – funny. Clever. Clever, but in a humorous kind of way. Not like Sherlock Holmes. (Laughs)

Can that be the title of this article? “CHRISTOPHER STOWELL: Clever, But Not Like Sherlock Holmes.”
(Laughs) Yeah.

Are you an Anne fan? What do you think is Anne’s most recognizable, iconic role? Post your thoughts below in the comments!

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Daily Dance Break: Fred and Ginger dance to Cole Porter

Our dancers are in studio this week rehearsing Christopher's inspired Cole Porter romp "Eyes on You." In honor of their hard work, here's a look back at another pair of dancers taking on Cole Porter- in this case, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers!

Send Anne Off with a Smile!

All week long, we've been sharing stories from Anne about her career, from her start at Washington Ballet to her work with the Trey McIntyre Project and her relationship with Christopher Stowell. Now it's your turn to share.
What was the first time you saw Anne dance?
What's your favorite Anne role?
A memory from your favorite Anne performance?
Best wishes as she transitions into the core artistic staff?
Share it here and we'll share your thoughts and wishes with Anne!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Your Daily Dance Break: Square Dance, the Lawrence Welk Version

We'll be presenting Balanchine's idea of a Square Dance as part of our Song & Dance program in April. So we thought you might enjoy a peek at traditional square dance (as interpreted by the dancers on the Lawrence Welk Show in 1968)

Did you learn square dancing in P.E. as a kid?

Balanchine's First Square Dance Caller

Gents go ‘round, come right back,
Make your feet go wickety-wack . . .

Crackerjack square dance caller Elisha Keeler was profiled in The New York Times and The New Yorker in 1957. Next thing you know, George Balanchine was making a new dance to the music of Baroque composers, prancing his City Ballet dancers through all kinds of stage geometry. He named it “Square Dance,” and invited Keeler to “call” it.

Keeler had only been to the ballet once in his life. He watched rehearsals, and with the help of his wife and kids, wrote the calls. “We asked him to say anything he wanted, as long as he didn’t use ballet terms,” said Balanchine.

Keeler was a colorful character, a horticulturist in his day job, famous for his way with African violets. He played piano, banjo, cello, trombone and harmonica, and his daddy was a caller before him. His family band—wife Lois on accordion, daughter Mollie on fiddle and son Kenny on banjo and trombone—often accompanied Keeler’s dances. They were known as the Happy Humdingers. Keeler made singing radio commercials too.

Keeler “sang” “Square Dance” every time it was performed at New York City Ballet from its premiere in 1957 through 1964. He called at over 2,600 festivals and conventions over his long life, but his family said “being part of the ballet was probably the high point of his calling career.” Wrote Time Magazine, “. . . when Keeler had twanged out his last call ("That is all; the dance is ended/ The music is finished; the caller's winded''), audiences cheered the blend of do-si-do and pas de deux.” Keeler passed away in 2005, at the age of 98.

Oregonians have a rare opportunity to see “Square Dance” its original form with OBT’s performances. Balanchine revised the ballet in 1976, and dropped the caller from the scenario.

(Photo: Portland violinist, composer and actor Tylor Neist will reprise Elisha Keeler’s role in the OBT performance of "Square Dance," part of the Song & Dance program playing in the Newmark in April)

Photo Above: Elisha Crofut Keeler, circa 1955

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Life and Times of Anne Mueller Part Three: Fred the Duck

OBT staff members Linda Besant and Claire Willett sat down with Principal Dancer Anne Mueller (who retires from the stage and transitions to our artistic staff in May) to interview her about her life and career. Over the next few days we’ll be sharing with you some of her stories and anecdotes – from her childhood as a touring ballet dancer, to the craziest photo shoot she ever worked on, to how she ended up living on a farm full of goats. Stay tuned for this behind-the-scenes peek at the life of one of OBT’s most engaging, colorful and unique personalities.

by Claire Willett

(This is a brief excerpt from Anne's performance as "Fred the Duck" in the Charles Moulton piece "Chickens," which premiered in 2001 at Oregon Ballet Theatre).

Petite and angular, with a striking face and a fascinatingly geometric body, Anne Mueller is a distinctive-looking woman even in her regular-person clothes. As an OBT Principal Dancer, it’s not unusual for her to be recognized on the street or in the grocery store by a ballet fan. But we got the scoop on the very first role at OBT that ever got Anne recognized in public . . . and it’s even crazier than you can imagine.

In 2001, OBT produced a “Battle of the Sexes” Choreographer’s Showcase featuring one program using all male choreographers and one using all female choreographers. Anne had previously danced in a piece by Charlie Moulton, called “Five,” which Anne says she regrets was only done once. “It was beautiful. Very aerobic,” she says. “Charlie’s style of choreographing was really unlike anything I’d experienced before . . . That was a huge growth experience for me.” She loved it so much that she jumped at the chance to perform in his next piece as part of the "Battle of the Sexes" at OBT two years later – without any idea what she was in for.

The piece, entitled “Chickens,” was originally created on White Oak Dance Project, who premiered it at the Joyce Theatre in New York. “They were for the most part not ballet dancers,” says Anne. “They were mostly modern dancers, so both thematically and vocabulary-wise, this piece was pretty out there.” The woman who traveled out to Portland to set the piece on OBT’s company informed Anne, “You’ve been precast as the duck.” “And I thought, ‘Oh, I’m the duck! That sounds like an important part,’” she laughs. “I was very excited to be the duck.”

Then the dancers watched a video of the piece, and, says Anne, “We just didn’t even know what to think.” But it grew on them quickly. “Though we’d been kind of terrified when we first initially saw the video, once we got into the world of this piece, we all just absolutely loved dancing it so much. It was a thrill to dance,” she says. “It was just a really fantastically challenging and off-the-wall piece.”

“Off-the-wall” seems to just about cover it. There’s no music – the ballet is set to a spoken-word piece by John Cale of the Velvet Underground, based on the story of the movie The Badlands. “The speaker talks about that movie and has a real affinity for Sissy Spacek, so that’s where some of the themes from the piece come from,” says Anne. “So Sissy was the male lead; he was a cowboy, but he wasn’t much of a cowboy. And his companion was me, Fred the Duck. And the deal with Fred the Duck was that he – he, she, I don’t even know – was a confused duck. I thought I was a chicken. I didn’t get that I was a duck so I tried to do lots of chicken things. I wouldn’t get in the water because the chickens wouldn’t get in the water.”

Anne wasn’t the only dancer who had to stretch outside her comfort zone to inhabit her zany role: dancer Matthew Boyes faced an entirely different challenge. “He had to hula-hoop in this piece at the very beginning,” says Anne, “and he had never learned to hula-hoop. So when we started learning this piece – which was like two weeks before the show so we were under some serious time pressure – he took the hula-hoop home and had to learn basically overnight. He came in the next day and he could barely walk, he was so sore.”

The show was wildly successful and audiences loved it. And because of Anne’s hard work in this wacky role, “People started to recognize me on the street,” she says. “They would say, ‘Hey, you’re Fred the Duck!’ Which was exciting – I had not really been recognized at all prior to dancing that role, and I thought it was just so fantastically ironic as a classically-trained ballet dancer that the role I was being recognized for was the role of Fred the Duck.”

Are you an Anne fan? What do you think is Anne’s most recognizable, iconic role? Post your thoughts below in the comments!

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Monday, March 21, 2011

The Life and Times of Anne Mueller Part Two: Alabama School of the Arts

OBT staff members Linda Besant and Claire Willett sat down with retiring Principal Dancer Anne Mueller to interview her about her life and career. Over the next few days we’ll be sharing with you some of her stories and anecdotes – from her childhood as a touring ballet dancer, to the craziest photo shoot she ever worked on, to how she ended up living on a “nano-farm” with her husband and two goats. Enjoy these behind-the-scenes peeks at the life of one of OBT’s most engaging, colorful and unique personalities, beginning with these two tales from her student days.

Anne meets her teacher, Dame Sonia Arova

This is an image of Anne's teacher, Sonia Arova. You can check out a video of her dancing in Coppelia here.

Anne remembers: I’d started studying in the D.C. area at the Washington School of Ballet. My dad was in the military, and he got transferred to Atlanta. I was heartbroken that I would have to leave D.C. and I was not interested in moving my training. What I had loved about Washington School of Ballet was this sense of history and elegance and etiquette. I really loved that. It had a feeling like you were being prepared for the knighthood or something like that.

My dad did a lot of research during my training, and looked into the Alabama School of Fine Arts. He took me on an advance visit and I was initially very skeptical, but I agreed to audition.

I auditioned with Sonia Arova, who absolutely terrified me. She taught from a chair, and it sounds so cliché, she had a stick in hand and she would tap that stick on the floor to keep the rhythm.

She had some of the dancers in the school take the audition class with us. It was very hard to tell how old they were, they were small young women, and they were very, very, very good, and that intimidated the bejesus out of me. She gave this really hard class, and when it was time to pirouette, she would yell, every time she would yell, “Six pirouettes.”

I had never encountered anything quite like that, and I thought, “If I do not do six pirouettes, this woman is not going to let me into this school, and I think I really want to be in this school.” I tried very hard to do six pirouettes, and of course I wasn’t doing six, but I think I was maybe doing three. They might not have been good, but it was an interesting strategy.

What she was trying to get us to do was just go for more. All I was focusing on was what I was not accomplishing correctly, and I didn’t see what she had gotten me to accomplish in trying to do more. That was my first realization about Sonia and her training style.

I did get accepted into the Alabama School of Fine Arts and decided to go there. So in the eighth grade I moved away from home and into a dormitory. The facility was not glamorous at the time. The dance studios were in a converted warehouse. The dormitory building had been a sort of mental hospital for women in the 1950s and 60s, so it was a bit of a bleak place, it had bars on the windows.

We had an integrated schedule of dance classes and academics. Somewhere through my first year Sonia decided that I should take private lessons. It was a bit of a terrifying situation. You would be in your afternoon class and she would send someone to get you to go into the small studio with her. You would spend somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour, with no accompaniment, sometimes not even doing combinations, just practicing skills, really hard skills, over and over and over again. Every lesson was different, always on pointe, you never worked with Sonia in flat shoes.

The first day of school of my freshman year, I was sitting in my dorm room, and I got a call at the one of the pay phones in the hallway. Those were our only phones. I got on the phone, and Sonia said, “Anna.” She always called me Anna and in eight years I never corrected her that that wasn’t really my name. She said, “Come over here for a private lesson.”

I was crestfallen, it was the first day of school, I was not in good shape, but dutifully I marched myself over there and did my private lesson. The deal was that she wanted me to be Clara in The Nutcracker that year. It was a really technically demanding role for a young girl, on pointe, and she knew I needed a little extra skill building to be ready for it.

This was not for a school production, this was for the Alabama Ballet’s annual performances of Nutcracker. Any time the company would go on tour doing a larger production, students in the school got to go along provided that their grade point average was high enough, so that was a tricky thing that you had to maintain.
So I started touring with the Alabama Ballet in the eighth grade, and we would leave at Thanksgiving and be gone for two or three weeks, and tour continually up until we came back to Birmingham for the run of Nutcracker. There would be a couple of us in eighth or ninth grade and together we would have to get our school work done, figure out the finer points of like, geometry, on our own. So I would tour Nutcracker every year, and then starting in the tenth grade I starting touring other productions as well. At fifteen, I was already touring and performing a lot with a professional company.

More Celebrating Anne Stories | All About Anne | Tickets to Song & Dance

The Life and Times of Anne Mueller Part One: Napoli

OBT staff members Linda Besant and Claire Willett sat down with retiring Principal Dancer Anne Mueller to interview her about her life and career. Over the next few days we’ll be sharing with you some of her stories and anecdotes – from her childhood as a touring ballet dancer, to the craziest photo shoot she ever worked on, to how she ended up living on a “nano-farm” with her husband and two goats. Enjoy these behind-the-scenes peeks at the life of one of OBT’s most engaging, colorful and unique personalities, beginning with these two tales from her student days.

(This is a quick video clip of the Danish National Ballet's production of Napoli, which Anne was invited to perform in as a student at the Washington Ballet.)

Dancing at the Kennedy Center — Napoli with the Royal Danish Ballet

Anne remembers: Once I started training seriously, I was living in the Washington, D.C. area, and I had started to study at the Washington School of Ballet.

One of the neatest things about living and studying dance in Washington is that the Kennedy Center brings in a large number of the world’s best ballet companies every year. As a student it’s a dreamy place to be because you get to see the best dancers in the world performing in a lot of different styles—American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Kirov Ballet.
Generally when a large company came to town and they needed kids, they would come to the Washington School of Ballet and say, “Do you have kids that can do this?”

So I had the amazing opportunity to be a part of the Royal Danish Ballet’s Napoli.

We were auditioned and I was absolutely delighted to be chosen as one of six or eight girls, I was twelve at the time, who actually got to dance in the production. Even more exciting than that, I got to dance with a little Danish boy who was also 12 years old. I had a crush on him before I even met him. (Coincidentally, I married a Dane.) We rehearsed for maybe two weeks and then we were in the theater, and we performed this amazing, historically significant ballet with impeccable dancers. I remember the dress I got to wear. It was green silk, and so beautiful.

We danced our portion. I don’t have any memory of being nervous about it, I was just so excited. After we danced we got to go up onto the bridge that was in the upstage part of the set and stand and watch the entire Napoli Pas de Six from the bridge, and throw paper flowers at the end. It was totally incredible to be watching dancers of that skill level from so close.

Actually, the current director of the Royal Danish Ballet, Nicolaj Hübbe, was still dancing with them at the time, before he went to NYCB. I remember really liking his dancing, and having a crush on him too. I think I followed him down the hall and took pictures of him.

The dancers of that company were so very nice and generous to us. We circulated our pointe shoes around to be signed. I’m certain my parents still have that pointe shoe somewhere, signed by a bunch of members of the Royal Danish Ballet.

I had seen lots of lavish productions, but being part of it, being on that stage was an entirely different matter. It was a magical experience.

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Christopher's Oregonian Profile

In case you missed it, here is the link to Artistic Director Christopher Stowell's profile article in Sunday's Oregonian.

Here's an excerpt:

"Why all the Balanchine and Robbins works in OBT's repertoire?" Stowell says. "I think that these choreographers did so much to define and advance ballet in America that any company that aspires to a high level must perform their greatest works as central to the canon of this art form. Audiences deserve to see them, in the same way that classical music audiences deserve to hear Beethoven and Mozart."

Still, OBT is anything but a museum company. Stowell has created eight world premieres for the company, and he's commissioned new work from in-demand choreographers like Nicolo Fonte, Yuri Possokhov and Christopher Wheeldon, arguably the most sought-after dance maker in the world.

West says Stowell should be commended for taking risks with young and sometimes inexperienced choreographers, and that his background and relationships have helped him improve the programming at OBT.

"I think it needs to be said that Stowell has been able to program stuff Canfield couldn't because of the connections he developed during his long career as a dancer with San Francisco Opera Ballet and his pedigree," West says. "Kent and Francia were both in the New York City Ballet and directed Pacific Northwest Ballet for close to three decades. This gave (Stowell) contacts that enabled him to program three Robbins ballets, Paul Taylor's 'Company B,' three works by Christopher Wheeldon, who is a friend, even an Ashton ballet and a ton of Balanchine."

Read the whole article here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Real Black Swan: Dance Magazine Exposes the Controversial “Face-Replacement” Technology That Made a Ballerina Out of Natalie Portman

by Claire Willett

If you’ve happened on Dance Magazine’s website lately – or if, like me, you have Facebook friends who are professional ballet dancers – then you may have seen Wendy Perron’s columns from last week and the week before  about Sarah Lane, the ballet dancer whose body doubled for Natalie Portman in her award-winning performance as Nina in the recent film Black Swan. In the following video (caution: this contains both spoilers and some gross special effects), you can see a very cool montage of digitally-enhanced scenes from the movie with original plates overlaid by effects shots – adding feathers to Portman’s arms, erasing crew and lighting rigs in the background, color-correction, etc. One of these techniques is euphemistically titled “face replacement,” and it’s causing a major stir. Why? Because in all of the climatic moments of the movie where we see Nina in motion, it’s Sarah Lane doing the dancing. Her face has been digitally replaced with Portman’s. Watch the video here:

** One more warning, this video contains spoilers and some gross special effects **

Now, in her defense, this is not just Portman’s issue (though she may have been complicit, and I didn’t hear her thank or acknowledge Sarah Lane in her recent seventeen thousand acceptance speeches). This is a studio issue. This is a 100% Hollywood-generated fake storyline intended to create the illusion that an actress learned how to be a ballet dancer in a year with nothing but a little coaching and her own sheer chutzpah and determination. It’s shameless Oscar bait. I have my own feelings about the Academy’s constant trumpeting of big grandiose spectacle roles over the arguably more challenging task of bringing a subtle, relatable, ordinary character to life (but I haven’t seen The Kids Are All Right yet either so I’m not shilling for Annette Bening here).

Body doubles are nothing new in film; actors use them for scenes that fall outside their standard contract agreements (mostly things like stunts, motion-capture, nudity or sex scenes), or for any situation in which it might be cheaper and easier to use a double rather than pay your star. And certainly movie musicals have been openly dubbing the voices of non-singing stars for years – we all know that wasn’t really Audrey Hepburn singing “I Could Have Danced All Night,” right, guys? But my point is that in this film, the physicality of Nina’s dancing – the way her body expressed her emotions – was surely a not-at-all-insignificant component that voters evaluated in the process of handing Portman award after award after award. She was playing a ballet dancer. The quality of her dancing was under scrutiny. So aren’t we compelled to say that a good 50% of that Oscar statuette, if not more, is really Sarah Lane’s? Doesn’t Portman owe a sizable chunk of this success to the hardworking athlete whose body executed all of those tremendously complicated dance moves, who was asked by the studios to stop giving interviews and keep her mouth shut until Portman had an Oscar in her hand, and to be complicit in the creation of a lie (or “façade,” to use Lane’s own more polite word) that anyone who feels like it can just become a professional ballet dancer on a whim, because they want to try something new?

What do you think? Is this just Hollywood doing what Hollywood does – create gorgeous illusions to entertain us – or is this something more akin to plagiarism – one artist receiving credit for another artist’s work? What other movies do you know of that play the body-double/voice-double card? Weigh in below in the comments and let us know what you think.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Daily Dance Break: A Bit of Public Joy to Light Up Your Monday

This flashmob took place in a German subway station as a fun stunt for a production of The Wizard of Oz that was being presented there. Check out the reactions of the people who stumbled into the midst of this "happening!"

Friday, March 11, 2011

Daily Dance Break: Nicolo Fonte Explains the Hows and Whys of Choreography

Ever wonder what inspires a choreographer to create a particular piece in a particular way?

Here's a quick video from choreographer Nicolo Fonte (who's Left Unsaid will be performed as part of our Song & Dance program in April and who will be world premiering Petrouchka as part of our season opening performance next year) explaining the hows and whys of creating a specific piece of performance.

The beautiful moments of rehearsal dance are from his world premiere of Record of Joy for the Dutch National Ballet...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fear No Music

No one should ever fear music, but if you are especially curious and excited by it, I have an even to recommend.

Local chamber music group Fear No Music has a concert this coming Sunday, March 13, at the Aladdin Theater in Southeast Portland. FNM is known for their bold explorations into the area of new classical music, often seeking to take down the walls between genres, forms of art, and performers. For this concert, they were able to procure an entire evening's worth of work by Gabriel Prokofiev (grandson of Sergei), who is not only an esteemed composer in his own right but also a DJ. One of his pieces is called "Sleeveless Scherzo", created for solo violin and dancer, and I will be performing it with violinist Paloma Griffin. Paloma and I have devised an interpretation of the piece that I think the audience will find really interesting-- she and I certainly are compelled by it!

The entire program should be fascinating-- Gabriel will be spinning throughout, as well as at the end of the evening-- so I encourage everyone to come experience it for themselves.

More information and tickets are here:

Daily Dance Break: Ginger Rogers Proves that Dance is Not Just a Young Woman's Game

Dance is hard on the body, and many people's professional dance careers sunset by their early thirties. But that doesn't mean that dance can't continue to be a vital part of life throughout your life.

To prove this, the esteemed Ginger Rogers performed this salsa benefit in her EIGHTIES. Something for us all to aspire to!

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Rite of Spring - "Are They Lifeguards?"

A very special Daily Dance Break created by Steven Houser and Adrian Fry for OBT's end of the year video after the world premiere of "The Rite of Spring" in 2009.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Your Daily Dance Break: In Honor of the Red Cross

Today's Daily Dance Break is in honor of the thousands of children living with HIV that the Red Cross serves each year. This is a video from a benefit performance for the British Red Cross, featuring community children dancing.

You can support the American Red Cross at this Friday's performance of The Stravinsky Project.

Just wear RED to the performance and you'll get to purchase 2 for 1 tickets to The Stravinsky Project at the door. Plus $3 from each ticket you purchase will go to benefit the American Red Cross.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Daily Dance Break: First Position. Harder than it Looks.

In honor of our newest dancers at our school, here is a gentle reminder that first position is not as easy as it looks on stage...