Pacific Northwest Ballet, Oregon Ballet, and Band of Horses at Wolf Trap by Luella Christopher


By Luella Christopher
Copyright © 2014
August 27, 2014

Hyper-athleticism defines the look of choreography presented by both Trey McIntyre and Andrew Bartee in an August double bill of Oregon Ballet Theatre and Pacific Northwest Ballet at Wolf Trap Park for the Performing Arts. This look is virtually essential to the matchup with exquisite videography by Blue Land Media and mammoth projections of Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park. Cascading waterfalls in a secluded rainforest, alpine wildflowers bursting in a neon pink palette, tantalizing sandy beach at Rialto, daunting peaks and valleys of Hurricane Ridge all serve as backdrop to “Robust American Love,” the first piece by Oregon Ballet Theatre. Cast members, attired in loose-fitting blue-violet jackets over white leotards and tights, literally catch the breezes flowing across the stage. There’s breathtaking partnering when the sole female dancer, Alison Roper, is lifted in arabesque and rocked in a wide second position plié. One male dancer enters from stage left and struts downstage center, inviting the audience to clap on the beat. A whirlwind of backward prances, airborne chassés and twisting torsos by all ensues.

Costumes by Melissa Schlachtmeyer, to whose memory the ballet is dedicated, figure even more prominently in the choreography when soloist Roper dons a gauzy blue-violet long tunic and wraps, then unwraps it to a chorus of “nothing I can do or say”. She is supported on the body of a man who slinks across the stage horizontally, then hands her off to someone else. The men shed their jackets. Dancers shrug shoulders and pound on their chests – moves that alternate with lyrical jumps that remind us of the balletic base of McIntyre’s piece. Roper’s long tunic is mobilized as a cape, then a scarf to envelop her body, followed by barrel turns in place. She is tossed from one man to another while she holds yet another dramatically wide second position plié. *The woman accompanied by three men (Xuan Cheng, Michael Linsmeier, Avery Reiners and Brian Simcoe) finish with backs on the floor, abdomens and knees tilted upward while Roper raises outstretched arms in their midst. The ballet is followed by “The Sound” to music by The Decemberists. It’s a “solo” for Blue Land Media filmed at San Juan Islands National Monument (Friday Harbor, Washington) with its twin English and American camps, seaside bluffs, evergreen forests and wetlands.

A long musical interlude between the two dance works is then offered by Band of Horses, an ensemble that rises dramatically on a “lift” from below stage level. Voice, piano and string instruments are deployed by Ben Bridwell, Ryan Monroe, Tyler Ramsey, Bill Reynolds and Creighton Barrett. It’s a bombastic addition to the menu, if somewhat foreign to those more accustomed to orchestrated music in a subtler mode. (This writer is a particular fan of double bass, recalling the jazz and classical music gifts of brother-in-law Bill Courtney and longtime piano teacher Margaret Lorince.) A video of Cascades National Park by Blue Land Media to music of M. Ward serves to transition the program to the last work of the evening.

In Pacific Northwest Ballet’s world premiere of “Dirty Goods”, with choreography by Andrew Bartee to music by The Chromatics, the marriage of dance and videography is not quite so solid as that of the first dance work of the evening. True, the projections are wonderfully majestic, but they tend to overpower the onstage dancing of Chelsea Adomaitis, Leta Biascucci, Lindsi Dec, Elle Macy, Raphael Bouchard and Ezra Thompson. It’s a matter of proportions in which the outsize dancers on film simply dwarf their live counterparts, making it virtually impossible not to focus on the “video” women – in white pants and long-sleeved shirts – framed by snow, lush green surroundings and surging ocean.

The live dancers are attired in sportier white shirts, biker shorts and sneakers. Bartee manages to deliver many nice touches in the onstage choreography: arm movements mimicking those of a traffic cop or umpire; hops forward and side-to-side; a woman held upside down with the women in the video executing similar moves; syncopated rhythms while the projections convey a slower counterpoint. Like “Robust American Love”, the piece is boisterous and hyper-kinetic, but we’re left without the depth and elegance achieved in McIntyre’s utilization of more classical lines. As the show comes to an end, a final nod is rendered to Band of Horses when the pit is partially raised to show the musicians before a starlit sky – much like the real one over the nighttime venue in Vienna, Virginia.

Copyright © 2014 by Luella Christopher, Ph.D.
Published by IsItModern?
*Correction, thanks to Candace Bouchard.