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obt: visiting portland

OBT interior lobby, dancers Christian Squires
and Raychel Weiner chatting

I just got back from Oregon Ballet Theatre, interviewing and observing for an article I’m supposed to be writing right now for another publication. But I’ve got to take a procrastinatory minute to vent about OBT. Each time I see Christopher Stowell’s 26-member company, my respect for it grows.

Someone called them “the little company that could” but I don’t think the reference is accurate. They have heart, yes, but they have more than that. They may not be numerous, but the folks they have are good. Their most-skilled dancers would be a welcome sight on any stage; company members at the other end of the spectrum have grace and fit in better than you sometimes see in bigger companies. From what I’ve seen, they’ve figured out how to be individuals and yet be together. I’m not sure how you do that, but it’s pretty cool to see. Company style? Neat and clean, I think.

More than one person I talked to mentioned the community spirit—how supportive they are of each other, how they each work to improve so they can move forward as a company. Was it a football speech? Maybe. It didn’t feel like one at the time, plus I saw plenty of that generosity of spirit in action when I was watching rehearsal and class.

Their building is very pretty, but it only has two small studios. I have this idea that if their studios were bigger, their dance would grow too. I’m not exactly sure what that means…they certainly have lovely extension and they cover ground…maybe it’s just that sense of not being constrained in any way? (I had thought it was their stage, initially, but that turned out to be bigger than it looked. Go figure.) No worries, though. Larger studios will come eventually in this town that supports dance. And in the meantime they’re smart: not grumbling, but focusing their energy on dancing. Which is one reason they’re so good.

OBT celebrates its 20th anniversary with a show that runs October 10–17. It would be a nice introduction to the company if you’ve never taken the trip down to see them. (Every Portland ballet trip I’ve ever taken was great. That city is at least as foodie as Seattle and their bartenders (at Clyde Commons, Heathman Hotel, El Gauchos, for example) know their stuff. Plus there’s Powell’s…Ken’s Artisan Bakery…etc.)

The anniversary program features “excerpts of works created specifically for OBT over the past twenty years, including Dennis Spaight’s Gloria and Ellington Suite; Trey McIntyre’s Speak; A Certain Depth of Heart, Also Love by Bebe Miller; Julia Adam’s il nodo; La Valse by Yuri Possokhov; James Kudelka’s Almost Mozart, and Christopher Stowell’s Eyes On You and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Plus a video history with rare footage of works by James Canfield.”

I took pictures of some of the art at OBT in between interviews. Most of what I saw was by Mona Cordell, who hangs out from time to time and sketches from class and rehearsal. Pretty cool.

There are better pictures and some videos on OBT’s blog: