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Monday, July 26, 2010

Review: Uprising

Posted by Andrew R Tonry on Mon, Jul 26, 2010 at 8:14 PM

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"A lot people think ballet is stuffy and boring," said choreographer and producer Candace Brouchard, introducing the second installment of "Uprising," a collaboration between the Oregon Ballet Theater and local pop musicians. "I'm here to show you that it's not."

Brouchard went on to encourage the Sunday evening Aladdin Theater audience to have a beer, and even to shout out when they were feeling it—the dancers feed off that sort of energy, she explained.

So I suppose, in a way, Brouchard was right—Uprising wasn't stuffy. But it wasn't radical either.

As someone whose experience with ballet starts and ends with a lone performance of the Nutcracker some 16-odd years ago, it's nearly impossible for me to gauge where Uprising fits in the form's continuum. I can, however, detail the experience itself—and for me, Uprising brought up as many questions as it answered.

First the obvious: every member of the dance troupe was physically striking. There's no doubting their work ethic, skill and devotion to the craft. (The audience, at least the youthful portion of it, were pretty hot themselves, by the way.) Apart from the moves, which I cannot parse, watching ballet is fulfilling in itself as a study of exquisite human forms.

The music was provided by Laura Gibson and Weinland, who traded songs back an forth. Both assembled at the back of the stage and remained there throughout. I found Gibson's sparse, airy, and textured breaths provided more space for the dancers to work. The tempos stretched, and the images were opaque, allowing the dancers room to fill in the blanks.

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Weinland didn't work as well for me. Many of the lyrics were instructive enough to obscure any more abstract interpretations through motion. Self-referential, overly emotional themes seem to butt heads with anything but themselves. The straightforward, rarely-shifting, often mid-tempo 4/4 beats did not offer any rhythmic flourishes for the dancers. In fairness, one of the troupe members told me they preferred dancing to Weinland's tunes.

The most difficult part for me to reconcile, however, was an inability to find chaos in the dance. Based on an almost inhuman control, ballet is intrinsically graceful, yet when the music became sullen or sneering, I had a hard time discerning such emotions in a dance whose movements are exact, routines are fluid, and whose landings are smooth. At times the dance seemed to flutter while the music sulked.

The form seemed better suited for the more effervescent moments in the music, especially the closing of the show's first half, where Gibson was joined by Weinland in a bubbling chorus of "oooh's," backed by a primal thump.

Again, my qualms could very well be chalked up to a lack of understanding of ballet. But then again the point of Uprising, as I understand it, is to reach out to non-traditional ballet audiences (as well as to make a few bucks for the dancers, whose work with OBT is sparse). I should note that Sunday's crowd night seemed in love what they saw. They didn't have the same questions I did, such as:

- What makes ballet ballet? In other words, when does ballet stop being ballet and start being simply (interpretive) dance?

- How does one define chaos in ballet?

- And finally, perhaps the most interesting question of them all: who should provide the music for the next Uprising?

A group of us gathered outside during intermission and that question—and the answers to it—were on everyone's collective tongue. While I'd like to see Uprising get down with some truly radical stuff (think noise set from Yellow Swans or Sunn 0)))) or an arching narrative (think Parenthetical Girls or a third-person storytelling songwriter), we all could agree on one group: Au. They are effervescent, full of texture, movement, space, bombast and dense rhythmic shifts. I can't imagine a better pairing.

Certainly it's something to consider, because despite my green questions, Uprising itself is also young (this was just the second installment). There's plenty of potential territory ahead that seems well worth exploring.

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