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Aural Report

Searching for refined entertainment
A conscious effort to be cultured
by Kurt Dahlke

ural Report has reached a point in life at which he and his wife have started making a conscious effort to be cultured. The haphazard consumption of whatever rock tune or sleazy movie that comes down the pike is gradually (not completely) morphing into a thoroughly disingenuous search for refined, edifying entertainment.

Or, perhaps the Report is just trying to make the wife happy and turn the future kid into something other than a trash-culture-obsessed proto-philistine. Whatever the case, February 2006 is now the month of the ballet – and who knows what else is down the road.

A performance mounted by the White Bird dance company brings one of England's finest modern dance choreographers, Richard Alston, to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

The young and hip dance aficionado crowd mixes with a few more staid connoisseurs – but clearly the pink-hair-and-strange-chest-rubbing-same-sex-couples crowd apparently has its fingers on the pulse (if not décolletage) of dance for the new millennium.

Alston's A-game: OK but nothing too special.

Since Report don't know a damn thing about ballet it can only go with the gut and the gut says Alston's A-game highlights an arena that might see an increasing number of empty seats.

The three-part show starts with dancers dressed as tiny beaded desk lamps, performing a series of moves that seem culled from a standard primer of ballet steps.

Intermission treats us to a bit of singing and cooing betwixt the chest-rubbers.

Dance number two features hauntingly beautiful music, extremely low lighting and more moves that have us looking for subtext. Darkly romantic but a little too soothing.

Alston pulls out the stops after intermission two for the grand finale. More aggressively modern music (Señor Coconut, beguiling bhangra, etc.) ups the energy and excitement, but the onstage activity, while physically astounding, still doesn't seem to connect in a narrative or contextual way – then again, what the hell does the Report know?

A friend (who's a dance fan and recommended the show) at least supports the general assessment, pronouncing the show OK but nothing too special.

Next stop is with the far more earnest Oregon Ballet Theatre, for their Winter Program.

Promotional pieces for this show highlight a lithe woman in a lime-green jumper and the slogan "this ain't no disco." The quarter-century-old Talking Heads reference may have been lost on 60 percent of the elderly moneyed elite in attendance, but the sentiment fits, because this show really "ain't no foolin' around."

As tiny Madeline-girls in velveteen dresses rush with furrowed brows to their seats, knocking over 80-year-old, tuberculosis-stricken, fur-draped, Russian-hatted ladies in their haste, we know that these people are serious. And so is OBT.

Stowell: good stuff indeed.

First up is Quick Time, the dance of the green jumpers, which debuted a scant 10 months ago. The stage is bare save for a backdrop of changing spring-like colors. Two pianists (Carol Rich and Cary Lewis – word up to Carol, a neighbor to the "Pappy House" way back in the day) face each other from stage left and right, playing instruments that might have been decorated by Peter Max.

The Saint-Saens "dueling pianos" score underscores something like a delirious bacchanalia of tulips and bees, or asparagus and woodchucks. The women skitter about on their tips, waving their arms like fronds on the breeze while the males leap and lure.

Choreographer Christopher Stowell says of his dancers "these people are stars, here's what they can do, and isn't it fantastic!" Instead of hiding "behind the reticence of the art of ballet," they pair off here and there, wrapping themselves around each other in a yogic, tantric, whimsical prayer of creation. In other words, it's easy to read what's going on, and it's good stuff indeed.

Ballet, it's discovered, is the realm of two intermissions (gives the dancers time to rest) and after the first intermission we get the world premier of Just, choreographed by Trey McIntyre and with music by Henry Cowell.

McIntyre uses Cowell's musical experimentation of the '30s as inspiration to move away from traditional narrative dance. But while there might be few traditional signifiers for those looking, a different text is there anyway – his daring and unusual choreography seems to come from undiscovered territory.

The dancers definitely need the second intermission, as the last piece is a grand, spastic homage-a-Broadway choreographed by Balanchine, a ballet heavy of whom even the Report knows. It's an invigorating tour de force that turns your favorite ballet moves into a glitzy greatest-hits package performed with utmost enthusiasm.

McIntyre: daring and unusual choreography.

After the wonderful live music of the first two numbers, the prerecorded Gershwin medley is the only mild disappointment in an otherwise obviously crowd-pleasing finale.

Aural Report may not know much about dance, but it knows what it likes. Richard Alston seems good, but Oregon Ballet Theatre clearly has the goods, even to a proto-philistine.

Lucky thing the next cultural event is a couple months down the road.

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

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