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A Great American Ballerina Bows Out: Oregon Ballet Theatre Celebrates Alison Roper

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A great American ballerina will say Farewell to the stage in a few days - but that's only one reason to catch Oregon Ballet Theatre at the Newmark Theatre in Portland. The company has been dancing with great pizzazz all season, and its latest offering boasts two company premières - Helen Pickett's visually stunning Petal and Nacho Duato's sensual Cor Perdut - and a revival of Matjash Mrozewski's powerful and moody The Lost Dance.

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Choreographed on OBT in 2012, The Lost Dance is set to an eerie, electronic score by Owen Belton and gorgeously costumed by Adam Arnold. Critic Aaron Spencer (Willamette Week) observed:

The piece recalls a really cool party, the men dressed in slender slacks and shirts that miraculously never come untucked, and the women in long, backless gowns, all different colors. The piece bends back and forth between soulful electronica and a trace party vibe, punctuated with overhead claps by the dancers. They move with sex as their motivation, often crawling, often challenging each other with domineering postures.

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Petal adorns this bold and stylish program, its offbeat pleasures owing much to the athletic yet tender interactions between the men and women of the company, and also to the startling, fluorescent design, the women in their sunny yellow swimsuits reminiscent of million dollar mermaid Esther Williams.

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The elegant Roper, partnered by the remarkable newcomer Jordan Kindell, essays the lush, passionate tangling of Cor Perdut, set to romantic songs sung in Catalan.

The versatile Roper is bowing out at the top of her game, after 18 years of performing with the company in a repertory that spanned the Russian classics as well as works by neoclassical masters Balanchine and Ashton, and by contemporary dance-makers including former OBT artistic directors James Canfield and Christopher Stowell, Christopher Wheeldon, James Kudelka, Nicolo Fonte, and Trey McIntyre.

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Critic Martha Ullman West (Oregon Artswatch) applauds:

There is huge depth and intelligence, musicality, wit and dramatic power in the dancing of Alison Roper. As a ballerina, she's the real deal, able to sustain the lead role in an evening length ballet, specifically Swan Lake, her favorite, and as a chilling Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis in Giselle, a role she has developed and reinterpreted over the years.

She has become a Balanchine ballerina without ever darkening the doors of the [New York City Ballet's] School of American Ballet, a rare achievement, in a wide range of roles, from the "Russian" solo in Serenade, to the Siren in Prodigal Son.

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Earlier this season, Ballet to the People took great pleasure in Christopher Stowell's A Midsummer Night's Dream, noting:

The splendid Alison Roper and Brian Simcoe match each other in imposing presence and expansiveness of technique. Roper gives the fairy queen a delicious hint of Ziegfeld Follies glamour and a technical fierceness - stretching her balances out of pirouette, diving into a daring arabesque penchée on pointe.

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While Portland fans are waxing nostalgic over the glories of Roper's career, they've also got their eye on a handful of admirable ballerinas in the principal and soloist ranks of this small, elegant company, notably Xuan Cheng, Haiyan Wu, Candace Bouchard, and Ansa Deguchi.

As with practically every ballet company across the country, OBT has had to trim its ranks in order to weather the economic storm in recent years. The present ensemble, under the directorship of Kevin Irving, manifests a winning individuality, particularly among the men, who, with this strongly contemporary repertory, are given plenty of exciting work in addition to steering ballerinas on pointe. Over the next few days at the Newmark, in addition to Kindell and Simcoe, keep an eye out for Adam Hartley, Kohhei Kuwana, Ye Li, Michael Linsmeier, Chauncey Parsons and Avery Reiners in Petal and The Lost Dance.

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Catch the final performances of Oregon Ballet Theatre's CELEBRATE at the Newmark Theatre in Portland on Thursday, April 24, Friday, April 25, and Saturday, April 26, all at 7:30 p.m.

All photos by Blaine Truitt Covert:

1. Alison Roper, Brian Simcoe, and Haiyan Wu in Helen Pickett's Petal
2. Alison Roper in Helen Pickett's Petal
3. Haiyan Wu and Michael Linsmeier in Helen Pickett's Petal
4. Xuan Cheng, Brian Simcoe, and Michael Linsmeier in Helen Pickett's Petal
5. Jordan Kindell in Nacho Duato's Cor Perdut
6. Alison Roper in Nacho Duato's Cor Perdut
7. Avery Reiners, Jordan Kindell, Michael Linsmeier, and Makino Hayashi in Matjash Mrozewski's The Lost Dance
8. Avery Reiners in Matjash Mrozewski's The Lost Dance