Act I, season II of the Oregon Ballet Theatre's resuscitation, Movement as Metaphor, led by newish creative director Christopher Stowell, has three fine dances in its program, but many audience members won't even remember the first two. For the last dance is Swan Lake, the grand dame of ballets, combining a spicy storyline of seduction, betrayal, and death, with dazzlingly demanding choreography set to a Tchaikovsky score. It's everything you wanted the ballet to be. And more.
But first there's a pretty piece by George Balanchine, Concerto Barocco, set to a Bach violin concerto, and choreographed by Stowell's own mother, Francia Russell. Balanchine made his name creating modern ballet free from the constraints of plot and character. Even in today's hip world, it's an effort to deny your expectation of a storyline and watch contemporary dance for the movement alone, but Barocco is rewarding for its sheer technical virtuosity, filling the stage with white leotard-clad ballerinas that dance a complicated, meaningless routine like a cool, ultra-sophisticated chorus line.
And yet for all Barocco's chilled beauty, what lingers is Swan Lake's passionate drama. A brief recap on the story: Prince Siegfried has fallen in love with a princess turned into a white swan by a sorcerer. Having pledged his eternal love to swan princess Odette, Siegfried is tricked by the sorcerer into believing the treacherous black swan Odile is actually Odette. So he declares his love for Odile instead, with deathly results. Act III is set on the eve of the prince's coming-of-age at a formal ball at which guests the world over have come to honor him in a multi-cultural dance exposition of Polish mazurkas, Hungarian czardas and Neapolitan tambourine duets.
Enter the black swan amid a flurry of tiny minions. Danced alternate evenings by Alison Roper and Yuka Iino, Odile seduces and tempts the prince, then repeatedly leaves him high and dry, building an emotional tension that hums throughout the final pas de deux. Odile's piece contains a breathlessly difficult 32 successive fouettes (fast, whipped turns on point), and Act III is cliffhanging ovation material. Let's hope OBT continues to follow up this story.