Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Review- Portland Ballet: Stravinsky's- A Soldier's Tale

Igor Stravinsky created what he called "a simpler" musical composition in 1918 out of necessity. Many orchestral musicians were off battling World War I, and rather then stopping Stravinsky wrote for seven instruments rather then the traditional one hundred players. A Soldier's Tale is scaled down, but not at all simple. The work features polyphonic melodies, with narrator, musicians and dancers all performing on stage together. And on Sunday afternoon at the Merrill auditorium a successful recreation of this simple-yet-complex production was presented by the Portland Symphony and the Portland Ballet.

What made this successful? Collaboration! The dance was performed to live music. The spoken text provided context to both the movement and music, and the combination of all three elements together enhanced the telling of the tale.

The Portland Ballet took on a formidable task in not only dancing, but also choreographing the program. Like many other ballet and modern dance companies they interpreted the movement for A Soldier's Tale but performed it to the original text and music. That meant movement-wise anything goes? Faced with an open palette, Portland Ballet's resident choreographer Nell Shipman showed restraint using classic movement and minimalism to showcase her dancers. The story follows a returning soldier who is lured by riches from the devil but then loses everything. Tyler Sperry danced the role of the soldier with both dramatic and technical flair. We saw a series of turns and jumps when he first entered that was repeated many times to portray the soldier getting mired into the devils clutches. This simple phrasing was recognizable and worked well to convey the hopelessness of his situation. The devil was Derek Clifford who convincingly lurked and tricked the young soldier. Because the movement was restrained the acting was important and Clifford did it well. Dancing the role of the princess was Morgan Sanborn (why do so many ballets feature princesses?) She was beautiful, polished and technically very fine.

It was interesting to see when the dancers were featured, and when they didn't perform. Choreographer Shipman based her decisions on her reading of the text. She found parts that would feature the dancers and then parts that needed the sole focus to be on hearing the narrator or musicians without movement. This made for a nice unpredictability.

Narrator Peter Wolf of the G. Giles Band was engaging. The seven members of the symphony were outstanding although their names were not listed in the program notes! And conductor Robert Moody should be commended for putting all the pieces together.

A Soldiers Tale, Merrill Auditorium, Sunday November 8th 2009

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