Eugene Ballet Company – 2002

May 4, 2002

Eugene Ballet Company

Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center for the Performing Arts
Eugene, Oregon

May 4?5, 2002

Reviewed by Martha Ullman West

Artistic Director Toni Pimble?s Rite of Spring is more of a rut than a rite and ought to have a subtitle that indicates as much. Like Paul Taylor?s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal), it is the choreographer?s highly idiosyncratic visualization of Igor Stravinsky?s groundbreaking score, and everything else about the 1913 Nijinsky ballet is cast away in its service.

In this version, which premiered in the final concerts of the Eugene Ballet?s 2001?2002 season, the Chosen One becomes Unchosen, and the dance is about mating Homo sapiens in a very primitive state. To even out the numbers and preserve the balance of the sexes, the unselected female is first gang-raped by the men and then destroyed.

Costumed by Amy Panganiban in flesh-colored cutoff tights for the men and unitards for the women, intended to make them look naked?in fact they looked a lot like Matisse?s famous circling dancers?the dancers performed Pimble?s writhing, torso-bending, violently sexual earthbound movement with an abstract grace that did not diminish in any way the horror of the ballet?s climax.

As the Unchosen one, Jennifer Martin?whose attack and musicality in such roles as Aurora and Odette-Odile, not to mention her sparkling Kitri, are a joy to see?abandoned decorum, placement, and line in a heart-stopping expression of vulnerability and fear. Matthew Hope, dancing the leader of the pack of men, was feral, menacing, and dangerous as he prowled in silently snarling, panther-like, terrifying movement.

While the principal dancers gave mind-boggling performances, there is not in fact much solo choreography in the work. Pimble?s arrangement of the dancers on the stage in geometrically placed groups exerted considerable control on what could have been messy abandon. Group movement was often performed in unison, although there was room for individualized dancing. This was least successful in the section in which the women seemed to be making feebly helpless attempts to defend the Unchosen.

Pimble made her version even more challenging with a set she designed that included a “rain curtain” at the beginning, through which the dancers made their entrance on a wet stage. Stravinsky?s score was brilliantly played by the Oregon Festival of American Music?s American Symphonia under the skillful baton of James Paul. Given the difficulty of the music and a limited rehearsal time, dancers and musicians gave a remarkably integrated performance.

Live music made all the difference in the revival of Pimble?s 1992 Common Ground, a collaborative work with composer James Oliverio. Eloy Barragan?s Danza Danzon provided a light note in an emotionally heavy evening.