Oregon Ballet Theatre was founded in 1989 as the result of a merger between Pacific Ballet Theatre, led by James Canfield, and Ballet Oregon, led by Dennis Spaight. Under the direction of Canfield, a former principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet and the company’s first Artistic Director, OBT quickly developed a distinctive style and unique repertoire that grew to comprise over 80 ballets. Today, OBT’s repertoire includes evening-length classics, 20th-Century masterpieces and groundbreaking contemporary works. From 2003-2012, under the direction of Christopher Stowell, OBT presented nearly 350 performances and added 51 ballets, including 20 world premieres, to its diverse body of work. Stowell created 10 ballets for the company and further expanded its repertoire with notable works by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, William Forsythe and Lar Lubovitch.
In June 2013, OBT named Kevin Irving as the company’s third Artistic Director. Irving brings over 30 years of experience performing with and managing world-renowned cultural organizations and dance companies, including The Göteborg Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, and Compañia Nacional de Danza (Spain). His tenure has been marked by a commitment to collaborative partnerships with other Portland artists and organizations, including the Portland Art Museum, Multnomah County Library, and Pink Martini. He has expanded the company’s classical repertoire – with the premieres of Ben Stevenson’s Cinderella and August Bournonville’s Napoli – while preserving OBT’s legacy and restoring major works such as James Canfield’s Romeo & Juliet and Dennis Spaight’s Scheherazade. At the same time, he has introduced the work of contemporary masters Nacho Duato and Jiří Kylián and continues to build a diverse repertory with world premieres from internationally acclaimed contemporary choreographers such as Nicolo Fonte, Darrell Grand Moultrie, and Helen Pickett.
Irving’s vision for reinvigorating the art form of ballet can be discerned in initiatives such as 2017’s ChoreographyXX, featuring world premieres from three female choreographers, and the newly launched annual series “The Americans”, highlighting the distinct character of American choreography. The series features iconic work by dance luminaries such as Alvin Ailey and Twyla Tharp alongside work created on OBT by local favorites including Trey McIntyre and the founders of BodyVox Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland.
Left to right: Davida Haas and Fabrice Lamire in James Canfield’s Nutcracker; Alison Roper and Ronnie Underwood in Yuri Possokhov’s Raymonda; and Avery Reiners in Nicolo Fonte’s Never Stop Falling (In Love). Photos by Blaine Truitt Covert.