OBT 25’s program culminates in a celebration with a brand-new ballet titled Never Stop Falling (in Love). In their first ever collaboration, the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre share the stage with Portland’s favorite “little orchestra”, Pink Martini!

The ballet was choreographed by another audience favorite, Nicolo Fonte, whose contemporary versions of Petrushka and Bolero were premiered on OBT to stellar reviews. (A selection from Bolero was recently highlighted at the TEDx talks here in Portland, also to great acclaim.)

Thomas and Nicolo.
Thomas Lauderdale and Nicolo Fonte working on “Never Stop Falling (In Love)”.

Mr. Fonte began his career as a dancer with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and then with Nacho Duato’s Compañia Nacional de Danza in Madrid. He began choreographing for Duato’s company and went on to choreograph on the international dance scene, from the Göteborg Ballet in Sweden to the Australian Ballet and many more. He is currently Resident Choreographer for Ballet West and we couldn’t be more pleased than to have his creative energies back here in Portland.

The idea for this ballet began with OBT’s Artistic Director, Kevin Irving, who wanted to pair Mr. Fonte’s work with that of Pink Martini. Mr. Fonte suggested that the music be played live, and the two collaborators hit the ground running. During the creation process, both Mr. Fonte and Thomas Lauderdale (founding band leader of Pink Martini) learned about each other’s processes. Both were interested in making the performance a truly unique experience – not to simply have the dancers onstage in front of the orchestra, but to make the collaboration clear.

The sound landscape for the work is a compilation of songs including both well-known works as well as music that has never before been performed live. For the most part the soundtrack is recognizable Pink Martini, but heard in a new way – with tempo changes and original music providing the opening and transitions. There are several premieres in this singular work.

Because the score is made up of separate songs, the overall structure of the ballet is episodic. Taking a closer look at the lyrics of the songs, many of which are sung in foreign languages (Pink Martini’s influences span the globe), Mr. Fonte found a choreographic tool. Although the songs might sound upbeat, their lyrics are actually quite sad. There is a Turkish song in the performance that makes you want to get up and move, but the lyrics lament a blackened heart. There is a Croatian song, also very happy sounding, but the words tell of a thwarted lover. This kind of dichotomy interested Mr. Fonte, and the overall theme for his work has evolved to become the search for love. Mr. Fonte says, “Love in all its many forms: tragic, friendly, happy, mad, delirious – all those forms are in there.”

Sarah Griffin, NSF(IL)
Sarah Griffin rehearsing Nicolo Fonte’s “Never Stop Falling (In Love)” at OBT Exposed in Pioneer Courthouse Square, August , 2014. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

Nicolo Fonte began his choreography for Never Stop Falling (in Love) in front of thousands of onlookers who came to Pioneer Courthouse Square for OBT Exposed at the end of the summer. For five days Mr. Fonte created movement under the sun, with a mid-week visit by Pink Martini band members Thomas Lauderdale playing piano, China Forbes singing, and Nicholas Crosa on violin.

By day 10 of working with the dancers, over half the choreography of his 40 minute ballet had been set. Mr. Fonte can create at a remarkable rate, with movement seeming to pour out of him. He says this pace is usual for him, mostly because he has little tolerance for boredom. But he also recognizes the need to avoid what he calls “movement diarrhea”, and has honed his editing skills. As he predicted, his pace slowed down closer to the end of the process as he applied the final touches.

One particularly poignant moment in the piece was made for principal dancer Chauncey Parsons and his brother, newly-hired company artist Colby Parsons. It’s a transitional yet intimate episode. The layers involved in working with siblings were setting the choreography in motion.

Parsons Brothers
Brothers Chauncey Parsons and Colby Parsons in Nicolo Fonte’s “Never Stop Falling (In Love)”. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

One can imagine the dancers in the tuxedo-inspired costumes – recycled jackets and shirts, all in white with black accents. The women wore tutus made of layers of tulle and pieces of ruffled tuxedo shirts. The costumes add to the local flavor of the work, with Portland-based designer and Project Runway winner Michelle Lesniak as the designer. Upstage of the dancers, the members of Pink Martini were in dark colors, on tiers that define the back of the stage space. The backdrop was lifted to give a more open feeling, and the back wall of the theatre exposed.

Mr. Fonte says, “I’m interested in being accessible and audience-friendly and I think the work will be very accessible to lots of people….The challenge is to preserve that accessibility and that friendliness, but also to keep the integrity to the art form – ballet in the 21st century…You go on a journey. I don’t want it to be a bunch of non-sequitors….That’s not what ballet is. Ballet is like poetry. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end and you go on that journey and the beauty of it is the connectedness.”

He describes the ballet’s path this way: “It starts very upbeat. It goes up, up, up and then it takes a turn. It takes a turn into sort of, not necessarily a dark place, but it goes into a more serious chapter. By that I mean quieter, more pensive, more like we’re tapping into fragile parts of humanity and love. And then, of course, we just explode at the end. Then it just bursts through with euphoria and delirium.”

Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers performing Nicolo Fonte's "Never Stop Falling (In Love)".  Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.
Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers performing Nicolo Fonte’s “Never Stop Falling (In Love)”. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

The process has been satisfying for all. The dancers laughed and smiled during rehearsals while Mr. Fonte was hands-on and joking with them. Talk has been circulating throughout the building about how much everyone has enjoyed listening to the sounds of Pink Martini traveling through the studio and hallways. Interestingly, it had to compete with the sounds of Agon, another ballet presented as part of OBT 25. That ballet celebrated the here and now of New York City in1957. With Never Stop Falling (in Love), Oregon Ballet Theatre and Pink Martini celebrate a quarter century of dance. The work is decidedly Portland and points to the dynamic future of OBT.

-Brook Manning

Brook Photo by Francie Manning.
Dance Historian and Teaching Artist Brook Manning. Photo by Francie Manning.

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