OBT 25 included an enticing selection of duets from the three choreographers who have most shaped Oregon Ballet Theatre over the past 25 years. This section, titled “Love X3” is made up of the most gripping excerpts of some of Portland’s favorites.

Xuan and Michael in Robust
Xuan Cheng and Michael Linsmeier in Trey McIntyre’s “Robust American Love”. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

This collection of choreographers opens with the work of Trey McIntyre, OBT’s Resident Choreographer from 1998-2000. Mr. McIntyre showed choreographic talent early on and was named choreographic apprentice to Houston Ballet, a position created especially for him by then Artistic Director, Ben Stevenson (whose Cinderella OBT will perform later this season). Mr McIntyre has worked for twenty-four years as a choreographer, producing close to one hundred works seen internationally. In 2004 he established the Trey McIntyre Project based in Boise, Idaho. Last year he reorganized his company to encompass some of his other interests including film, photography and writing. OBT fans will remember some of the other ballets he created for the company including Just, Like a Samba, White Noise, Happy Ending and Speak.

When Mr. McIntyre begins his creative process he listens to the music over and over again, improvising with it to get it into his body. Then he goes into the studio and improvises with the dancers. Each day he films his choreography and at night he studies how the dance is progressing.

For Robust American Love, Mr. McIntyre chose the Seattle-based band Fleet Foxes. They are an Indie-rock band who list as their influences: folk, pop, choral, gospel, sacred harp singing, West Coast music, traditional music from Ireland to Japan, film scores and their Northwest peers. Mr. McIntyre was drawn to “their Americana, so suggestive of wide-open spaces and canyons and folk music references, and their old-style lyrics and poetry. These are themes I’m very interested in. Coming from the heartland, coming from Wichita, Kansas. It has never until now, with this piece, been a conscious thing, but my perspective is American.”

He placed the work in pre-Civil War America in order to explore ideas of the pioneer spirit. The work has both grittiness and optimism, as well as a connection to the American landscape. Mr. McIntyre speaks of “being from hardy stock – my family is heavy with Dutch and German and Native American, really connected to doing an honest day’s work, and connected with the land. I wanted to explore those ideas within the piece.”

When he’s formulating new ideas, Mr. McIntyre says, “Everything around me has an influence. I thought about people whose language speaks to these same ideas, and Walt Whitman was, of course, right in the forefront.”   The title phrase of “Robust American Love” is found in Whitman’s poem titled A Promise to California. Inspired by the combination of the poem’s rich embrace and the sounds of the Fleet Foxes, Mr. McIntyre created a living dancescape of pioneering Americans.

The dancers wear costumes that reflect independence. Turning away from the Victorian corset, the costume designs seek to break through the restrictions of tight clothing. “The clothes are constructed to really hang off of the dancers. The costumes dance on their own, almost separately.”, says Mr. McIntyre. Flesh-colored leotards are layered with colonial-style, light denim jackets that the dancers manipulate into shapes and characters.

Xuan in Robust
Xuan Cheng manipulating her costume in Trey McIntyre’s “Robust American Love”. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

Between the five dancers who make up the cast, there is a sense of camaraderie. But the dancers aren’t smiling. Alison Roper, one of the original cast members, said “It’s as if they’re doing their daily chores, singing their work songs. Maybe they’re breaking for lemonade.” The small, tightly-knit group celebrates their shared experience, their perseverance.

The women are not on pointe. Their extended legs show the muscle, determination and optimism required of their role.   The men’s movements are expansive and they run to an offstage vista in our imaginations. In the duet performed during OBT 25, the couple is playful, snapping their fingers and riding the music’s rhythm. They move as if there is nothing they can’t do together. They celebrate their shared strength as she explodes out of his arms, fearless. Soaring and spinning, as if in a dream sequence in a movie, she rides high on his shoulder, arms extending her view to the wide-open space. There is memory in their bodies, but what we see in this duet is the pure enjoyment of a seemingly limitless future.

-Brook Manning

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

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