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OBT returns to home shores with true style

Dance review: ‘A Grand Tour Program 3: America’
by: ©2008 Blaine Truitt Covert, Oregon Ballet Theatre principal dancers Jon Drake and Kathi Martuza take on George Balanchine’s Broadway-style “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.”

Between the keen eye for contemporary choreography, reverence for classical dance and determination to grow his Oregon Ballet Theatre, it’s sometimes possible to forget this about Artistic Director Christopher Stowell: He is a showman. OBT audiences have come to depend on Stowell to get them access to top dancemakers like James Kudelka, Nicolo Fonte and Trey McIntyre, whose dazzling 2005 “Just” returns for the current program, which runs through this weekend. They also can expect him to stay faithful to a ballet like “Through Eden’s Gate,” a work created for OBT last season by his father, Kent Stowell, whose long ties to legendary New York City Ballet founder George Balanchine are where his son’s connection to the classics began. The younger Stowell’s dedication to the piece has paid off. It seems better suited to the smaller Newmark Theatre stage than the larger Keller Auditorium, where it debuted. With two pianos as accompaniment, the big, dance hall-style number that opens the ballet feels a bit underpowered, but from there, it succeeds impressive, especially in a passionate tango between Alison Roper and Ronnie Underwood and a playful romp in which five male dancers pursue a kittenish Yuka Iino like children who’ve discovered a runaway pet on the playground. By the time the full cast retakes the stage for the final number, the enterprise has gathered enough momentum to feel in full stride. But the highlight of this program, the penultimate installment in a series spotlighting choreographers from around the world, is “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” which resulted from a 1936 collaboration between Balanchine and musical theater giant Richard Rodgers. A breezy, bawdy story ballet involving showgirls, rowdy saloon patrons, dancing cops and a hitman for hire gives Jon Drake and Kathi Martuza a chance to show off some serious Broadway-style hoofing and reminds us that the serious-minded Stowell can be at his best when he’s having fun. — Eric Bartels 7:30 p.m. FRIDAY, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. SATURDAY, 2 p.m. SUNDAY, April 25-27, Antoinette Hatfield Hall, Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway, 503-222-5538, www.obt.org, $25.25-$130