NEW YORK, July 29 (UPI) -- Oregon Ballet Theater is in top form in a new program designed as a farewell tribute to its retiring artistic director, James Canfield, who has shaped he troupe into one of the nation's most daring dance companies during his 13 years at the helm.
Judging by the high entertainment quotient of the Portland, Ore.-based company's performances during its second season at New York's Joyce Theater, ending last weekend, one could say Canfield, 42, has the world as his oyster when it comes to finding an association with another ballet company or even one yet to be formed.
He admits he has had offers from other companies but says he has not committed himself beyond next spring, when he steps down from his Oregon post.
"I'm open to anything," the bald, heavily tattooed Canfield said in an interview. "But I really have nothing on the horizon. Who knows? I might sell suntan lotion in Maui. I just want to be remembered as an entertainer who has made dance important in people's lives. I don't look back and regret any risk I have taken."
Canfield went to the Oregon Ballet Theater when it merged with Pacific Ballet, of which he had been director, in 1989. Since then he has built the company, currently 14 dancers, into a versatile ensemble suited to presenting non-traditional -- and often controversial -- subject matter set to music by such groups as The Doors and Pink Floyd but also capable of dancing the classics, including "The Nutcracker," "Giselle," and "Romeo and Juliet."
Canfield also has established a professional ballet school in Portland that has an enrollment of 200 students and several education and outreach programs in the community. In its performances in Portland at its own theater, a converted bank building on the city's inner East Side, and on national tour it reaches an audience estimated at 145,000 people annually.
Trained at the Academy of the Washington Ballet in the nation's capital, Canfield began his dancing career as a principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet before moving on to Pacific Ballet in 1985. He danced with Oregon Ballet Theater until 1996, when he and his long-time dance partner, Patricia Miller, decided to retire together while still in their prime.
The new touring program for the company, titled "James Canfield Signatures," comes in at less than two hours but manages to include two act-long ballets and three short works, all by Canfield who has choreographed a third of the 80 ballets in the company's repertory.
The most recent is "Up," which premiered in Portland last May as a centennial salute to Richard Rodger's birth and consists of seven stylistically varied movements set to seven different recordings of "Blue Moon," said to be the composer's most popular song.
Katarina Svetlova was particularly smart and snappy dancing to Billie Holiday's upbeat recording, and five dancers performing to Carmen McRae's rendition formed crisp silhouettes against a rose red backdrop, one of Canfield's signature conceits. Christopher De Mellier's pensive movements suited Ian McCulloch's wistful recording perfectly.
Tracy Taylor and Scott Trumbo were suitably sultry in the Cowboy Junkies' version, and Vanessa Thiessen did wonderful things with blue shoes for the Mavericks' moon. Anne Mueller and Louis-Philippe Dion performed a refreshingly cheerful duet to Bert Kaempfert's version of the song, and the whole company performed a lively finale to the sound of the Marcels.
Svetlova also stars in "Coco," a stylish ballet reflecting on the life and loves of French fashion designer Coco Chanel danced to song recordings of Edith Piaf. The ballerina is dressed in several of Chanel's signature styles including white slacks and a long-sleeved black blouse worn with a four-strand pearl necklace, multiple bracelets, and a white mini-turban.
She dances alone and with five male partners, the tallest and most elegantly attired representing Chanel's longtime protector, the duke of Westminster, and the partners occasionally dance with dressmaker's dummies that they clothe and unclothe in a symbolic round of chic as sexy and sex as chic.
Although the work ends rather abruptly and unsatisfactorily, Svetlova -- German-born and trained -- gives a dream of a performance that is both radiant and ethereal.
The three short ballets that fill out the bill and are a sampling of the many pas de deux Canfield has created.
"Degas Impressions" set to a Frederic Chopin nocturne, has Kristin Bacon bringing one of the artist's pastels of ballerinas to life supported by Christopher De Mellier, and "Neon Glass," is a teasingly passionate duet danced by Tracy Taylor and Matthew Boyes to the repetitively patterned music of Philip Glass.
Alta Cienega," a flashy apache-like duet performed by Vanessa Thiessen and James Thompson to The Doors' "Love Her Madly," is more typical of Canfield's usual hard-edge, contemporary style designed, as he says, to "break down any stereotypical thinking or pre-conceived notion of what ballet is."