Portland Ballet performs “Four Seasons” at Thompson’s Point. Photo by Steve Feeney

On a sunny and breezy mid-September afternoon, dancers from the Portland Ballet returned for their first performance in half a year.  A mile or so from their usual home base on Forest Avenue, nine members of the longstanding company danced under the roof of the open-sided depot at Thompson’s Point. Masked and socially distanced audience members sat nearby on the blankets and chairs they had brought.

The performance was set to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” Photo by Steve Feeney

“Four Seasons,” a new piece choreographed by Artistic and Executive Director Nell Shipman in collaboration with the dancers, confirmed that the venerable company can still combine classical ballet elegance with the edge of contemporary dance in compelling ways.

Based on a “loose narrative,” as Shipman put it in a brief introduction, encompassing physical distancing and other, more implicit pandemic references, the 45-minute work was brought to life during individual and ensemble rehearsal sessions over the summer. It takes the familiar music of Vivaldi and gives it an interpretive run through a 2020 world. Alternately reflective and expressive and seasoned with a timely sense of unease, the piece engaged the slightly bundled-up, but warmly receptive, capacity audience.

With the sights and sounds of planes descending into the airport across the Fore River as a backdrop, “Four Seasons” began with an ensemble passage that introduced the range of movement that individual dancers would later expand upon in solos.

At times seeming sublimely aloof, at other times frantic and isolated, dancers reached toward the sky and to each other. Soloists either pulled themselves up in classic form, twisted in discomfort or called back ensemble mates, in some of the more emotionally touching moments, for brief, though always physically distant, reunions.

Partnering was missing (and missed), perhaps never more so than during a passage in the “Autumn” concerto when Kaitlyn Hayes and Daniel Rudenberg (the only male performer) seemed to suffer their separation abjectly.

Other dancers, all in monochrome, just-above-the-knee dresses, included Toni Martin, Grace Koury, Eliana Trenam, Erica Diesl, Heather Baxter, Milena Hartog and Kelsey Harrison. Each revealed an individual style and a sense of full engagement in making the piece’s attempt to renew a sense of beauty in difficult times a heartening success.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: