Last Thursday I had the opportunity to talk with Oakland Ballet artistic director Karen Brown for a story I wrote on the company?s survival. That?s right: Oakland Ballet will take the stage again in 2005, after canceling this fall?s season and announcing a campaign to raise $500,000 in one month or close forever. In fact, it took two months to raise the cash, and a William and Flora Hewlett Foundation matching grant closed the gap.
An occasion for sighs of relief, but celebration? Allan Ulrich nails the salient points in his comment for Voice of Dance. Bay Area dance critics, as a tribe, have been pulling for this little-company-that-could?-witness the overwhelmingly encouraging reviews OB has garnered over the last three very rocky years.
But Brown, the former Dance Theater of Harlem ballerina, has her work cut out for her, and I?m not just talking about hiring new dancers, choosing repertory, and finding a more suitable venue than the cavernous Paramount. Oakland Ballet has long suffered an identity crisis. The troupe once internationally known for its Diaghilev-era reconstructions and loving productions of works by Eugene Loring and Agnes De Mille has no calling card now.
OB was once the Bay Area?s off-season complement to the activities at San Francisco Ballet, and even during the last few years of high dancer turnover, you could catch glimpses of why. You don?t need virtuosic technique to breathe life into Lew Christensen?s chilling ?Jinx,? you need stage presence and dramatic commitment, and OB?s 2002 revival trumped San Francisco Ballet?s latest rendition on that score.
The glory years? repertory has proved costly and logistically devilish for Brown to present, but the new works Brown has commissioned to plug the gap have appeared scattershot and under-rehearsed. The city of Oakland is not the place it was when Ronn Guidi started a company there in 1965, and a new vision for OB would be welcomed. It remains for Brown to unveil it.