Five Questions with Oregon Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Christopher Stowell

Christopher Stowell

Christopher Stowell
[Photo: Angela Sterling]

During his 16 years at San Francisco Ballet, Christopher Stowell performed leading roles in much of the classical repertoire, including Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, and Sleeping Beauty. In addition, he established himself at SFB as one of the company’s favorite interpreters of the Balanchine repertoire, appearing in almost every Balanchine ballet performed by SFB.

In 2003, Christopher Stowell became Oregon Ballet Theatre’s second artistic director. Since his debut season, he has made significant additions to the OBT repertoire, including the company’s first Swan Lake (2006) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2007). His success at OBT was summed up by Grant Butler of The Oregonian, who said that under Stowell’s leadership, the company has gone “from a scrappy house of funk into a regional ballet powerhouse.”

The past few weeks, along with his packed schedule at OBT, Stowell has been setting one of his signature ballets, Balanchine’s Tarantella, on the talented Diablo Ballet dancers in Walnut Creek.

California Literary Review: Oregon Ballet Theatre has an ambitious schedule, and you seem to have a pretty busy time up there in Portland. How often are you able to set works or choreograph for other companies?

Christopher Stowell: Actually not very often. I oversee the final rehearsals of Balanchine works at Diablo Ballet, I guest teach occasionally (I’m going to Guangzhou Ballet this summer), and some of my own works are performed by other companies (Carolina Ballet is doing my Rite of Spring next season).

Christopher Stowell

Diablo Ballet dancers Hiromi Yamakazi and Robert Dekkers in the pas de deux from George Balanchine’s Tarantella.
[Photo: Ashraf]

When setting a Balanchine work on a new company, what do you emphasize the most — technique, musicality, speed, flair?

The first step is to make sure the steps are accurate and clear to the dancers and to emphasize that the musicality is paramount. I always want to make sure to get past that, though, so that the intent and spirit of the work is alive — and that no one is holding back.

With the Balanchine ballets, is there any flexibility in altering a step or step sequence if the company you are working with has difficulty with the existing material?

I would never alter a step, but in some works there are alternative versions of certain steps or passages, and I may select a different one depending on the particular strengths of a dancer. Tarantella, for instance, is a showcase for the dancers’ virtuosity, and the effect the steps have is very important.

What special projects are you working on currently — either in Portland or elsewhere?

We have a number of exciting projects on our plate at OBT right now. We just finished a program of works by Balanchine, Wheeldon, Caniparoli, and Mrozewski. Then, in May, we are going on a brief tour and will finish the season with a Gala in June. Next season, we return to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. for Ballet Across America.

You have been at OBT for almost 10 years. What do you feel has been your most significant accomplishment during that time?

We have created a lean, but very powerful group of artists with an incredible work ethic and drive and a hunger for giving their all on stage. We also have a sophisticated and eclectic repertoire that our audiences eat up.


See Christopher Stowell’s staging of Balanchine’s Tarantella, along with world premieres from KT Nelson, Robert Dekkers, and Erin Leedom at:

Inside the Dancer’s Studio
May 4-5, 2012
Shadelands Arts Center Auditorium
111 N. Wiget Lane, Walnut Creek

World Premiere by KT Nelson, CoArtistic Director, ODC/SF
World Premiere by Diablo Ballet’s Robert Dekkers
World Premiere by Erin Leedom, former principal at Ballet West
Tarantella Pas de Deux, by George Balanchine

Purchase tickets online or by calling (925) 943-1775.

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Christopher Stowell talks about Balanchine’s Tarantella

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