Lighting designer Michael Mazzola walked away with James Canfield's cq (short for "charmed quark") at the Joyce last week, when Canfield's Oregon Ballet Theater debuted here. Powerful beams shot from the sky, the floor, and big searchlights wielded by the performers. Except for hip-hop soloist Mariecella Devine, all the women wore pointed shoes over sheer hose that exposed their thonged butts. This must seem weirder in Birkenstock-heavy Portland than it does in Manhattan, which may explain why blasts of smoke and shadow concealed much of the choreography from the audience. What I could discern seemed casual, offhand, assembled associatively rather than dramatically; asking ballet dancers to respond musically to a primarily percussive score is asking a lot, and they often seemed lost in space, though Devine, much more in her element, was a low-key delight.
I was most intrigued by the pieces I could actually see: Trey McIntyre's easygoing quintet Like a Samba (bland but pretty) and Kristy Edmunds's East Villagey January Postcard, in which Katarina Svetlova and Anne Mueller wore clunky black boots and knee-length shorts and did pushups and shifted in and out of unison, while the lyrics from vintage rock songs like "California Dreaming" filled the theater. Devoid of extraneous attitude, this was a celebration of design and physicality, culminating with the screening of a home movie of a little boy standing expectantly in a back yard, while the dancers, off to one side, hopped.
OBT brought to New York a chamber group of 12, rather than its full 26-dancer roster. The traveling repertory was exclusively contemporary, including Josie Moseley's pretty With, a Limón-sque duet, and Canfield's evocations of Edie Sedgwick (another bare-butt girl, Tracy Taylor, abused, ignored, and abandoned by three guys in long sleeves and dark glasses, to the overwrought strains of Arvo Pärt) and the trio of Anaïs Nin and Henry and June Miller (to Ravel, with quill pen and floaty dresses that evoked a much-too-early period).