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Music and Dance Reviews : Oakland Ballet’s ‘Billy the Kid’ at Pepperdine

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True, ‘Billy the Kid” is a beloved icon of Americana. But that doesn’t keep it from resembling a stylized puppet show. Especially when the stage, a perfect jewel-box setting like that of the Smothers Theatre at Pepperdine University in Malibu, cannot provide resonating space for the landmark dance semaphores that the late Eugene Loring originated 50 years ago.

It was to this otherwise ideal platform that the Oakland Ballet brought its 1976 production of “Billy” on Saturday, staged by the choreographer. Again, one had to marvel at his invention no less than his intent.

But when Loring’s gallery characters of the old West push across the plains to meet their destiny, they need a frame large enough to give dimension to their pronounced gestures, so clearly symbolic. And when Copland’s miracle score, with its long lines of wistful tenderness, suggest distance and solitude, we want to see what we hear.

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The cast compensated, however. In the title role Michael Myers went from the truly bereft and horrified youngster who watched as his mother was shot down to the defensive outlaw forever marked by that attack. He made Billy Cagneyesque--a small tough-guy, quick to retaliate.

Towering above him was the square-jawed Ron Thiele as the friend, Pat Garrett. The size difference between them lent their eventual enmity a touch of pathos and underscored Billy’s tragic alienation. Michael Lowe, as Alias, met his multi-character challenge convincingly and Patti Owen, in the Mother/Sweetheart roles stressed simplicity over preciousness.

Other items showed the company to conventionally balletic advantage--strong, supple, fluent and expressive.

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