‘Impact,’ Take 2: Ballet with a future

Oregon Ballet Theatre's premiere of Moultrie's 'Instinctual Confidence' is a genre-jumping peek at what's current and what's to come


There is nothing dry and dusty about Impact, the program topping off Oregon Ballet Theatre’s 25th season. After last Friday night’s performance I was making my way out of the Newmark when I heard a woman in front of me turn to her friend and say: “I hate ballet, but that was (bleeping) fantastic!” Now, I happen to love ballet. I’m a balletomane. A ballet queen. Yes, I am. I’m somewhat obsessed. I love to write about ballet, to talk about ballet, and most of all to watch ballet. Still, there are moments—sitting through yet another mummified production of Swan Lake or the latest robotic, ice-cold “contemporary” ballet—when I, too, hate ballet and feel like it’s time to tap out a shim-sham on the art form’s dying corpse. What’s exhilarating about the OBT program is that it makes you feel that ballet has a future. More importantly, from start to finish, you see that this program is alive to the present moment.

"Instinctual Confidence," from left: Michael Linsmeier, Brian Simcoe, Xuan Cheng, Martina Chavez, Candace Bouchard, Makino Hayashi, Chauncey Parsons, Ye Li, Eva Burton. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

“Instinctual Confidence,” from left: Michael Linsmeier, Brian Simcoe, Xuan Cheng, Martina Chavez, Candace Bouchard, Makino Hayashi, Chauncey Parsons, Ye Li, Eva Burton. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The program–which concludes with performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, April 23-25–opens with a world premiere: Instinctual Confidence, the work of a young American choreographer, born and raised in Harlem, named Darrell Grand Moultrie. He quite rightly refers to his style as “genre jumping.” Moultrie’s career has jumped from Broadway to ballet and, yes, even to Beyoncé—he worked on her “Mrs. Carter Tour”—and back again. Instinctual Confidence doesn’t look like any dance I’ve seen before. It’s a hot mess. Moultrie delivers a tasty mix of movement styles, rhythms and steps. The piece is all derring-do. He’s not afraid to risk a move that’s so unexpected and odd that it reads at first as ugly. The way something in a Cunningham dance might look the first time you see it. But the work is so compelling that you can’t for a moment look away. Throughout the piece a dancer will move into a position drawn from the vocabulary of classical ballet, then suddenly shift out of it—moving into an ever-morphing series of movements that flow further and further away from the classical. A great deal of the fun of the piece is in watching that metamorphosis. And it’s a very speedy ride with Kenji Bunch’s propulsive score helping to push the pedal—even the “slow” sections of the dance feel explosive.

That speed makes Instinctual Confidence difficult to read after just one viewing. However, certain images and dancers linger in the mind. Makino Hayashi’s riveting, cat-like entrance and solo is danced to the music of her own breathing and the sound of her feet and body moving across the stage. She creates a mood and atmosphere that all of the dancers will follow—intense, tough, competitive. Martina Chavez is a knockout in another memorable solo—she looks for all the world like a young Martha Graham. The purple dress she wears is quite unlike the sleek black costumes worn by the other dancers (all designed by Christine Joly de Lotbiniere), as is the choreography Moultrie created for her. To my eye that too seems to be, at least in part, a kind of tribute to Graham, complete with signature turns and leg kicks; but the impression might simply be created by the way that the dress combines with the movement.

There’s a later moment in the ballet when the stage is suddenly crowded with dancers and you can’t possibly take in everything that’s going on, but then Brian Simcoe and Chauncey Parsons come tearing onstage at full speed and spinning like tops, and you can’t look at anything else. Simcoe, always a standout, is on fire throughout Impact. His dancing is wonderfully finished; every movement is fully inhabited, given its full weight. He’s unfailingly musical. There’s nobility to all he does, but there’s never anything stuffy or pompous about his dancing.

Parsons plays a key role in the section of Instinctual Confidence that seemed to have everyone in the theater talking during intermission. Moultrie has dressed a trio of men (Parsons, Michael Linsmeier, and Jordan Kindall) in ice blue tutus. Nothing else. Just tutus. In a program note the choreographer insists he “is not making a statement about gender,” but it’s difficult to think of another costume as strongly gendered as the tutu. We can’t help but see the figure of the classical ballerina somewhere in the back of our mind while watching these men perform. At the same time,  there’s nothing campy going on. Several members of the audience guffawed when the guys first appeared, but the laughter quickly died away. The three don’t interact. They are a unit, but separated; and each man is completely absorbed, intense and focused on performing (as if they were defusing a bomb or cracking a safe) a complex series of stretching and reaching movements. The intensity is coupled with a vulnerability that derives in large part from the way the tutu transforms the male body. The dichotomy is surprisingly moving.

Michael Linsmeier in "Instinctual Confidence."  Photo: James McGrew

Michael Linsmeier in “Instinctual Confidence.” Photo: James McGrew

Where Instinctual Confidence is least interesting and most conventional is in its two pas de deux. These are well-made, fierce, and beautifully danced, with Brian Simcoe and Xuan Cheng making an especially fine couple. That said, why is it that contemporary ballet has been so slow to drag the pas de deux out of the 19th century when it comes to gender roles? You’d think feminism had never happened. Queer people don’t seem to exist at all. The form has changed only in that it’s more virtuosic and more openly sexual than ever. A female dancer is often encouraged to play tough in the pas de deux, but generally that toughness is all about affect and not about choreography. What gives? In a piece and a program that otherwise is so connected to the here and now, this is a peculiar but all too familiar slip.

Dennis Spaight’s Crayola, which had its world premiere at Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet back in 1979 and was first seen at OBT in 1990, might seem, given its age, an odd fit on this program; but as much as any of the other pieces it is devoted to re-thinking and enlarging our conception of genre. Spaight, whose death in 1993 from AIDS was a terrible loss to the dance world, reinvents the training or teaching ballet, a work designed for young dancers. It’s a form that has inspired fine work from many choreographers, including Balanchine and Robbins.

Crayola dispenses with the usual musical score so that the dancers move to the rhythms and sounds made by their own toe shoes. Spaight also removed the (often tedious) mime associated with classical ballet, replacing it with American Sign Language. In addition to the expected classical steps, Spaight has his dancers perform pedestrian movement: walking, standing, and sitting. Those might appear to be simple things to do in comparison to, say, bourréeing across the stage, but many would argue they are just as hard, perhaps harder, to master. Spaight was teaching his dancers how to hold the stage; how to command attention. The young, apprentice dancers who make up OBT’s new junior company OBT2 dance the piece with style and precision (no easy task without music to hide behind), and their gestures are so eloquent you know just what they are telling you with their silent words even without the aid of an interpreter.

Nicolo Fonte’s Presto is something else entirely. It is a short trip in a very fast machine. As soon as it’s over you want to press replay and see it all over again. Driven by Ezio Bosso’s fun stop-and-start score, the dance is an explosive workout for four dancers: Ansa Deguchi, Avery Reiners, Eva Burton and Colby Parsons. You can’t imagine how they get through the thing, but part of the pleasure of Presto is seeing the dancers take pleasure in testing themselves. You sense, too, that Fonte had fun making the piece—taking the virtuoso showpiece right to its breaking point. Fonte’s choreography is marked by a proud, drawn-up torso and a precise, sharp attack that calls to mind flamenco dance, but it’s flamenco combined with ballet and done on a high wire.

The night comes to a powerful conclusion with Nacho Duato’s Rassemblement. The company dances this one barefoot, but with the very same ease and commitment that characterized the previous works on the program. Here, however, the material grows dark. Set to Toto Bissainthe’s haunting creole songs, Rassemblement is a mix of nightmare and dream. It is, in part, about the oppression suffered by slaves in colonial Haiti. It is also about their resistance to that repression and their hunger for liberation. The dance is at its best during its surging, rhythmically propulsive ensembles. The sections that attempt to represent the traumas faced by an enslaved people, while affecting, are (understandingly perhaps) a little too prettified. Still, this is one of Duato’s most sensitive and lyrical works, and a welcome addition to the OBT repertory. Brett Bauer and Makino Hayashi made a strong impression in their duet, a mix of delicacy, melancholy and eroticism. Martina Chavez was electrifying in a too-brief solo that made you want to follow her right down the road to revolution.

Revolution and evolution are just what ballet needs. OBT is giving it a roll, and it’s already paying off. Best of all, OBT will be repeating the entire Impact program beginning on Thursday April 23 and running through Saturday April 25. Ticket and schedule information are here.


See Martha Ullman West’s review of Impact here.

Dance Theatre of Harlem hits a melancholy note

After a 25-year absence from Portland, the company dances its somber side.

The last time Dance Theatre of Harlem played Portland, 25 years ago, at the auditorium formerly known as the Civic, the company’s 51 dancers performed a repertory that included, among other works, “Act II of Swan Lake,” company founder Arthur Mitchell’s “John Henry,” John Taras’s exotic, tropical version of “The Firebird,” and John McFall’s contemporary “Toccata e Due Canzoni.” The company was about to go on hiatus for six months, their budget having taken a major hit when touring dates in San Diego and London were cancelled.

Tuesday night, at the Schnitz, the company’s 18 dancers—now under the artistic direction of the great ballerina Virginia Johnson (and I use neither the term great nor ballerina lightly), a founding member of the company—performed four contemporary ballets that with the exception of Christopher Huggins “In the Mirror of Her Memory,” looked, choreographically and visually, distressingly alike. That’s not the direction we like to see company’s go.


OBT dancers: Making an ‘Impact’

From Spaight to Duato, the ballet company's Newmark program revels in variety and the spice of life

“The rhythm of my dancing is the same as the beat of my heart.  I think. I imagine. I hear.  I feel. I do it for you.”

That is a translation of the American Sign Language the dancers “speak” in Dennis Spaight’s Crayola, the second piece on Oregon Ballet Theatre’s 25th anniversary season wrap-up, which opened at the Newmark Theatre on Thursday.

"Crayola," from left: Kimberly Nobriga, Samantha Allen, Jessica Lind, Emily Parker, Shea McAdoo, Paige Wilkey. Photo: Yi Yin

“Crayola,” from left: Kimberly Nobriga, Samantha Allen, Jessica Lind, Emily Parker, Shea McAdoo, Paige Wilkey. Photo: Yi Yin

OBT’s dancers–all of them, not just the apprentices and professional level students who performed Crayola–danced those words in every piece on the Impact program, their commitment to the choreographers’ wildly different points of view driving them as much as the music, or, in the case of Crayola, the sound of their point shoes hitting the floor.

I’ve long thought Crayola a deceptive title for a piece that is not about dancing crayons, cute as that might be, but rather dance as the most human of the arts. In new, soft, costumes designed by New York cinematographer and costume designer Christine Meyers, with the sign language updated by the mother of one of the dancers, this iteration of a dance I’ve seen many, many times charmed me in ways it has not in past performances.  All six dancers–company apprentices Kimberly Nobriga, Jessica Lind, Emily Parker, an Paige Wilkey; SOBT students Samantha Allen and Shea McAdoo–executed the intricacies of Spaight’s arrangements of the classical vocabulary with precision and wit.  Wilkey, whatever she did, from holding an unsupported arabesque to whipping out fouettés to  bourréeing rapidly across the stage, showed the promise and personality of a true ballerina, and I hope she sticks around. I would also love to see this company (OBT2, that is) perform Spaight’s Theatre Dances, made originally for the Jefferson Dancers, and about the young dancers for whom he felt such empathy.

fEARnoDANCEFORM might have made a more informative title for Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Instinctual Confidence, a world premiere set to music (mostly) composed by Portland composer Kenji Bunch, artistic director of fEARnoMUSIC, which opened the show.  Choreographer and composer met when they were students at Juilliard and share a highly eclectic vision of music and dance, melding popular culture with high art, as others, such as George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Rennie Harris, Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, and Virgil Thomson have done before them.

Michael Linsmeier, Jordan Kindell, and Chauncey Parsons in "Instinctual Confidence."  Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Michael Linsmeier, Jordan Kindell, and Chauncey Parsons in “Instinctual Confidence.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Moultrie incorporates the pedestrian running of postmodern dance, classical ballet, a touch of street dancing, and children’s play into a fast-moving piece in which there is a bewildering number of undeveloped movement ideas, making it difficult for me, at least, to figure out what it’s about.  Program notes informed me that it’s basically about the dancers, these particular dancers, its official title intended to convey the unself-conscious, confident actions of children at play. Some of the movement did just that: the opening’s  runs, floor rolls and a kind of stylized tag, indicating kids playing in the streets of New York as Moultrie himself did as a lad; Martina Chavez–in a lovely turquoise dress designed by Christine Joly de Lotbinière, who also designed the workout clothes look-alikes for the rest of the cast–spinning like a little girl who is delighted with her new party dress; a trio of men playing dress-up in tutus, which Moultrie intended  to give them the experience of having their dancing restricted by tulle. It’s not meant to be funny, and it isn’t. Many audience members loved this trio, and while it was certainly well-danced by Michael Linsmeier, Chauncey Parsons and Jordan Kindell, it somehow didn’t grab me.

For me, the highlights were the two high-energy pas de deux, particularly the first one danced by the technically impeccable Brian Simcoe and the versatile (and how!) Xuan Cheng, and Michael Mazzola’s lights, some of them a stunningly beautiful re-creation of Mark Rothko’s color field paintings. The piece ends with the whole cast on stage, dancing in unison against a brilliant and celebratory red wall, to wonderful jazzy music, which then shifts to a more lyrical sound during which we see a male dancer dragging a female dancer across the stage floor.  This is a male chauvinist movement cliché I damned well don’t ever want to see again.

Martina Chavez in "Presto." Photo: Yi Yin

Martina Chavez in “Presto.” Photo: Yi Yin

What I would like to see again is Nicolo Fonte’s Presto, the penultimate piece on the program.  Danced by Chavez, Simcoe, Cheng and Parsons, who did some partner switching, it’s nine minutes of aggressive, classical dancing that demands a punching thrust of the limbs coupled with extremely sharp attack. Chavez shone in this one, and all four dancers were visibly enjoying themselves.  Presto, which takes its title from Edio Bosso’s score, was originally made for Ballet West, where Fonte is resident choreographer and David Heuvel, who designed the incredibly elegant shorts and tops, is resident costumier.

For Nacho Duato’s Rassemblement, OBT’s dancers shed their shoes and classical decorum to deliver a gut-wrenching performance of a work that made little impact on me when I saw Pacific Northwest Ballet dance it several years ago. Perhaps this is because the cultural context has changed. The 1990 piece, inspired by Haitian Creole songs recorded by Toto Bissainthe, is about 18th century plantation slaves, forbidden to practice their own religious rites and punished for doing so. As I watched the section in which Kindell, who completely owns this role, is brutalized by a couple of cops, I couldn’t help thinking about all the police shootings of African Americans we’ve seen as recently as last week in the land of the free and the brave. Movement taken from Martha Graham’s Lamentation (the dancer completely covered by cloth, body sunk in a wide second position plié,) also made me think of Franco’s Spain, where Duato, born in 1957, grew up under the oppressive eye of the Guarda Civil.

While all the dancers gave this highly emotional work everything they had, their commitment and understanding of the subject informing their dancing, I couldn’t take my eyes off  company artist Sarah Griffin, who gave a performance that was as passionate as it was political, or Kindell, or Cheng.  The closer for repertory shows, traditionally, is lighthearted and cheerful, like Balanchine’s appalling Stars and Stripes or his magnificent Symphony in C. Irving, who staged Rassemblement and as artistic director selected and commissioned the works on the program he titled Impact, ended this show with a work so well-danced that, while less than cheerful, it serves as the most powerful illustration of the program’s theme.


OBT’s Impact continues through April 25 in the Newmark Theatre, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 18; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 19; and 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, April 23-25. Ticket information is here.

Urban Bush Women: hep and sweet

The dance legends triumph at White Bird. Next up: Dance Theatre of Harlem and tapper Michelle Dorrance


“Hep Hep Sweet Sweet.” Those four twinned words—joyful, dancing words—made up the title of the first piece on Urban Bush Women‘s recent program in White Bird’s Uncaged series at the Newmark, and they capture something of the spirit and energy that are the hallmarks of the company.

Choreographer and all-around wonder-woman Jawole Willa Jo Zollar founded Urban Bush Women in 1987—making this UBW’s 30th anniversary season—and from the start the group has been devoted to using African-American dance forms to make work that is both superb art and a force for social change. That devotion to political action is only one aspect of what makes the Bush Women not just a dance company but also a national treasure. UBW’s ability to create dances that can encompass story, memoir, autobiography, music, humor, tragedy, speech, and song (the dancers will regularly knock your socks off with their vocalizing) challenges our notions of what dance can be. The company’s vision of the art form is so expansive, so unconcerned with the usual boundaries, that you realize anew how rich and challenging dance can actually be.

Photo courtesy Urban Bush Women

Photo courtesy Urban Bush Women

All of the company’s virtues were on display in Hep Hep Sweet Sweet. The work is an evocation of Zollar’s memories of her own family—in particular her parents—during the period of the Great Migration, when massive numbers of African Americans moved from the rural South to the cities of the North looking for a better future. Zollar’s parents, like so many others fleeing poverty and violent racism, made their way from Alabama and Texas to Kansas City, where her mother eventually found work singing in the city’s many nightclubs.

Hep Hep Sweet Sweet is set in a fictional version of one of those nightclubs and weaves Zollar’s often poetic memories, which are heard in her own recorded narration, with lush jazz and pop ranging from Charlie Parker to Dinah Washington. The piece comes on all sequins and spangles and explosive, joyous energy. The dancers move through an encyclopedia of African American dance idioms of the 1930s to the early 1950s, all of which are somehow seamlessly melded together. We see UBW’s famous ensemble work here (the six company members in this piece move as if they’d started dancing together right out of the cradle), each woman an individual but seeming to love joining together with the rest. Whether they are banging out a series of rhythmically sharp tap-derived steps or whirling through a sort of deconstructed Lindy Hop, they form a tight unit.


A double dash of Dennis Spaight

OBT2 and Northwest Dance Theatre are reviving works by the late, great Portland choreographer

For lighting designer Peter West, a frequent collaborator with Dennis Spaight in the last years of the choreographer’s life,  “the door into [his] work was his musicality: his astonishing ability to compose lines of movement that complemented, expanded and illuminated music. And likewise his choices of music illuminated his movement phrases. His range was exceptional: Gershwin, Ellington, Vivaldi, Schubert, Copland, Debussy, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Schumann – and even silence.”

West, commenting on a Feb. 7, 2013 ArtsWatch story, Remembering Dennis Spaight, 20 Years Later, had it right.

The young dancers of OBT2 rehearsing Spaight's "Crayola." Photo: Friderike Heuer

Rehearsing Spaight’s “Crayola”: Emma-Anne Bauman (front), Kimberly Nobriga (middle-left) and Paige Wilkey (middle-right); Siri Ell-Lewis (back-left) and Emily Parker. Photo: Friderike Heuer

Oregon Ballet Theatre’s founding associate artistic director and resident choreographer died more than two decades ago, but this spring, Spaight’s spirit and his talent are very much alive in the bodies of two groups of young dancers, Northwest Dance Theatre and OBT’s newly formed OBT2.  The ballets they are performing are quite different, but both bear the unmistakable stamp of an artist whose sensitivity to the human condition was just as acute as his ear for music.

NDT performs excerpts from Gloria on a mixed program Saturday and Sunday at Portland Community College Sylvania’s Performing Arts Center. Set to Antonio Vivaldi’s “Gloria Mass,” the ballet pays eloquent tribute to Spaight’s mother’s Catholic faith. Like the music, the dance is both celebratory and sad, the choreographer’s vocabulary a demanding mix of classical technique and modern expressiveness.  “Dance is my religion,” Spaight once told me, and this ballet, last seen in its entirety when OBT danced it in the fall of 1993 on an all-Spaight commemorative program that included Scheherazade and Rhapsody in Blue, is a richly beautiful manifestation of that creed.

When he listed “even silence” as part of Spaight’s musical range, West, who has redone the lighting for NDT’s production of Gloria, was surely referring to Crayola, which OBT’s youngest dancers will perform starting April 16 when the company concludes its 25th anniversary season at the Newmark with a repertory program titled Impact.

It is the impact of the dancers’ point shoes on the floor of the stage that provides the accompaniment for a work that is not about dancing crayons, but about incorporating American Sign Language into the classical vocabulary and turning a social occasion—in this instance young ladies at a teaparty—into a dance.  Crayola, which Spaight made for Pacific Northwest Ballet in 1979, is not, as Gloria is, a major work. But it does show that very early in his sadly curtailed career, he had full command of his craft and a light touch with it. An excellent vehicle for young dancers (it contains some exuberant movement involving chairs), Crayola, I was told by Alison Roper last fall, is fun to dance.  It is certainly fun to watch. Both ballets were staged by Spaight Trust repetiteur Carol Shults with loving care, judicious adjustments, and unimpeachable dedication to the choreographer’s intent.


Schedule and ticket details for Northwest Dance Theatre’s performances are here.

Schedule and ticket details for Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Impact are here.

Dance Weekend: Urban Bush Women and much more

A-Wol Dance Collective, Linda Austin, Kalabharathi School of Dance, PICA, Jefferson Dancers, PDX Dance Collective

Spring is the season of renewed energy and new life and out of this comes abundance and a whole lot of dance. If you’re wondering where the Portland dance community was during the winter and the larger community as well? It was in the studio. If you need a dance fix every night of the week then you can have it from tonight through Monday. Dance, dance, dance, dance and more dance.

Urban Bush Women
8 pm Thursday-Saturday April 9-11
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
Directed by Choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, this New York City based contemporary dance company, celebrating its 30th year, focuses on the energy, vitality and boldness of the African American community. The company will present three pieces in a ninety-minute program, featuring music by Coltrane, Count Basie, Dinah Washington, Charlie Parker, Bernice Johnson Reagon and live music.

Urban Bush Women perform at White Bird this weekend./Photo by Rick McCullough

Urban Bush Women perform at White Bird this weekend./Photo by Rick McCullough

(Un)Made Solo Relay #2
8 pm Friday and Saturday
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave.
Stage two of Linda Austin’s new multi-year project that functions like a great game of telephone. “In Leg #1, Linda Austin played with timing and tangential realities in a solo brimming with unpredictable perceptual, physical, textual and emotional currents. Plus just a few objects! Now it’s Jin Camou and Keyon Gaskin’s turn. In Leg #2 they perform their own perfectly imperfect versions of the solo, playing out what they have remembered, misremembered and adapted in this pass-along relay–the first stage of Austin’s long term project (Un)Made.”

A-Wol performs this weekend.

A-Wol performs this weekend.

Closed Doors: A-Wol Dance Collective
April 9th-12th
513 NE Schuyler St. Portland, OR. 97212
In a new, original aerial dance production, A-Wol invites the audience to go where you’re not always allowed: behind closed doors. They will expose audiences to a unique portrayal of those things that happen when we think we are safe behind our walls. “From obsessive rituals to embarrassing feelings to surreal behaviors, A-WOL’s collective Pandora’s Box is about to be opened for all to see… “

Creative Exchange Lab: Meet the Artists
3 pm Sunday, April 12
PICA, 415 SW 10th Ave, Suite 300
Happy Hour and Conversation. Meet the first round of artists selected to be part of PICA’s new Creative Exchange Lab and residency. The Creative Exchange Lab promotes peer exchange and artistic exploration across genres. Join in for discussion and an informal reception with choreographer Wally Cardona (New York) and dancer Myint Mo, (Myanmar), visual artists Jibade-Khalil Huffman (Los Angeles) and Dawn Kasper (New York), composer and musician Holcombe Waller (Portland), and performance artist Lucy Lee Yim (Portland).

Trust Rhythm
7:30pm Friday and Saturday April, 10-11
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St.Suite 9
PDX Dance Collective, a contemporary dance company, presents “Trust Rhythm,” an evening of new works created out of experimentation and improvisation featuring tap dancing as the musical score.

Noontime Showcase: Jefferson Dancers
noon Monday, April 13
Antoinette Hatfield Hall, 1111 SW Broadway
The Jefferson Dancers, a talented group of high school dancers from Portland’s renowned performing arts high school, Jefferson High School, will be performing excerpts from their upcoming concert as part The Portland’s Centers for the Arts Noontime Showcase series.

Nalacharitham-Kathakali Dance Drama
7pm Friday, April 10
St. Mary’s Academy, 1615 SW Fifth Ave
Presented by the Kalabharathi School of Dance, directed by Sri. Sadanam P.V. Balakrishnan, this large ensemble of dancers and musicians from Kerala India, will perform Nalacharitham, a romantic story from the Mahabharata to live percussion. Kathakali is a form of classical Indian dance drama from south India that specializes in elaborate costumes and makeup with refined hand gestures. English subtitles will be projected to assist in the enhancement of the viewing experience.

Eugene Ballet’s Tommy: Turning rock opera into dance

The world premiere of choreographer Toni Pimble’s Tommy: The Ballet offers live music and excitement at their feet.


Eugene Ballet’s Artistic Director Toni Pimble brings together original choreography with live music in the world premiere of Tommy: The Ballet on April 11-12 at Eugene’s Hult Center for the performing arts.


Pimble’s new work, based on The Who’s classic 1969 rock opera, begins against the backdrop of World War II when Captain and Mrs. Walker become the parents of a young boy, Tommy. When Tommy is four, his father, assumed dead in battle, returns home to Britain to discover his wife and new lover in an embrace. A fight ensues, and the boyfriend is fatally shot. Tommy witnesses this tragedy reflected in a mirror, and he’s left in a catatonic state of sensory deprivation. As his story unfolds, Tommy is abused, rejected, and neglected. He remains unattached, seeming to connect with the world only when, as a teenager, a pinball machine becomes his passion. Without it, he continues to gaze into the mirror and finally, out of rage, frustration, and desperation, his mother shatters the mirror freeing Tommy from his catatonic state of mind.

Antonio Anacan as Tommy the “Pinball Wizard” Credit: Jon Christopher Meyers Photography.

Antonio Anacan as Tommy the Pinball Wizard. Photo: Jon Christopher Meyers Photography.

News of his cure and his championship prowess as a pinball wizard causes him to become a hero idolized by the public and the press. But when he attempts to share his personal philosophy of peace, health and happiness, his fans reject him. As he once again begins slipping into his childhood reclusiveness, he turns to his family, embraces them in acceptance, and reconciles with his younger selves.

To learn more about this original production, ArtsWatch conducted an email interview with EB Artistic Director Toni Pimble, the show’s music director Tim McLaughlin (who leads Eugene’s award-winning jazz/funk/world-fusion band, Eleven Eyes) and dancers Isaac Jones (who performs as Kevin, Tommy’s evil babysitting cousin), Danielle Tolmie (the Gypsy Queen, prostitute and con woman) and Mark Tucker (Captain Walker).


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