A young ballerina, yearning to be a choreographer, has had few female role models to look up to for hope and inspiration. Fortunately the glass slipper of a male-dominated art form is continuing to crack, as evidenced in Eugene Ballet’s upcoming Celebration of the Uncommon Woman featuring the work of five contemporary female choreographers.
Although attitudes about women as choreographers have been changing since Eugene Ballet’s Artistic Director Toni Pimble first staged Celebration in 1992, Pimble and Resident Choreographer Suzanne Haag believed it was time to update the original production, and set about doing so in the past year. Hagg recalls in a recent Eugene Ballet blog posting, “We narrowed down specific pieces that would complement each other over the course of the program and give the audience a broad range of styles, as well as challenge and showcase our dancers with different ways of moving.”
Pimble and Haag invited three outstanding guest choreographers to join them in highlighting the unique contributions women have made to the dance repertoire. They are Penny Saunders, Resident Choreographer at The Grand Rapids Ballet; Nicole Haskins, Trainee Program Director at Ballet Idaho; and Sabrina Madison-Cannon, Phyllis and Andrew Berwick Dean and Professor of Dance at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance.
The February 12-13 performances of The Celebration of the Uncommon Woman offer audiences music and dance that entertains, inspires, and captures the interest of dance enthusiasts through choreographic styles ranging from creative classic to bold and innovative contemporary.
Toni Pimble’s Concerto Grosso is a non-narrative ballet set to the late Oregon composer Ernest Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 for String Orchestra and Piano. It has strong rhythmic impulses that make it ideal for dance, and is choreographed with a mix of modern and classical techniques. This piece was last performed by the Eugene Ballet in 2012 after having had its world premiere with the Kansas City Ballet in 2010.
With Your Own Wings, a piece by Suzanne Haag, will receive its world premiere performance. Hagg has choreographed it in three movements featuring seven company dancers, set to music by the American composers Caroline Shaw and Michael Wall. Haag suggests in a recent Facebook posting that the piece “… explores the quest for independence, for finding your own wings, which at times is frustrating and exhilarating made so by the many experiences and interactions we have with others.” The title also reflects the Oregon state motto, “She Flies With Her Own Wings” and Hagg observes, “Though I’m not originally from Oregon, much of my adult life has taken place here and that has surely shaped who I am as a woman and how I fly.”
And Then There Were Five is a piece about overcoming, supporting, and surviving—putting one foot in front of the other, according to choreographer Sabrina Madison-Cannon. “All of my works are somewhat based in personal narrative.” she suggested in a Eugene Ballet blog posting. This ballet, with music by Max Richter, has been performed several times since it was created in 2014, including a performance by the University of Missouri-Kansas City Dance Division.
Penny Saunders’ Ghost Light is a haunting work inspired by the theatrical superstition that a single stage light should remain on after everyone leaves the theater, allowing the “ghosts” of former performers to be left to their own devices and assuring that the theater, set, or current production will be free from a curse or sabotage. Music for this piece includes selections by film and TV composers Alexandre Desplat and Mark Mothersbaugh, and classical J.S. Bach.
Nicole Haskins’ Illuminations was originally created for the Choreography XX competition and performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre in 2017. Jamuna Chiarini of Oregon Artswatch described this piece when it premiered as “sweeping, grand, and architectural. It encompasses the attributes of classical ballet like the pointe shoe and the use of line, but goes beyond positions, allowing the limbs and energy to extend, limitless, into the space, creating a larger-than-life effect.” It is set to Benjamin Britten’s composition Les Illuminations.
Celebration of the Uncommon Woman provides audiences with the opportunity to become familiar with five gifted women who today are making their mark as established artists, and in doing so serve as role models not only for the young female dancer hoping to be a dance maker, but also young men in recognizing that both women and men are equally gifted and creative artists.
Because she was fortunate to have had positive female and male role models as she matured as an artist, Suzanne Haag realizes how important it is to have the guidance and support of both when possible. She is hopeful that the climate of the ballet world continues to change for the better as more women make their mark as choreographers and dance leaders. She told ArtsWatch, “A diversity of voices onstage (whether this comes from gender, ethnicity, training background, life experience, etc) increases the likelihood of a choreographer or work reaching an aspiring artist in a profound way. And the more artists feel empowered to share their perspectives and experiences on stage, the deeper the art form becomes for artists and viewers alike.”
Tickets are available at eugeneballet.org, at the Hult Center Ticket Office in Eugene, and by phone at 541-682-5000. Youth and college tickets (with valid ID) are available for $15; adult tickets start at $25. COVID-19 protocols are followed in the Hult Center; click HERE for details.