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Dance Preview: Tracy Bonham with Eugene Ballet

Two-time GRAMMY® nominee and New York-based musician Bonham joins EB resident choreographer Suzanne Haag in a collaborative performance of song, sound, and movement, April 6 and 7.

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GRAMMY®-nominated musician and Eugene native Tracy Bonham (center) is joined by Eugene Ballet dancers Antonio Lopez and Hayley Tavonatti in works choreographed by Suzanne Haag. Photo: Antonio Anacan.
GRAMMY®-nominated musician and Eugene native Tracy Bonham (center) is joined by Eugene Ballet dancers Antonio Lopez and Hayley Tavonatti in works choreographed by Suzanne Haag. Photo: Antonio Anacan.

For two nights this weekend, celebrated singer, songwriter, violinist, and guitarist Tracy Bonham returns to her hometown of Eugene to collaborate with Eugene Ballet resident choreographer Suzanne Haag in a “thank you note” to the local arts community that inspires them both. Their collaboration, along with works from two other acclaimed choreographers, promises an evening of transportive music and dance.

Raised in Eugene, Bonham grew up doing theater and arts. She earned a full scholarship for violin performance at University of Southern California but after two years transferred to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she honed her skills as a singer. Bonham’s debut album, “The Burdens of Being Upright,” was released in 1996 and featured the hit single “Mother Mother.” The album received widespread critical acclaim and earned Bonham two GRAMMY® Award nominations for Best Alternative Music Performance and Best Female Rock Vocal. The album’s success solidified Bonham’s reputation as a skilled singer-songwriter with a distinctive voice and musical style. 

Eugene Ballet has done a number of performances over the years engaging live musicians onstage versus in the orchestra pit, with bands ranging from Pink Martini to The Floydian Slips. Toni Pimble, Eugene Ballet artistic director, charged Haag with finding a band/musician she might like to collaborate with. 

“In doing a deep dive into musicians that had a connection to Oregon, and the Eugene area specifically, I came across Tracy Bonham,” says Haag. “I was well aware of her music, but I had no idea that she actually grew up in Eugene. After reaching out to her agent to ask if she’d be interested in a collaboration with a ballet choreographer, she responded right away and was enthusiastic about the project from the beginning.” 

Dancers Hayley Tavonatti and Sam Neale in Gerald Arpino's "Reflections," performed as part of Eugene Ballet's appearance at the Arpino Centennial Celebration in Chicago, September 2023. Photo: Cheryl Mann.
Dancers Hayley Tavonatti and Sam Neale in Gerald Arpino’s “Reflections,” performed as part of Eugene Ballet’s appearance at the Arpino Centennial Celebration in Chicago, September 2023. Photo: Cheryl Mann.

A triple bill

The artistic collaboration between Haag and Bonham is the final piece of an evening showcasing three choreographers. The show begins with Reflections, choreographed by Gerald Arpino, the co-founder of the Joffrey Ballet, and set to the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Last fall the Arpino Foundation’s Executive Director Charthel Arthur Estner, a former principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet known for understanding the style and intent of Arpino’s works, visited Eugene Ballet for two weeks to work with the company on the choreography for Reflections. This physically challenging ballet is an abstract ensemble work full of fast-paced solos, pas de deux, and groupings.

Dancers Sarah Kosterman and Joshua Downard in Gerald Arpino's "Reflections," performed as part of Eugene Ballet's appearance at the Arpino Centennial Celebration in Chicago, September 2023. Photo: Cheryl Mann.
Dancers Sarah Kosterman and Joshua Downard in Gerald Arpino’s “Reflections,” performed as part of Eugene Ballet’s appearance at the Arpino Centennial Celebration in Chicago, September 2023. Photo: Cheryl Mann.

Then in late September, Eugene Ballet traveled to Chicago by invitation of the Gerald Arpino Foundation to participate in Gerald Arpino’s Centennial Celebration, joining major ballet companies from around the country – American Ballet Theater, San Francisco Ballet, and Ballet West, among others – for a performance showcase of Arpino’s work on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth.

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The second work in the show is Slipstream, a contemporary ballet choreographed by Toni Pimble to the music of British composer Michael Nyman.

This weekend's production will include "Slipstream," a contemporary ballet choreographed by Toni Pimble to the music of British composer Michael Nyman. Photo: Courtesy of Eugene Ballet.
This weekend’s production will include “Slipstream,” a contemporary ballet choreographed by Toni Pimble to the music of British composer Michael Nyman. Photo: Courtesy of Eugene Ballet.

One of many notable creations by Pimble, Slipstream is characterized by its dynamic movements, fluidity, and emotional depth. The term “slipstream” typically refers to the aerodynamic effect where objects move in the wake of another object, taking advantage of reduced air resistance. 

”Dancers follow one another on stage at the beginning of the ballet, following in the first dancer’s wake,” explains Pimble. The slipstream concept is illustrated throughout the performance by the interconnectedness and flow of movement between dancers, creating a sense of harmony and unity on stage. 

The slipstream concept is illustrated throughout the performance by the interconnectedness and flow of movement between dancers, creating a sense of harmony and unity on stage. Photo: Courtesy of Eugene Ballet.
The slipstream concept is illustrated throughout the performance by the interconnectedness and flow of movement between dancers, creating a sense of harmony and unity on stage. Photo: Courtesy of Eugene Ballet.

This work premiered at the Hult Center in 1999 and was hailed by Dance Magazine for its “sure-handed, mature craftsmanship.”

Deeply personal and wholly universal

Toni Pimble was among the reasons why Bonham says collaborating with Eugene Ballet was appealing. “Growing up in Eugene, I always had respect for Toni Pimble and Eugene Ballet,” says Bonham. “When I got to know Suzanne Haag, I immediately knew we would work well together and come up with something completely unique. She is a wonderful artist, and I knew working with her would be amazing.”

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Portland Playhouse Passing Strange Portland Oregon

The choreographed set with Tracy Bonham has been a work in progress for a couple of years.

Says Haag, “This has been a true collaboration of music and dance. Tracy and I have been meeting regularly on zoom for around two years, to come up with the set list. We’ve chosen a variety of songs from Tracy’s albums and some new songs that have yet to be released but will appear on a new album coming out soon.”

Raised in Eugene, singer-songwriter Tracy Bonham's music has Tracy Bonham's music has been characterized by its blend of alternative rock, folk-rock, and pop sensibilities. Photo: Antonio Anacan.
Raised in Eugene, singer-songwriter Tracy Bonham’s music has Tracy Bonham’s music has been characterized by its blend of alternative rock, folk-rock, and pop sensibilities. Photo: Antonio Anacan.

Tracy Bonham’s music has been characterized by its blend of alternative rock, folk-rock, and pop sensibilities. But, says Bonham, “My songs have evolved over the years to align more with a project such as this. My songs are more cinematic, and I am adapting many of them to include some of my inspirations in classical music. My classical violin and piano education shaped who I am as a musician.”

Bonham and Haag selected the songs, their length, and the number of bars for each section first, and Haag choreographed to those parameters. “There will be moments of rubato and variations in tempo as is always with live music, and the dancers are always prepared for that,” explains Haag. 

Eugene Ballet has created a Spotify playlist of works included in the performance. Bonham, her trio from New York City, and some special guest musician friends from the Eugene area are performing 11 songs, nine of them with choreography.

One of the pieces, “Damn the Sky (For Being Too Wide)” is a collaboration with #instaballet, the interactive, audience participation dance company co-founded by Haag. The choreography was created by the audience at the First Friday ArtWalk #instaballet workshop on March 1, 2024. 

Suzanne Haag's choreographed set with musician Tracy Bonham, here with Eugene Ballet dancers Antonio Lopez (left) and Hayley Tavonatti (center) has been a work in progress for a couple of years. Photo: Antonio Anacan.
Suzanne Haag’s choreographed set with musician Tracy Bonham, here with Eugene Ballet dancers Antonio Lopez (left) and Hayley Tavonatti (center) has been a work in progress for a couple of years. Photo: Antonio Anacan.

Haag feels strongly connected with Bonham’s music and hopes audiences will feel this too. “Tracy Bonham’s music is both deeply personal and wholly universal. Her lyrics speak to her own experiences as a woman and as a musician, and yet they feel like they were written for all of humanity,” says Haag. “I hope my choreography is an honest if abstract representation of Tracy’s gorgeous, powerful, human music. Every note of hers is an homage to what it is like to be a performer, to make art, to be a person, and to love in this complicated and beautiful world.”

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Portland Playhouse Passing Strange Portland Oregon

Bonham is both gratified by and grateful for this opportunity. 

“This is a carefully curated thank you note to all of the amazing people during my years growing up in Eugene — to the people who raised me, who taught me, who guided and mentored me and who loved me,” she states. “Without the inspiring arts community that I was so fortunate to have in Eugene, I would not be who I am today as a performer, songwriter, and human being.”

Performance times and ticket information

Performances are Saturday, April 6, 7:30 pm and Sunday, April 7, 2:00 pm at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts. Visit Eugene Ballet’s website for tickets.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Jean Zondervan does communications work and enjoys creating content for causes. She has written and produced collaborative projects for print, web, exhibits, and video and has a particular interest in exploring environmental and social issues through the arts. Prior to settling in Portland, she taught English as a first and second language in Texas and South Korea, worked at the Art Institute of Chicago and a small gallery in England, and grew up on a farm in Minnesota. She currently tends to kids, pets, and a large garden in North Portland.

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