Dark Side of the Dance
Eugene Ballet goes rock & Bach
by Suzi Steffen
Take a Pink Floyd album about everything from birth to greed to mental illness, and mix it with grande jetés and ronds de jambe. Classic prog rock and formal ballet training mashup equals … the Eugene Ballet’s Valentine’s weekend performance set to The Dark Side of the Moon.
|Image by Ari Denison.|
In early February, Eugene Ballet founder and artistic director Toni Pimble took her dancers through their choreography, running through the album song by song and polishing the pieces. Eugene faves The Floydian Slips will be “performing note for note,” Pimble says, which presents certain issues for the dancers: They must keep to the time of the album even with live musicians behind them on stage. And, of course, having the musicians on the stage instead of in the pit means less dance space, an important consideration for the dancers and choreographer alike. (Though as a person who sat with a laptop scant inches and half-inches away from the dancers’ feet, I feel quite certain of their ability not to kick instruments or people in their vicinity.)
“The reality on stage might be a little different,” Pimble tells Mark Tucker, who wants to know about spacing for the end of one piece. “Take it from the front, and they’ll find a beat.” Tucker nods.
During the song “The Great Gig in the Sky,” the dancers line up like a funeral procession from both sides of the room. “They’ll carry candles during the performance,” Pimble says.
Mixing rock and forms of ballet requires dancers’ intense focus on changing their usual dance style — not only in the “Dark Side” piece but also in a new work choreographed by principal dancer and soloist Gillmer Duran. That piece, “Without the Cover,” uses music by Venezuelan artist Gabriela Montero from her album Bach and Beyond.
Duran, who grew up in Venezuela, says, “I have to fight that [ballet] rigor most of the time. … I push them out of their comfort zone. This is not ballet.”
Instead, he says, the choreography for this piece — based on Montero’s improvisations on Bach — comes from his jazz, contemporary and folk dance background. He tells the dancers, “I want you to push your body, release your shoulders, overextend your arms,” and he says they come through for him. “They are thinking about it, doing what I’m asking for; it’s very nice.”
Duran collaborated with Pimble on a short piece when the Eugene Ballet performed with Pink Martini a few years ago, and he’s working on more collaborations with the UO dance department’s Shannon Mockli. He says he’d love to see more opportunities for collaboration in Eugene, where the company has been located for two years since it split from Boise-based Ballet Idaho and moved to Eugene for good. “As dancers, we are work-driven, and the more opportunities we have to create, the better it feels,” Duran says. “Here, we have to fight with Portland first and Seattle first and all of those big cities that suck up all of the resources.”
But that didn’t discourage him from working on “Without the Cover,” a piece in which the dancers start off behind plastic sheeting. “We’re creating a European, minimalistic appeal, so the plastics are going to be there, and slowly we’ll be surpassing them,” he says.
As the dancers emerge from behind the sheeting, they’ll be more exposed. “It’s like being naked. We dancers are extremely vulnerable. We devote ourselves to this art,” he says.
Speaking of vulnerable, the dancers experienced a new level of intimacy with the Sleeping Beauty audience last fall when executive director Riley Grannan asked the kids and parents in the audience to use their cell phones to take pictures of the performance and post them online. “Afterwards, we went down to the lobby and the kids, they stand close to us,” Duran says. “We experienced the audience in a different way; we need to be accessible in that way.”
The third piece on this weekend’s program is “Common Ground,” Pimble’s collaboration with composer James Oliviero. “The whole program is really strong,” Duran says. “Three different, contemporary pieces — they make the whole night remarkable.”
Pink Floyd on Valentine’s Day (or the night before)? Mixed with improvised and altered Bach? Duran says yes. “It’s an excellent year to take your sweetheart to see the ballet.”
Eugene Ballet’s Dark Side of the Moon. Hult Center. 7:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 13 & 2 pm Sunday, Feb. 14. hultcenter.org and 541-682-5000 • $22-$48.