If you’re from this area, it’s probably not too far fetched of an assumption that you have witnessed a performance by the Eugene Ballet Company — whether it be the yearly rendition of The Nutcracker or newer performances like last year’s Mowgli. And, if you’ve lived here for a bit, there’s no doubt you have at least heard of the Portland-based musical act Pink Martini.
If you are a fan of either of these artistic endeavors, you might know that Pink Martini and the Eugene Ballet Company actually performed together back in 2006.
Now, 12 years later, the two groups are joining forces again Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 17 and 18, on the Hult Center’s Silva Concert Hall stage, with Pink Martini playing its eclectic mix of Latin, pop, jazz and classical, and the Eugene Ballet Company performing pieces choreographed by three main choreographers, with a special piece choreographed by members of the Eugene public.
As artistic mediums, dance and music are simultaneously very similar and worlds apart. The dueling art forms have the power to be complex and intricate or simple and minimalistic. Both music and dance can be filled with a sense of ferocious chaos or timid calm.
Yet, their individual genres and styles tend to get boxed up into specific complementary palettes — salsa dancing with Latin music, swing with big band and ballet with classical.
In this way, the stereotypically tranquil nature that accompanies a ballet performance might seem contradictory to the music of Pink Martini — a diverse genre mash-up and multilingual repertoire. But Eugene Ballet Artistic Director Toni Pimble hopes to bring in an audience who likes to think outside of that restrictive box.
“We’re hoping to attract an audience that not only likes ballet but also knows less about us and likes Pink Martini,” Pimble says. “So we’re hoping to cross-pollinate between those people who love Pink Martini and also those people who love dance.”
Originally from England, Pimble co-founded the Eugene Ballet Company in the late 1970s and has been the company’s artistic director and resident choreographer ever since. From the company’s inception, Pimble has choreographed more than 60 works.
“I guess we can’t quite decide when we truly started,” Pimble says. “I guess 1979, so next year is going to be our 40th anniversary.”
In 1994, 15 years after Eugene Ballet Company’s founding, Thomas Lauderdale created Pink Martini in the City of Roses. Although the band has released seven studio albums, performed internationally and been nominated for numerous awards, Lauderdale, the group’s pianist, had no intention of creating Pink Martini in the first place.
Lauderdale began playing piano when he was 6 years old, continuing to perform in ensembles, orchestras and other groups as he grew older. Although music has always been a part of his life, he eventually became involved in Oregon politics — some of the politicians he worked under at the time were Portland Mayor Bud Clark and Oregon Gov. Neil Goldschmidt.
Both politically and musically inclined, Lauderdale arranged for the band Del Rubio Triplets, a variety act that found some fame in the 1980s, to come to Portland in 1994 and play a series of concerts including a “big community rights fundraising concert,” Lauderdale says.
At the concert, Del Rubio Triplets had no opening act, so Lauderdale decided to throw on a cocktail dress, jump on stage with a couple of other musicians and perform under the moniker Pink Martini — and thus the self-proclaimed “little orchestra” was born.
For the dancers, a good chunk of that planning began last summer, at least for Suzanne Haag, a dancer and choreographer for Eugene Ballet Company and a co-founder of the nonprofit dance organization #InstaBallet. This is Haag’s 15th season with Eugene Ballet, and the Pink Martini performance will be the third production she’s helped choreograph.
Haag will be choreographing six pieces total for the production, including a jointly choreographed piece with the other two choreographers and an #InstaBallet performance that was created by members of the Eugene public back in July.
Haag and Antonio Anacan, another Eugene Ballet Company dancer, founded #InstaBallet in 2013. Composed of professional dancers, #InstaBallet crowd-sources choreography by letting audience members suggest movements for the dancers during live performances.
Haag recalls the moment she and Anacan came up with the idea for #InstaBallet: “We were probably sitting in Brails Espresso,” she says, “and we noticed everyone was on their phone and that’s how communication has sort of gone — digitally — and we also knew that art and ideas were being shared more instantly than they were in the past. … So we were thinking, how could we do that with dance?”
Haag compares the idea of #InstaBallet to the photo sharing app Instagram. “Like Instagram, you take a picture and instantly other people see it,” she says. “We wanted to be able to share dance as instantly as you could a photo, but not lose the live human interaction, which is what’s being taken away with our devices.”
She adds: “So we thought, what if we showed the audience a ballet as it’s being created … and then we just decided that we needed to make it more interesting — what if we just had the audience tell us what to do?”
Though it started as a one-time side project, #InstaBallet’s first 2013 performance was a success, and a lot of fun for dancers and audience alike, so Haag and Anacan decided to continue to do the performances regularly.
Now #InstaBallet often performs during the First Friday ArtWalk, around downtown Eugene, and at other events. During a performance last summer, Haag and Anacan asked the audience to help create a dance for a Pink Martini song to be used in the upcoming Hult Center performance.