Movers & Shakers

Meet the people who shape Eugene’s dance community

Eugene may not have Moscow’s Bolshoi or New York’s Martha Graham Dance Company; however, just below the city’s surface is a vibrant world of dance, of clacking heels and pointed toes, of “pop, lock and drops” and ball changes. From classical performances at the Eugene Ballet Company and sensual Middle Eastern folk dance at Celebration Belly Dance and Yoga to pioneering modern dance at the University of Oregon and glitzy hip-hop productions at Work Dance Company, there’s a groove for everyone’s mood. In our first-ever dance issue, EW has sought out the people who are elevating the level of dance in our community and the level of community in our dance. Meet this year’s movers and shakers.

The Classic

Toni Pimble

Artistic director and resident choreographer, Eugene Ballet Company

Toni Pimble has been a fixture in the Eugene ballet scene since 1978, but her dance history dates back to her childhood living room in England, where she would twirl to her parents’ classical music. The living room became the prestigious Elmhurst School for Dance where Pimble danced from ages 11-18 before joining dance companies in Germany, where she met Riley Grannan, now Eugene Ballet Company’s managing director. They hopped the pond to Oregon to start their own company. “We were adventuresome young people,” Pimble says with a smile. “I never imagined it would grow so big.” The Eugene Ballet Company is big; the company is a Eugene and Pacific Northwest cornerstone of ballet with 21 dancers from around the country performing 40-50 shows a year, including classics like The Nutcracker and Scheherazade (and some not-so-classics like the 2014 production of Zoot Suit Riot with the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies).

The Innovators

Hannah Bontrager

Executive director and choreographer, Ballet Fantastique

Donna Bontrager

Artistic director and choreographer, Ballet Fantastique

Cinderella as a rock opera? A tongue-in-cheek feminist twist on the The Misadventures of Casanova? Pride and Prejudice set in the Roaring Twenties? The women behind Ballet Fantastique’s productions, mother-and-daughter team Donna and Hannah, are not afraid to push the boundaries of the Russian Vaganova method taught at their company. The duo, who have more than 50 years of ballet training combined, also refuse to cast dancers by the rigid standards rampant in ballet; there are no height restrictions. “For us, diversity is worth it,” Hannah says. Together, they research, write and choreograph all of their ballets from scratch — for Casanova they prepped by reading the playboy’s autobiography. The world is taking notice of their innovative, whimsical approach. Ballet Fantastique recently returned from Italy, where they performed As You Like It: A Wild West Ballet. Cinderella: A Rock Opera Ballet will tour Trinidad and Tobago next summer.

The Trend Setter

Cornel Hardiman aka Karress Ann Slaughter

Female illusionist, G.L.A.M. Nights

If you’ve been to a G.L.A.M. night (formerly at John Henry’s, now at Diablo’s), you’re familiar with Karress Ann Slaughter’s killer, on-the-cultural-pulse moves — usually done in 6-inch heels. For those of you who haven’t, G.L.A.M. host Diva Simone Slaughter sums it up best: “He was part of the movement that brought modern music as a part of drag and not just the regular gay anthems that the rest of us have as a part of our repertoire. He made it cool to do Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliot when Madonna and Donna Summers were the staple.” The father and grandfather has been performing for 22 years, crafting his own choreography, pulling from dance innovators like Michael and Janet Jackson, Ciara and Beyoncé. Hardiman says he first knew he was pushing “old-school drag” to “new-school drag” when he performed Lil’ Kim’s “How Many Licks” at Neighbors before it closed. “I think that kind of shocked a lot of people,” he says, laughing.

The Avant-Gardist

Brad Garner

UO assistant professor of dance; dancer and choreographer, Harmonic Laboratory

The choreographer behind Harmonic Laboratory’s cutting edge “Four Corners” performance at the Hult last spring didn’t start with dance; Garner started with gymnastics, completing a year of Olympic training when he was a high school sophomore. But soon gymnastics turned into a passion for modern dance, which he studied at the esteemed University of Minnesota Department of Theatre Arts & Dance with famous guest artists such as Doug Varone. “I liked athleticism, wildness, innovation,” Garner says of choosing modern. Now a professor at the UO, Garner pushes dance to its cerebral edges, fusing it with visual arts and technology, drawing inspiration from unexpected sources like Picasso’s cubist studies and Newton’s laws of motion. Next up, Garner takes his intellectual exercise on the road: Harmonic Laboratory has been invited to perform the piece “Zero Crossing” at the Kyma International Sound Symposium in Brussels Sept. 12-15.

The Producer

Nathan Boozer

Director and choreographer, Work Dance Company

Let’s be clear, when you see a Nathan Boozer production like the Lady Gaga-inspired Wonderland, it’s not a recital, it’s a show (and usually a sold-out one at that). “It’s about the production,” says Boozer, who combines his hip-hop- and jazz-driven choreography with video visual effects on a 50-by-30-foot screen, high-tech lighting and props. “I want my audiences to completely feel and experience what we’re trying to do on stage.” The Churchill High and LCC graduate’s Work Dance Company is relatively new to Eugene’s dance scene: It opened in 2008 with four female dancers — there are now 21 dancers. “I feel like with dance we’re able to tell such an intricate story,” he says. “It’s been around since the dawn of time.”

The Community Builder

Geni Morrow

Director, The EDGE; producer and founder, Dance for a Reason

“A cartwheel a day keeps the doctor away,” Morrow says. The Newport native should know; in the past 40 years, she’s been a gymnast, a gymnast coach, a cheerleader and, of course, a dancer. After studying and performing classic jazz and free-form modern at Portland State University, University of Alaska and the Jones Ludin Dance Company in Honolulu, she moved to Eugene and began her community-centric dance empire, including The EDGE dance company and one of the biggest annual dance and fundraising events in Eugene, Dance for a Reason. “I had this idea that I could kick my program off and have this show where I can invite different groups in of different styles,” she says. “There were more people in the show than in the audience that first year … Now we’re selling 1,700 tickets.” This January, Dance for a Reason celebrates 20 years.

The Cultural Force

Kathy “Sabine” Forrester

Dancer, owner and teacher, Celebration Belly Dance and Yoga 

Some dancers have toe shoes or tutus, but Kathy “Sabine” Forrester has two massive swords. Forrester has been studying Middle Eastern folk dance — tribal, Turkish and Egyptian-style belly dancing, sword dancing — since she discovered it via her sister’s college roomie from Jordan 25 years ago. “The music is what first appealed to me,” Forrester says. “The rhythms are interesting and exotic.” She has been teaching belly dance in Eugene since 1999, but she brings teachers into her studio from all walks of dance — African, capoeira, samba, Bollywood, Zumba and world beat. Find her dancing solo with two swords or with her troupe Tribalation! monthly at Cozmic and on their float at the Eugene Celebration. “Learn about the culture,” she says. “There’s a lot behind the music and the dance.”

Photos by Todd Cooper.

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