Eugene Ballet Dazzles with Concert Choir/Orchestra Next Collaboration

The Eugene Ballet Company performed boldly Sunday afternoon, with a program that delighted the senses, starting with “White Noise” by choreographer Amy Seiwert.          

            Interweaving nuanced pairings and solo work, Seiwart’s visually arresting piece employed clever technology, infrared cameras trained on the dancers themselves, to paint the stage in a wash of color and light. Set to evocative music by Zoë Keating, the work captured the geometric artistry of the dancers, their lines in space, amplifying and clarifying their intention and abilities. The light itself almost seemed like another elusive, larger-than-life, company member, such was the seamlessness of dance/visual interaction.

            The EBC dancers seemed delighted to perform in this piece, energized and engaged – not merely bathing in static theatrical lighting – but reveling in creating visual art, live onstage.

            Credit for the lighting design goes to Kelly Baum and Brian Jones, with the overall visual design by Frieder Weiss. The staging of the piece was by Nicole White and Gabriel Williams, with simple and elegant costumes by Christine Darch.

            Unlike some works that rely heavily on technology, almost using it as a crutch, “White Noise” balanced spectacle with artistry, developing shape and form throughout its progression. A credit to the choreographer, I think the work would hold up, and be almost as engaging, in work lights and sweatpants. (But the lighting is too fabulous to miss.)

            The second half of the concert, Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana”, pulled out all the stops in a tour de force collaboration between EBC, the Eugene Concert Choir (along with talented children from the Festival Choirs, under the direction of Chris Dobson) and Orchestra Next, all held together under the vigilant eye of conductor Brian McWhorter.

            Toni Pimble’s choreography shines here, interpreting liturgical text for a 21st Century audience. Pimble unfailingly gets at the heart of the songs, beloved and well known, there’s a risk of treading into the maudlin or pastiche. Not so, Pimble. She keeps the work fresh and vital, bringing ancient tropes into modern consciousness, reminding us that we’re not so far from the field or the tavern.

            There are too many standout moments to mention.

            Cory Betts in “O Fortuna” digs into the changeable nature of fate, flexing and arching, he frames the work with his physical pleas for mercy.

            In “First Spring”, Yoshie Oshima, Mark Tucker and Yamil Maldonado warm the stage like the melting snow itself. Soloist Anton Belov delivers a stirring rendition of “Omnia Sol Temperat”.

            Let’s take a moment to appreciate the Eugene Concert Choir. It’s wonderful, essential, to have live music – an orchestra! With tons of live singers! – And the choir delivers more here than mere singing. With clever staging from Pimble, and exuberant acting from the choristers, the Concert Choir is utilized to evoke the mysteries of medieval life.

            In their terrific costumes by Lynn Bowers, the choristers are transformed, from Gregorian monks, to peasants at the apex of glorious summer, in their wimples and doublets, to the ruling class. How pleased they all seem to be so much a part of the action, and Pimble has fully-utilized these performers, giving them simple but effective stage choreography, to add to the mood and mystery of the experience.

            “In the tavern” trains its indelible eye on one woeful swan, trussed on a spit in front of a multitude of hungry revelers. In “Olim Lacus Colueram”, Beth Maslinoff ‘s piteous portrayal might encourage a few in the audience to become vegetarians.

            It all comes together in the “Court of Love”, and soloist soprano Zulimar López-Hernández delights with her range and delivery.

            This is love in all its guises, and while every moment is a jewel, Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag’s duet, about being, er, happy in their coupling, justifies this offering for Valentine’s Day. Oh my.

            Thomas Coates’ clever stage design creates a Wheel of Fate onstage (pity the spinning dancer, hope he took his Dramamine), a bawdy tavern and an imaginative Court of Love fit for Cupid himself.

            The audience went wild for this effort, and rightly so. EBC has pulled off a terrific collaboration, dissolving barriers to language – suddenly, through Pimble’s able hands, we all understand Latin! – And creating a timeless connection between movement and music. Bravo.