Photo by Ari Denison

Poised for Wonder 

Eugene Ballet offers both a classic and a brand-new work

Eugene Ballet is putting on a whimsical double feature Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 8 and 9, with its oft-performed Alice in Wonderland and an all-new ballet by resident choreographer Susan Haag, Large Rock and the Little Yew.  

“It’s a great program for the family,” says EB’s artistic director Toni Pimble. “Lots of eye candy.”

In a nod to English culture and to author Lewis Carroll himself, Pimble opens the ballet with the story’s inception.  

“I start with Lewis Carroll (William Hulings) on the Thames with the Liddles,” says Pimble in her lovely British accent.

Carroll’s children’s classic was birthed from stories he told photography subject Alice Liddle. 

Several of Carroll’s best-known poems and limericks from Alice’s weird trip make up the crux of the ballet. Strange and familiar creatures come to life in a vibrant arrangement of costumes and projections, a spectacular facelift since past productions of the ballet.

Traditional English folk arrangements and a mix of classical English composers make up the score for a ballet that is truly visionary and, well, English. 

Haag’s ballet, based on the children’s book of the same name by local author and arborist Greg Ahlijian, is an earthy and deeply metaphorical production. Conceived from Ahlijian’s experience working with underprivileged youths at Jasper Mountain, Large Rock and the Little Yew is the story of a little tree’s determination to grow and reach sunlight.

“It’s about growing through adversity — not just surviving, but thriving,” Haag says. 

Through Haag’s own initiative and in partnership with InstaBallet, a nonprofit organization dedicated to arts education and accessibility, the choreography incorporates dance moves created by the youth of Jasper Mountain.

“As a choreographer, I felt strongly that the children of Jasper Mountain should be involved in some way,” Haag says.

Through a variety of textures and silhouettes, EB’s dancers anthropomorphize trees, rocks and animals on an ever-changing African landscape. Playground imagery covered in rubble exemplifies the weight of childhood bullying, making Haag’s ballet as thoughtful as it is imaginative. 

Bolder, brighter and notably shorter than EB’s most popular family attraction — that Christmas standard featuring hip-thrusting rat kings — this wondrous and wild double header is perfect for children of all ages.

Alice in Wonderland and Large Rock at the Little Yew runs Feb. 8- 9 at The Hult Center. Tickets start at $25 at

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