Ballet Fantastique has defined itself by creative originality and fearless collaboration over the last decade, with the company’s founding mother-daughter team, Donna and Hannah Bontrager, bringing more than 100 original works into the company’s repertoire since its founding in 2010.
On New Year’s Eve, Arrivals: Rio premieres at the Hult Center’s Silva Concert Hall, bringing musicians, artists and, of course, BFan’s dancers together to take the audience on a tour of Brazil and Argentina.
Arrivals: Rio features the work of four choreographers, including the late Valéria da Costa Ball, whose pieces “Amazon Awakenings” and “Walls” will be performed. Born in Rio de Janeiro, da Costa Ball believed that a performance should be an immersive experience.
Hannah and Donna first met da Costa Ball through the University of Oregon dance department. “Ballet Fantastique has always been passionate about collaboration,” Hannah says. The company first collaborated with da Costa Ball in 2005, and fell in love with the way she worked.
“She was always asking, ‘How can there be something in the lobby that pulls the audience out,’ to really create an experience for everyone inside the theater,” Hannah says of da Costa Ball. Arrivals: Rio, which has been in the works for three years now because of the pandemic, seeks to bring together the voices and visions of many artists to create a truly immersive experience like what da Costa Ball always strove for.
“It is an homage to her,” Hannah says. “When you walk into the Hult Center there’s music playing. At the bar there’s a Brazilian-style cocktail you can order.” The signal for the audience to take their seats “will actually be an airline announcement, ‘Please take your seats, your flight is about to board.’”
“The show is unique because it involves so many different artforms,” Donna says. “There’s live music, there’s set designs from an artist we’ve been working with in Seattle [Milla Oliveira], and the narration.”
“And the projections,” Hannah adds, referring to a set design project principal dancer Gustavo Ramirez has been working on where he uses aerial drone footage to set the scene of the tour. Collaborating with other artists in the community drives BFan’s overarching goal to do something new, and always be drawing new audience members in addition to the longtime attendees.
The live music Hannah refers to when audience members walk into the Hult Center will be put on by Samba Ja, a local Afro-Brazilian percussion group that has been performing danceable street music in the Eugene area for more than 20 years. The pre-show party will take place only on the night of the NYE performance, and is free to attend.
Arrivals: Rio also features live music from Bossanaire, a traditional bossa nova group featuring lead singers Laurie Hammond and Mallory Glaser, and music from Juan Cruz Luqui, an Argentinean composer, producer and artist. Luqui is coming from Los Angeles to play the ronroco, a South American stringed instrument with a low baritone sound, on stage alongside the dancers.
Collaborating with artists living in other states has posed its challenges during the pandemic, but the Bontragers agree that living in a pandemic world has actually strengthened the making of the performance in many ways.
“We’ve added a lot to enhance the experience,” Donna says. Narrations in between dance pieces and set projections featuring aerial drone shots will make the audience feel like they are truly on a tour of South America with BFan’s cast. Hannah describes Ramirez’s process in creating the set projections, where he takes an image from Google Maps and knits it together with aerial drone footage, as “a game changer.”
“He takes us from the Hult Center all the way to Rio,” she says. “So it really looks like what you’d see out your window.”
A principal dancer with BFan since 2016, Ramirez wears many hats in this production. He plays the role of Machado, the tour guide who takes an American couple through Brazil and Argentina, to the streets during Carnival and the beaches of Ipanema. He describes how dancing in the performance makes him “more aware of what’s happening on stage” when deciding how to time the projections, such as with the fireworks that go off with a dancer’s jump.
Ramirez will DJ the after-party on New Year’s Eve, which also features live music from Bossanaire. The after-party will include light Latin fare from Shield Bistro, and a midnight champagne toast to the new year led by Brittany Quick-Warner, CEO of Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce, which partnered with BFan on this project.
This will be BFan’s first premiere since before the pandemic, and the Bontragers describe the sheer elation they and their dancers are feeling as they gear up to perform at the Hult Center.
Hannah describes cultivating fun and intrigue in putting Arrivals: Rio together. “It’s immersive,” she says. “We want to mesmerize and uplift the community with the art we create.”
But it’s also distanced,” she says of the seating in Silva Hall. “It’s responsible but we don’t want you to have to think about the fact that we’re in a pandemic. Arrivals is an escape.”
Arrivals: Rio premieres 8:30 pm Friday, Dec. 31, at the Hult Center’s Silva Hall. Tickets $22-$75. Pre-show party 8 pm, free admission. After-party 10:30 pm, tickets $35, sold separately. Matinee performance 2:30 pm Sunday, Jan. 2. Tickets $12-62. Proof of vaccination or negative COVID test within 48 hours required for entry. More details on tickets and NYE after party at HultCenter.org/BalletFantastique-Arrivals.