Beatles ballet: Eugene company brings to life 19 songs by the Fab Four

Entertainer: Week of Feb. 3-10
2012-02-02T18:45:00Z 2012-02-03T08:59:09Z Beatles ballet: Eugene company brings to life 19 songs by the Fab FourBy Cory Frye, The Entertainer Albany Democrat Herald
February 02, 2012 6:45 pm  • 

CORVALLIS - Over the years, choreographer Toni Pimble’s taken ballet in countless innovative and interesting directions, from jive, jazz and the blues to silk and steel, and even past our planet entirely, to the outer reaches of post-psychedelic album rock.

Her most recent undertaking, however, is positively Fab, marrying interpretive dance to the equally innovative and interesting works of The Beatles.

It’s an inspired, vibrant match that seems like one of mutual love, love, love.

“All You Need Is Love” is the Eugene Ballet Company co-founder/artistic director’s follow-up to her acclaimed 2010 interpretation of Pink Floyd’s headphone perennial, “The Dark Side of the Moon.” This project presented something of a larger challenge, however; no longer restricted to 10 songs on two sides of a concept LP, Pimble had the freedom to explore a decade’s worth of an evolving repertoire, digging deep into the band’s history, and assemble it all into a cohesive whole. (Perhaps she took inspiration from the words of John Lennon in her production’s title song: “Nothing you can do that can’t be done.”)

And in the end — droll reference slightly intended — she culled most of “All You Need Is Love” from The Beatles’ later period, when they began experimenting with more lavish instrumentation and pushed rock ’n’ roll down revolutionary paths.

This includes the magnificent parcel of suites that comprise the back end of “Abbey Road,” from “Mean Mr. Mustard” through “The End” (George Harrison’s gorgeous “Here Comes the Sun” features ladies bedecked in bright pleather “like a bunch of ‘darling birds,’ as they’re called,” Pimble said. “It’s very cute, very sweet.”).

Appropriately, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” opens the performance, as it did on the 1967 game-changing LP of the same name. Then there’s the haunting “Eleanor Rigby,” from 1966’s “Revolver,” which in many ways embodies the ballet’s heart.

“That’s a beautifully written, poignant piece of music,” Pimble said of the Paul McCartney composition (although it was credited to Lennon-McCartney, as were all of the duo’s songs, whether equally collaborative or not). “The overall theme as I was working through it, putting it in an order that flows, was this feeling that a lot of their music is about people trying to connect in life. It’s been speculated that ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is about postwar (World War II) Britain, which I grew up in. People had lost loved ones. There are a lot of lonely people out there.”

“Eleanor Rigby” also marks the final Corvallis performance by Jennifer Martin (also dancing to “Yer Blues”), an 18-year Eugene Ballet Company veteran who’s retiring after this season to take a more prominent role backstage. “Many audience members have come to know Jennifer and love her work,” Pimble said. “She will be missed. She’s very valuable to me.”

“All You Need Is Love” features 19 pieces in all, with songs prerecorded by Portland’s Nowhere Band. It’s preceded by “Concerto Grosso,” set to the music of Ernest Bloch, the legendary Swiss-born composer (1880-1959) who retired to the Oregon coast in 1941 and whose house still stands atop a high bluff over Agate Beach.

The curtains rise at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3, at the LaSells Stewart Center on the Oregon State University campus. Tickets are $20-$30 general, $18-$27 for youth and students, and $10 for college students. Advance tickets are available at Gracewinds Music in Corvallis or Sid Stevens Jewelers in Albany; via the Hult Center box office at 541-682-5000; or online at www.hultcenter.org. Once inside, sit back and let the evening go.

“I think the audience will really enjoy it,” Pimble said. “There’s a lot of variety, with some older songs and a lot of the later stuff, which to me is really interesting. It will be a really fun piece.”

Could you take us through the process of creating “All You Need Is Love”?

First of all, I was just listening to a lot of The Beatles’ music, taking a trip down memory lane, saying, “Oh, I used to love that song.” I had to think seriously about which pieces spoke to me immediately, choreographically. That’s how it works for me: I hear something and I either have it or I don’t.

I also had to take into consideration that I wanted enough variety within so that choreographically it would be interesting too. We used “Rocky Raccoon,” which is a comedy piece, to keep it light. Then there’s “Yer Blues,” which is really heavy.

“Sun King” is a dreamy piece. What it reminded me of was Louis XIV, who codified classical ballet. I thought, ‘“Wouldn’t it be fun if we had the Sun King onstage?” People who know classical ballet will get it. Others will wonder, “What was she thinking?” (laughs) (The monarch, who ruled France from 1643 until his death in 1715 — an astonishing 72 years — was known as the Sun King.)

Our costume designer took the images of Louis XIV dressed as the Sun King and she’s replicating that. My tallest dancer, Mark Tucker, will be appearing as the Sun King: bright gold platform shoes — everything Louis XIV wore was gold. It’ll be an over-the-top costume, like something out of a revue show, which is very much in the spirit of The Beatles.

I thought “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” was an interesting selection. That’s kind of a throwaway track from “The White Album.”

It’s naughty and everybody has one thing in mind when they hear it. Petr Orlov, who is a lot of fun, is doing it as a solo. Our “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” is “Why don’t we dance in the road?” That piece has such great rhythm, and it’s a lot of fun to work with.

You’ve said, “We can now consider their music to be the classical music of our era.” Could you elaborate? What makes their music classical?

Maybe not classical, I think, but classic. Certainly classic rock. People have taught “Eleanor Rigby.” In its form and composition, it’s comparable to Schubert. It’s a beautifully written piece of music, beautifully arranged.

“Golden Slumbers,” which is toward the end of the “Abbey Road” album, was actually a lullaby from the 1600s that Paul’s sister was playing on the piano. He looked to see what she was practicing, picked it up and thought it was interesting. He reworked it into “Golden Slumbers.” Part of the text is the original text.

(Producer) George Martin had a lot to do with the creativity of their pieces. There was a very strong collaboration over ten years as they put together their LPs. The Beatles really valued him as a collaborator. He’d bring in the orchestras, the violinists — they’d create these lines behind the work.

You’re originally from England. What do The Beatles mean to you?

They’re a part of my growing up. I can remember my brother and I listening to “She Loves You” on a record player. It was one of those fold-up players; you could carry it anywhere. We’d just gotten it. We were so excited. I must have been about eight or nine.

Then, as The Beatles progressed musically, they challenged us all. When you’d hear a new LP like “Abbey Road,” initially there would be a struggle inside you. “That’s not The Beatles,” you would say. But musically they would take you a step forward, and you would grow with them.

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