BFan History Lesson: Gospel Music

Ballet Fantastique is so excited for its spring premiere of The Book of Esther: A Rock Gospel Ballet happening THIS weekend at the Hult Center, that we wanted to provide BFans with a special history lesson of gospel music.

The roots of gospel music are not well documented, as early recordings were lost. Stories behind the songs weren’t written down. Updated ancient Protestant hymns—from “Amazing Grace” to “Oh Happy Day,” a 1969 pop hit—make up much of the contemporary gospel songbook, but there is no way to overstate the influence of African American compositions of the 1800s on the development of the genre. “Spirituals”  (or “Sorrow Songs,” as they were called) found slaves bringing the rhythms and melodies of their African homeland to tales of Old Testament heroes. While they couldn’t sing openly about their own desire to be free, they could rejoice in the story of Exodus, when the children of Israel yearned to be liberated from bondage with a vigor that suggests deep personal connection. Heavenly salvation and earthly freedom became intertwined. Those who embraced Christianity were told that great rewards awaited believers who endured great tribulations.

Photo: Stephanie Urso

Photo: Stephanie Urso

Coming out of an oral tradition, gospel music typically utilizes a great deal of repetition. The repetition of the words allowed those who could not read the opportunity to participate in worship. During this time, hymns and sacred songs were lined and repeated in a call-and-response fashion, and the Negro spirituals and work songs emerged. Most of the churches relied on hand clapping and foot stomping as rhythmic accompaniment. There would be guitars and tambourines available (musical instruments were often not allowed) every now and then, but not frequently. Church choirs became a norm only after emancipation. Still, most of the singing was done a cappella.

A Special Note on Mahaila Jackson

Mahalia Jackson, one of the most famous gospel singers still to this day, had an overpowering impact on the history of gospel music (one of the songs she made famous, “Trouble of the World,” is the choir’s first piece in Ballet Fantastique’s The Book of Esther premiere). What Jackson was apparently able to do better than virtually all singers before or after her, was take listeners to a place where they could feel the “touch” of the Holy Spirit. Transcending emotion, this spiritual “anointing” is upheld as the pinnacle of human experience.

In many African American churches, the absence or presence of such a gift is signaled by a series of responses from the congregation. According to a study by Mellonee Burnim, respondents repeatedly and consistently reported that for the Holy Spirit to be present, the singer is required to possess a voice that “must transmit intensity, fullness, and the sense that tremendous energy is being expelled.”

This, of course, is exactly what happened in the numerous contemporary accounts of Mahalia Jackson performances. During a particularly emotional church service during this period, Laurraine Goreau records one overwhelmed congregant as shouting, “That woman sing too hard; she going to have TB!” And thus, in the heart of the Depression, began the rise of one of America’s greatest singers.

 

You still have a chance to catch The Book of Esther: A Rock Gospel Ballet this weekend! CLICK HERE to purchase your tickets now!

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 4.14.09 PM

Meet our Musical Guest Artists!

Ballet Fantastique’s NEW LEGENDS Season culminates with a daring and unprecedented dance theater collaboration with the multi-year national award-winning UO Gospel Singers. In the premiere of The Book of Esther: A Rock Gospel Ballet, choreographer-producers Donna Marisa and Hannah Bontrager re-imagine the spellbinding biblical story of a legendary woman (and lionhearted beauty) whose faith cuts through a world of danger and political intrigue—to a score of live rock and gospel music spanning the past two centuries.

Donna and Hannah will fuse and abstract diverse dance styles as a springboard for the story’s dramatic themes, showcasing the artistry and versatility of the Company’s critically acclaimed artists. UO Gospel Singers’ director Andiel Brown will lead the singers into new territory. And playful and poignant, Donna and Hannah’s uplifting new choreographic telling of this powerful legend will resonate with power and spirit.

 

Andiel Brown, Director of UO Gospel Choirs

andiel

 

Andiel Brown is director of Gospel Choirs and Ensembles at the University of Oregon. He received his high school diploma from Cleveland High School in Portland, Oregon, and his Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Oregon.

While a student, Brown was a member of the UO Repertoire Singers, Gospel Choirs, and University Singers, as well as a local favorite and spiritual leader on the Ducks football team. He served as an assistant director of the Eugene Gospel Crew, which then merged with the UO Gospel Ensembles.

Brown has considerable performance experience. He has sung with artists such as The Uncanny Sound Boys and Deandre Cole, and in 2004 he was the winner of the University of Oregon school-wide vocal competition, “Duck Idol”. Brown was also a guest choreographer for the University of Oregon cheerleaders from 2004-2009.

Upon becoming the gospel director at the UO, Brown set out to make the University of Oregon a national gospel powerhouse. He has done this through regional and national tours, and competing at (and winning) national gospel choir competitions, including back to back first place honors at the national Disney Gospel Choir Fest in Orlando, FL in 2010 and 2011.

Under his direction, the UO Top Gospel Singers made world history in March 2013 by becoming the first gospel act ever to make a public performance tour of The People’s Republic of China. They held 15 performances throughout China, including a special joint concert with the #1 Chinese choral choir, The Qingdao Teachers Choir, at the Qingdao Grand Theater.

 

The UO Gospel Singers

The University of Oregon Gospel Singers is an elite group of gospel musicians at the University of Oregon, lead by director Andiel Brown. It is one of only two for credit University Gospel Programs on the West Coast. The group is comprised of university students as well as members from the community who all strive to achieve musical excellence and unite to create joyful, uplifting gospel music.

gospel singers

Each year the group is invited to perform at numerous locations throughout the state and country including the Lincoln Center and World’s Fair. Performance venues of note include the Hult Center, Matthew Knight Arena, the Portland MLK Celebration, the Cuthbert Amphitheater, MacArthur Court, and the Disney Gospel Choir Fest in Orlando, FL.

In September 2010, the UO Gospel Singers competed in the inaugural Disney Gospel Choir Fest at Disney World in Orlando, FL. They were among the 12 best gospel ensembles in the country. They were the only group from west of the Mississippi as well as the only group affiliated with a school or university. It was through hours of practicing, dedication, hard work, talent, and unification as a team that the group was then named the champions.

In September 2011, the UO Gospel Singers returned to Orlando and won the Disney Gospel Choir Fest for the second year in a row. The group has since competed in many competitions throughout the region and country as well as travelled abroad to perform in China.

 

gospelsingers

 

Don’t miss out on The Book of Esther: A Rock Gospel Ballet and the UO Gospel Singers! You can purchase your tickets HERE! Hurry, they’re going fast!

The Book of Esther: A Rock Gospel Ballet!

QUICK FACTS:

    • WHAT: Ballet Fantastique’s contemporary ballet,The Book of Esther: A Rock Gospel Ballet
    • with LIVE MUSIC: Multi-year, national award-winning UO Gospel Singers
    • CONCEPT + CHOREOGRAPHY: All-original, by choreographer-producers Donna Marisa and Hannah Bontrager
    • EUGENE PERFORMANCES: Fri. May. 9, 7:30pm; Sat. May 10, 7:30pm; Sun. May 11, 2:30pm, Soreng Theater, Hult Center; tickets $28-48 (students/youth $16-22), with $5 off regularly priced tickets for groups of five or more. On sale now through the Hult Center Box Office: 541-682-5000 or www.hultcenter.org
    • FLORENCE PERFORMANCE: Fri. May 16 at 7pm, Florence Events Center; tickets $24 regular reserved seating (youth $16). On sale now at the Florence Events Center Box Office: 541-997-1994 or www.eventcenter.org; box office hours Monday-Friday, 9:30am-4:30pm)
    • Please note: Advance ticket purchase highly recommended (Ballet Fantastique sells out)

 

A spellbinding biblical story comes alive in Ballet Fantastique’s collaboration with the award-winning UO Gospel Singers

“And the decree of Esther confirmed these matters…and it was written in the book.” Esther 9:32

 

Photo: Woden Photography

Photo: Woden Photography

 

Ballet Fantastique premieres the final new contemporary ballet of their 13-14 Season: NEW LEGENDS this May 9-11 at the Hult Center with The Book of Esther: A Rock Gospel Ballet. The original work is a collaboration between Ballet Fantastique choreographer-producers Donna Marisa and Hannah Bontrager and the multi-year national award-winning UO Gospel Singers, under the artistic direction of Andiel Brown.

“In many ways, this project is a dream finally realized,” says Ballet Fantastique Artistic Director Donna Marisa Bontrager. “I’ve always been drawn to this story and wanted to tell it through dance…and I love this music!”

And of this music that will set the backdrop for the Bontragers’ new choreography, UO Gospel Singers Artistic Director Andiel Brown says, “The best way to describe the music we’ll be singing in The Book of Esther is eclectic, uplifting, and inspirational.” In addition to leading the choir on stage, Brown will also represent the character of Mordechai, Esther’s guardian and a bold, principled leader of the Hebrew people, God-fearing and resolute in the face of impending disaster. Says Brown, “I love the creative process. Just seeing the dancers work out the choreography to the song we will be singing is so inspiring. People should be excited to see this marriage of gospel music, story, and ballet as it has never been done before.”

Together with Brown, the Bontragers have chosen 11 gospel songs spanning two centuries. From traditional to contemporary, pieces like “Lean on Me,” “When You Believe,” “I Don’t Mind Waiting,” and “Now Let Me Fly to Zion, Lord” (a traditional African American slave spiritual) will set the stage for the rich historical drama of a Jewish girl named Hadassah/Esther who becomes queen of Persia and uses her beauty, wisdom, faith, and cunning to thwart a planned genocide against her people. Esther’s spellbinding story is documented in both the third section of the Jewish Tanakh and the Christian Old Testament.

To supplement the choir pieces, the Bontragers have also commissioned Eugene-based composer and jazz/rock guitarist Gerry Rempel to create two original contemporary Persian “rock” instrumental pieces for the ballet premiere. These instrumental pieces will set the scene for the ballet’s court scenes in counterbalance to ballet’s gospel songs, wherein the singers on stage represent the perspective of the Hebrew people.

Of the project, Rempel says, “What I find intriguing is the strength and courage of Esther to do what she believes is right even though she is afraid. This is one of the few times in the Bible that a woman is the central subject throughout. It is a wonderful opportunity working with Ballet Fantastique. The cultural dynamism of the ballet working with the live music of diverse music ensembles is definitely catalyzing and energizing for the arts in our area. I love the risks entailed working with live music. The presentation seems more alive because of it. I also love the challenge of composing for different settings and this was a great opportunity.” Rempel has previously composed two works for Ballet Fantastique’s Pride & Prejudice: A Parisian Jazz Ballet (2013), and another for String Theory (2011).

Ballet Fantastique’s Book of Esther: A Rock Gospel Ballet will open with the banishment of Queen Vashti, set to one of Rempel’s Persian rock instrumental pieces. Audiences will next meet Mordechai (Brown), and his ward, young Hadassah, in “Take a Trip.” When Hadassah is selected to join the young women who report to the King’s harem, Mordechai and her people rename her and encourage her bravery (“I Believe”). She learns to trust Hagai, keeper of the women (“Lean on Me”), and earns the king’s favor (“Presence of Royalty”). Meanwhile, Hamen, villainous vizier of Persia and advisor to the King, dances his plots for control and vengeance against the Jewish people to another of Rempel’s originals, a brooding guitar solo. Mordechai refuses to bow down to Hamen (“Fly to Zion”), and Esther asks her people to fast and pray with her before she approaches the king with her request for salvation (“I Don’t Mind Waiting” and “When You Believe”). The ballet concludes with the downfall of Hamen and a raucous celebration of courage, faith, and final victory (the choir’s new medley of “I Smile/Today’s a New Day” and “Joy in my Soul”). Brown promises to have the audience singing along by the ballet’s finale.

Choreographically, Donna and Hannah are fusing and abstracting diverse dance styles as a springboard for the story’s dramatic themes, showcasing the artistry, versatility, and dramatic range of their company’s critically acclaimed artists. Specifically, they are drawing inspiration from Donna’s work with the Feast of the Tabernacles in Jerusalem. The well-versed dance theatergoer may also see a movemental homage or two to Alvin Ailey’s seminal Revelations.

Ballet Fantastique principal dancer Leanne Mizzoni will dance Hadassah/Esther; Justin Feimster is King Xerxes; Hannah Bontrager is the Spirit; Caitlin Christopher, Ashley Bontrager, and Krislyn Wessel are Queen Vashti and her ladies, Amitis and Cassandane (real historical Persian princesses); Lydia Rakov is Zeresh. Argentinian guest dancer Ernesto Lea Place, a Ballet Fantastique audience favorite, will dance the part of Hamen. Guest actor Jim Ballard is Hagai, keeper of the Harem, and Brown himself will play the part of Mordechai as he leads the choir in the story’s song and inspires Esther’s faith and bravery.

“The story of Esther is very powerful and as a female and a Jew, I feel her story is very important,” says Lydia Rakov, Ballet Fantastique company dancer. “The holiday of Purim is the telling of the Esther story and I have always loved it. The story of her wisdom, bravery, and courage is one to be admired. We’re telling audiences not to miss this ballet!”

Tickets are available in-person at the Hult Center or online at balletfantastique.org.

Also coming up: Open Barre, Ballet Fantastique’s unique Wednesday night open rehearsal series at the Ballet Fantastique studio (960 Oak) is back on April 30, 2014 at 6:30-8pm. Guests can enjoy a tasting of local wine from William Rose Wines, light hors d’oeuvres inspired by the concept courtesy of Party Downtown and Vanilla Jill’s Frozen Yogurt, and an open rehearsal with Donna and Hannah and the dancers. Admission includes a suggested donation of $10—free for season subscribers.

5 Reasons why YOU should come to The Book of Esther!

As May briskly approaches the dancers have begun preparing for the premiere of The Book of Esther: A Rock Gospel Ballet running April 9-11at the Hult Center.

For this performance, BFan will partner with the multi-year national award-winning UO Gospel Singers to re-imagine the spellbinding biblical story of a young Jewish girl who risked her life to serve god and save her people.

With the mix of live gospel music and ballet, this collaboration captivates the audience through the uplifting music and choreography narrates the story of the powerful legend throughout the performance.

Company dancers Ashley Bontrager and Krislyn Wessel share five reasons why they believe everyone should come to this performance:

1. It is a very inspiring true story that we are portraying.

2. It is going to be different than anything you have ever seen Bfan do before!

3. Our dancers are becoming more precise, confident and strong on stage with every show.

4. The music is unlike anything we have ever done before.

5. You never know what the directors have up their sleeve for this show.

– Krislyn

 

Photo: Woden Photography

Photo: Woden Photography

 

1. It’s a really amazing story that focuses on the wit of one woman to save her people, not many people know this story.

2. We’re collaborating with the Eugene Gospel choir; they say that the audience will definitely get involved.

3. This ballet will touch people’s hearts in a sentimental and spiritual way

4. The costumes will be beautiful, as always.

5. You will hear some songs you recognize and the fact that we are doing ballet to it will be a new experience for audience members.

- Ashley

Don’t want to miss out? You can purchase your tickets for The Book of Esther: A Rock Gospel Ballet, HERE!

Meet our Portland Getaway Raffle Winner!

This week we asked our lucky Portland Getaway raffle winners how they felt about winning such an extravagant trip worth over $1,000!  Many people entered, but only one could be a winner! All of the proceeds benefit Ballet Fantastique and we are so appreciative of your support!

As you know, this basket included things like a two-night stay in the Waterfront Marriott, a wine tasting and tour for four at Seven Bridges Winery, passes for the Lan Su Chinese Gardens, Pittock Mansion, Portland Art Museum, Portland Center Stage, and many more certificates for delicious, Portland-unique restaurants and bakeries!

Portland Getaway Raffle

Here is what our winners, Susan and Karl, had to say:

Bfan: What made you decide to purchase a Portland Getaway raffle ticket?
Susan: BFan always puts together great raffle basket packages, so we buy tickets at every performance. We particularly enjoy going to Portland and thought it sounded like a fantastic gift package, as well as a great excuse to get away for a weekend!
 
BFan: What are you most excited about for the Portland Getaway?
Susan: We are so excited about the entire raffle package…2 nights in a nice hotel, lots of food and drink vouchers to great restaurants we are looking forward to visiting, as well as tickets to theater, gardens and museums…we will have to make more than one trip to fit it all in.
 
BFan: When are you planning on going? 
SusanWe have yet to schedule it, but we are going as soon as we can!
 
BFan: What made you decide to come to Tales From the Floating World premiere? 
Susan: We come to all of BFan’s great ballets because our daughter is an apprentice at BFan.
 
BFan: What did you like most about the show?
Susan: Since you know our daughter is in the show, we enjoyed watching her dance the most. In addition, the drum and koto music was fantastic (as well as all the other dancing).

 

Did you like this raffle but didn’t win? As a special SNEAK PEAK for our raffle at our spring premiere, The Book of Esther, A Rock Gospel Ballet, we will be having a beautiful Oregon Coast Getaway! Stay tuned for more details!

 

 

Thank you for letting us dance away with our Kickstarter!

kickstarter

Photo by Jared Mills, Woden Photography

February has been an exciting month for us, with wrapping up our all-new production, Tales from the Floating World, releasing new merchandise (ask us about this if you’d like to order BFan items) and indulging in good wine and food at our Caribbean-inspired Cooking with the Choreographers event. The cherry on top was the fact that we were able to meet our Kickstarter goal of raising $5,400! In fact, we surpassed it with a total of $5,941 thanks to everyone’s (arch) support!

Our goal with the Kickstarter was to help us fund new pointe shoes for our dancers. Pointe shoes are essential for ballerinas, and at BFan we work 12 months a year so our dancers go through countless pairs of shoes. This blog post from Capezio describes in detail just how many pairs of pointe shoes dancers can go through. A pair costs approximately $75 and considering that each dancer can go though three pairs of them within a week of performances, the cost for shoes quickly adds up! Our dancers pay for their own shoes, sometimes using grocery money to buy new pairs. Therefore, we asked everyone – our friends, fans and the public – to help us raise $5,400 ($75/pair x 6 company dancers x 12 months) so that we can continue to produce new art without putting our dancers’ feet in danger.

Worn out ballet shoes in the BFan studio.

Worn out ballet shoes in the BFan studio.

Yes, you read that right. Dancing with worn out pointe shoes can be highly dangerous. Dancers call these shoes “dead shoes” because the shanks become broken and dancers can feel their big toes touching the floor. A soft platform and box are also signs of a dead shoe. (Check out this article for pointe shoe anatomy.) Dead shoes are no longer supportive, so continuing to use them makes the dancer more susceptible to injury and causes significant stress on her feet and bones. Healthy feet are crucial for ballerinas to be able to dance, so replacing old shoes with new shoes is a must!

“I am excited and thrilled that so many people donated to us,” says BFan dancer Leanne Mizzoni. “Honestly, I didn’t think we’d reach our goal, so this is amazing and a blessing!”

Company Dancer, Leanne, appreciates being able to comfortably dance in her pointe shoes!

Company Dancer, Leanne, appreciates being able to comfortably dance in her pointe shoes!

We couldn’t have reached our goal without all of your help! Thanks to you, our dancers can rest assured that they will have supportive pointe shoes throughout the rest of the year!

Lights, Costumes, Pointe Shoes, ACTION!

“Dress rehearsal is extremely important for us because we get to practice with everything, from costumes to lights to music. I like it because I get used to how the show will flow.” – Leanne Mizzoni

Lights, costumes, pointe shoes, ACTION! This week, and despite the snow, Ballet Fantastique company dancers spent hours at dress rehearsal preparing for the upcoming Tales from the Floating World performances.

Photo: Stephanie Urso

Photo: Stephanie Urso

“Dress rehearsals can sometimes be a lot of fun, although they are always a lot of work!” – Lydia Rakov

Photo: Stephanie Urso

Photo: Stephanie Urso

BFan is ecstatic to continue the NEW LEGENDS season with Tales from the Floating World, a landmark contemporary ballet premiere inspired by the haunting and powerful music of Portland Taiko and live koto player Mitsuki Dazai.

Photo: Stephanie Urso

Photo: Stephanie Urso

Despite the snow, BFan is still going forward with this absolutely gorgeous show and truly hope to have a nice turnout of brave folks tonight (we are almost sold out!) because you won’t want to miss it!

For more information regarding tickets, CLICK HERE.