The Book of Esther: A Rock Gospel Ballet!


    • 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
    • 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; 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

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!


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.

Q&A With the Chefs!

Ballet Fantastique is getting so excited for our upcoming event Cooking with the Choreographers! With just over two weeks left, we wanted to get to know one of the chefs that is helping us make this event happen: Tiffany from Party Downtown!

Tiffany from Party Downtown cooking up a specialty!

She tells us all about what her and Mark have planned for the evening, along with what she’s looking forward to and what her favorite dishes are!

Don’t miss out on this Caribbean feast. It’s going to be a lot of fun!

February 16th at 5pm

Save $10/ticket when you purchase before Feb. 12th.

BFan: What do you have planned for the event?

Tiffany: Emily from Red Wagon is demoing flambéed bananas right in the dining room! Plus I’ll be showing my technique for pie crust, which I get asked about A LOT!

BFan: Why are you passionate about serving local, organic, and creative food?

Tiffany: Mark and I love food. Eating it. Cooking it. Talking about it. So we just want the best food possible which we have available to us locally! And luckily it’s almost all organically grown if not certified organic!

BFan: Why do you think the Caribbean theme is going to be special and fun?

Tiffany: I love the opportunity to cook Caribbean food in February! We’re jumping a little outside of our local theme by using organic mangoes, coconuts, and other tropical foods. Something new to brighten up this winter!!

BFan: What should our guests be looking forward to?

Tiffany: Wine! Just kidding! I’m excited to see Mark’s [from William Rose Wines/Oregon Wine LAB] pairings with the food. Also Doubles (the curried chickpea flat bread) is one of our favorite things to make. We’ve been making them for years!

BFan: What is your favorite thing on the menu for Cooking with the Choreographers?

Tiffany: Coconut and banana is my favorite dessert combo and we don’t do it because of our local theme. So for me, I can’t wait to try the dessert!

BFan: How excited are you for the event?

Tiffany: We love entertaining a great group of happy people in our space!


For more information on this upcoming BFan event, click here!

Meet Mitsuki Dazai!

This week we got the chance to interview one of our guest artists for our winter premiere of 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.

As a sneak peak for our audience, Mitsuki recently played at our Open Barre this past Wednesday night at the Oregon Wine Lab. Everyone loved her beautiful melodies that accompanied the ballet performance.


Photo by John Spicer

Photo by John Spicer


Ballet Fantastique wanted everyone to have a chance to get to know Mitsuki and learn a little bit more about her art, so we asked her a few questions:

BFan: For those of us who are not familiar with Koto, how would you explain it?

Mitsuki: Koto is one of the traditional musical instruments of Japan. It is a string instrument with 13 strings on top of the hollow paulownia wood body and bridges in between. This instrument was brought originally from China over a thousand years ago.

BFan: How did you get involved with it?

Mitsuki: I studied western classical music first. I loved singing and learned mainly Italian/German songs from Bach to Donizetti, and went to a college of music in Tokyo. Soon I realized though…. I was not grown in the culture yet, you must express it dramatically. It was very difficult.
I also took ethnomusicology class and studied music from many different countries. It immediately caught my mind. Soon after I picked up an LP record of koto music and just fell in love with the beautiful/sensitivity/powerful and unique sounds of koto.

BFan: For you, what is the best part of playing?

Mitsuki: In one aspect, music allows me to keep growing, meeting new people and expand my world. In another aspect, I feel like I make “just a sheet music on papers” wake up and come ALIVE! It is like an adventure to the new world to start the new piece. It is also just fun to play both physically and mentally. I may be addicted to playing this instrument as many professionals feeling the same thing.
BFan: How did koto music merge in with Eugene, Oregon?

Mitsuki: Simply, I met a man who is from this area. (I actually live in Creswell). Most of my performances/lessons are in the Portland area and I commute 2-3 times (or even more)/month. Then my husband and I got serious about moving up in the Portland area and started looking for a house, but every time we came back, it felt like we were “coming home” and realized that we love living here.
BFan: How long do you usually prepare for a show?

Mitsuki: It is depending on the length of the program and what kind of music, but in general I need 3 months.
BFan: What kinds of things can we expect to see at the premiere in February?

Mitsuki: I have been playing as a soloist for over 10 years here in Oregon and have always wanted to collaborate with other artists, especially, thinking it would be very interesting and exciting to collaborate with visual artists (video, photo, dance, ballet, etc). Music may sound different with them and vice versa.
It is a great honor for me to join this show and I hope the audience will enjoy the beautiful ballet show with unique textures of Japanese music.

If you want to know more about Mitsuki Dazai and her koto playing, click here!