To say Eugene has a thriving artistic community is an understatement. Impressively, the Hult Center is home to not one, but two resident dance companies, both led by women. Which according to the Dance Data Project is atypical, which of course, is very Eugene.
We spoke with Toni Pimble (Artistic Director and Co-Founder, Eugene Ballet) and Hannah Bontrager (Founding Executive Director and Co-Choreographer Producer, Ballet Fantastique) regarding this research that places both Eugene Dance companies on the US Top 100.
How does it feel to have made this list?
Toni Pimble: Eugene Ballet is proud to be listed as one of the top 50 ballet companies in the United States. It bolsters our belief that you do not have to reside in a large city to create a performing arts company of value both in terms of the work created by the company and the support of the community in which it thrives.
Hannah Bontrager: There are few cities in the entire US (think NYC, Denver, SF) with more than one company on the DDP Top 100 list. For Eugene to be one of just a handful of cities makes me so proud of not only this genre-defying ballet company we’ve built—but also the community in which we’ve built it. This city is special and Ballet Fantastique’s work is unique. We feel seen and basically just filled with gratitude for the work we get to do. I love that my work lights me on fire. This list means that this work is impacting more people. Yes!
How does this data inspire, drive, or motivate you and your art?
Toni Pimble: This data gives credence to the high standing of our company as a superlative performing arts group, not only in Eugene but, in the state of Oregon. It confirms our belief that we matter as an arts organization. Our mission is to inspire and to educate. Dance as an education is invaluable in teaching students the physical and mental discipline of dance which in turn gives them confidence, conceptual awareness and a love of moving to music. We will continue to offer our students opportunities to interact with the professional company so that, while striving to continue to grow as a performing arts organization, we do not lose the “family” feel so important to fostering a sense of belonging in all who step through our doors.
Hannah Bontrager: After two babies and a pandemic (my boys, Finn and Liam, are now one and three), I feel like we’re just hitting our stride in this new world space. BFan’s audience and reach grew dramatically during our pandemic innovations, and then as we returned to the theater. We’re currently in the process of finally bringing our new Robin Hood & Maid Marian project to the stage (Mother’s Day weekend at the Hult). It’s SO FUN to be creating a new “quintessentially BFan” project—but “leveled up” with all of the learning of who we are as a company, now. The project features collaborations with Cirque du Soleil’s Raymond Silos as Friar Tuck, an original score written for this project by our dear friend, the fabulous Liza Carbé (Paramount Pictures), live music from a new group (Nottingham) that formed just for this world premiere, the return of the amazing Fredrick Davis (freelance international artist and former principal, Dance Theatre of Harlem), plus our first collab with Lord of the Rings fight choreographer Michelle Ladd for our fight scenes (she discovered us during the pandemic and is a new self-professed die-hard BFan and she’s AMAZING), and an all-female team of creatives at the helm. It is SUCH an honor. This data recognizes the type of work that we’re doing and its scale of it.
What does it say about Eugene and it’s appreciation for dance?
Toni Pimble: Eugene has a strong performing arts community with outstanding performances in music, dance and theater. Dance matters in our community as a universal form of expression. Audiences come together to experience dance from Eugene Ballet knowing that, while they may not like every work they see on a program, they will see excellent work of the highest professional standard. I personally enjoy speaking with audience members during intermissions and after the performances to hear their impressions of the ballets they have seen. By their longevity, many of our company dancers have created their own fan base. For our audience, this speaks to the stability of our company and our commitment to our artists. Audiences see/understand and appreciate that.
Hannah Bontrager: We built Ballet Fantastique in Eugene. I’ve been a fan of Eugene Ballet since I was a little girl! It is an institution on a national scale in its own right and has inspired me personally so much. Knowing that there was no need to duplicate EBC’s phenomenal work here in our community gave us this challenge and opportunity: How could we create something different, serve our city, discover new artists, build something unique? BFan wouldn’t be the company it is today if we were charged with being the only local ballet company and with the responsibility to present classical works that audiences still want and need to see. The fact that these two companies are in this city is a phenomenal thing. Many cities of Eugene’s size don’t even support ONE ballet company on this list.
I also want to say that seeing Toni at the helm showed me from my early ballerina days that women can run ballet companies. I never questioned for one minute that it was possible or that I was allowed. Now, I want to be part of showing that to the next generation of artists and makers.
What can we expect in the future from your companies?
Toni Pimble: Eugene Ballet will continue to create innovative full-length ballets and shorter works. We will continue to introduce our audience to the very best works of contemporary choreographers in our field. Eugene Ballet’s. We will continue to expand our dance education and performance opportunities for our students.
Hannah Bontrager: BFan is here to stay, to grow, to collaborate, to build new generations of artists and audiences, and serve fresh artistic voices that uplift our community. We love what we do and we are hungry for what’s next, for more. Thank you for breaking ballet rules with us! We can’t wait to dance for you.
Catch Ballet Fantastique’s Robin Hood & Maid Marian on May 11 and Eugene Ballet’s The Little Mermaid on May 20.
Learn more about this data at Dance Data Project and in the Eugene Ballet Blog.