Written by Jerril Nilson
Photography by Antonio Anacan and Ari Denison
Dancers in rehearsal for Suzanne Haag’s Heaven and Earth, photo by Antonio Anacan
Ballets take time. Choreography can be improvised, yet works, especially those that are collaborative in nature, need weeks, sometimes months, to become fully formed and ready for the stage. For Resident Choreographer Suzanne Haag and April’s world premiere of Heaven and Earth, time has just kept ticking away.
Originally scheduled for the 2019–2020 season, Heaven and Earth was the first Eugene Ballet performance to become a pandemic maybe. Now with nearly two years of additional time, the Company, Haag, and musical collaborator Pius Cheung are ready to take this work to the Silva Concert Hall stage.
Cheung, Associate Professor of Percussion at the University of Oregon, composed the piece originally as a commission for Ju Percussion Group in 2014. “It first began as a shorter 15-minute piece for percussion only, no dancers. But I have always felt it was a dance, so when the opportunity came to work with Suzanne and Eugene Ballet, I was thrilled to expand it into a 40-minute, eight movement ballet,” Cheung explained. He noted that, even though this is the first time combining his compositions with movement, “in a way, all percussion playing is movement-based performance. It’s a bit physically challenging at times, but no where near what’s needed for dancers.”
Composer Pius Cheung, photo by Ari Denison
“The original parts from the shorter version haven’t changed drastically. But I inserted different movements and a pas de deux after experimenting and working with Suzanne and some dancers during a workshop in 2019,” Cheung added. He described the improvisational quality of the composition as being “more like a taiko drumming group with specific cues when to move on to the next section.”
Principal dancer Reed Souther in rehearsal for Suzanne Haag’s Heaven and Earth, photo by Antonio Anacan
Cheung, award-winning marimbist Eriko Daimo, and the Orchestra Next Percussion Ensemble, will play, not in the orchestra pit, but on the Silva Concert Hall stage in this mercurial performance. Cheung, in his 11th year at the UO, met Daimo at a summer camp in Appleton, WI, and then attended graduate school together at The Boston Conservatory. Cheung went on to receive his Doctorate from the University of Michigan. Daimo, Director of Marimba Studies at New York University Steinhardt, is also on the pre-college division faculty at The Juilliard School. Both artists are heralded internationally and have performed across the globe.
Composer Pius Cheung and Marimbist Eriko Daimo, photo by Ari Denison
The process of composing the 40-minute score for Heaven and Earth has yielded rewards and challenges for Cheung. The reward? “Experiencing how rhythm inspires movement, and movement inspires rhythm on a whole new level,” he said. The challenges? “I don’t know yet. I let you know after the first rehearsal with dancers” when everyone meets up for the first time in the Hult Center during production week.
While drums, marimbas, and other percussion instruments will be played by the musicians, the dancers are also making music. “I am personally really looking forward to the Time movement, which will have a bunch of gongs flying in from the ceiling and dancers tossing big mallets in the air,” Cheung said.
Principal dancer Koki Yamaguchi and company dancer Sterling Manka in rehearsal for Suzanne Haag’s Heaven and Earth, photo by Antonio Anacan
Out of the pandemic’s chaos, and the composition’s collaboration, Cheung has learned “how to make music that connects with people in the most simple way.” What better time to experience this amazing connection after so many months of being apart.
This Saturday, April 2, Cheung and Daimo will perform the full 40-minute score, in a free preview concert at Beall Concert Hall on the UO campus. More information HERE.
Tickets to Eugene Ballet’s Heaven and Earth on April 16 & 17 can be found HERE.
$15 student tickets are available for both performances, with valid student ID. Buy online, by phone at 541-682-5000 or in person at the Hult Center Ticket Office (Tuesday–Friday, noon to 5:00 pm).
Aspirant Kyra Laubacher and company dancer Ethan Boresow in rehearsal for Suzanne Haag’s Heaven and Earth, photo by Antonio Anacan