Pinball, ballet and classic rock: Eugene Ballet’s ‘Tommy’ is coming to the Hult Center

Set aside, for a moment, what do you think a ballet should look like. Replace the twinkling classical music with an album by The Who. Replace the tutus with dancing pinball machines.

Sound intriguing? This is Eugene Ballet’s upcoming production of Tommy, a brand-new rock opera ballet choreographed by company artistic director Toni Pimble. Tommy will be performed at the Hult Center in Downtown Eugene for just two shows: Saturday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday April 12 at 2 p.m.

Tommy tells the story of a young boy who finds fame and fulfillment thanks to a talent for pinball. The ballet is set to the music of The Who’s iconic album by the same name. The Eugene Ballet has adapted rock albums in the past (Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, for example), but according to Pimble, Tommy is “a first” in that it combines the music of a concept album with a specific plot.

This combination is both difficult and exciting for the company.

“Because Tommy is telling a specific story and each scene is vignette length, creating a seamless story that flows from scene to scene easily was challenging,” Pimble said. For Pimble, however, “creating new work is always rewarding.”

Tommy also features a live band, which Pimble described as extremely energizing for both the dancers, and the show as a whole.

“They are as much a part of the performance for us as the dancers,” she said. The music is close to Pimble’s heart. As a self-described “baby boomer,” she grew up with The Who. “Tommy the rock opera has great music in it and I am sure many students don’t know the music and would love it,” she said.

Tommy’s transcendence of ‘normal’ ballet standards doesn’t stop at the soundtrack. The entire rock opera ballet pushes the boundaries of classical ballet. The choreography features large, moving pinball machines — the dancers had to practice with Bi-mart shopping carts to prevent onstage collisions — and for both performances, the Hult Center lobby will feature pinball machines and arcade games for audience members to enjoy.

Additionally, the show opens with a performance of Fluctuating Hemlines, a ballet by Septime Webre, artistic director of the Washington Ballet in Washington, D.C.. The piece is set to percussion music by Robert Benford, and explores the way people hide their true natures through social behavior.

Taken together, this production promises to be no ordinary evening of ballet. According to Pimble, Tommy will be worthwhile for aficionados and newcomers alike. “The storyline has a strong message about overcoming tribulations by pursuing your passion and not losing sight of reality,” she said. “A ballet like Tommy is a great way to be introduced to dance and to the Eugene Ballet Company”

Tommy is about an hour long, with no intermission. Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased online. See the Eugene Ballet website for more information.

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Rachel Benner

Rachel Benner

Rachel is a Theatre writer for the Arts and Culture Desk.