Award-winning dance macabre returns to Park City
September 20, 2016
For the past two decades, dance audiences from around the state have become "Thriller" seekers.
They are the ones who can't wait until Odyssey Dance Theatre's award-winning annual run of "Thriller," a Halloween-flavored evening of repertoire, ushers in the season.
Although the production will open in various venues around Utah in the coming weeks, Park City's Egyptian Theatre is the official starting line with three weekends' worth of performances.
"We've been coming up there for six years, and we love it," said Odyssey Dance Theatre Artistic Director Derryl Yeager during an interview. "It's been fun for us because Park City is such a great audience. We've been in rehearsals for two weeks and we have a group of really great dancers who are ready to come up to Park City next week."
This year's performances will run three weekends — Sept. 23 to Sept. 25, Sept. 29 to Oct. 2 and Oct. 6 to Oct. 9.
Yeager said he still can't believe that this year is "Thriller's" 20th anniversary.
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"That means there are kids in the company now who weren't born when we first started this," he said. "I just thought of that and that's scaring me now."
However, being around for that long shows the production's staying power.
"We also do little tweaks here and there, but everything is still recognizable and that's when you find the staple pieces are still really good and they still work," Yeager said.
In fact, the production has a string of staples that have been showcased from the beginning: the zombie stomp of "Thriller," the comedic pas de deux "Frankenstein," the acrobatic contemporary work "Lost Boys," the rhythmic "Jason Jam," the Irish tap of "River of Blood Dance" and American tap of "Dem Bones."
Those also prove to be the show's most difficult works, according to Yeager.
"We just have to get the dancers to the point where they can do [them]," he said. "It requires them to up their ante and rise to the standards we set for the show all of those years ago.
"For example, 'The River of Blood Dance' is so hard that many girls who are first learning it end up in a puddle on the floor because of the sequence," Yeager said. "Irish tap is so different than American tap, and we always start on that right away because it takes time to settle in."
But the whole show is like that.
"It looks deceptively easy, because the audience thinks that we're all out there clowning around, but I love the look on the dancers' faces the first time we run through the program's title piece 'Thriller,'" Yeager said. "When it ends and the dancers are all gasping for breath, I say, 'And that's just the opening number.'"
Still, Yeager is proud of how difficult the choreography is.
"With the advent of all of this contemporary choreography that has emerged in the past few years, I realize that many dancers don't have good technique," he said.
Yeager thinks a lot of that comes from doing short numbers that clock in at an average of one and a half minutes.
"I mean, 'Frankenstein' is six and a half minutes long and 'The Mummy' is seven minutes long, as is 'Lost Boys,'" he said. "It's also challenging in just how long they are, but also how taxing they are in the purely physical sense.
"So, for us to be able to show the difficult steps and have them do them at the end of an already exhausting piece and make it look good is rewarding," Yeager said. "And for them to realize how hard it all is and then be able to do it correctly is even better."
To be fair, Yeager isn't a sadist who unleashes the whole danse macabre without a little warning.
"When we bring new dancers in, we do three days of what we call boot camp," he said. "We cram tons and tons of choreography into their heads and then we bring the veterans in and start pacing the pieces.
"Even the vets also come to boot camp because they know they will also get their butts in shape," he said. "These pieces continue to challenge, and they are the ones that bring the audiences back year after year and sometimes multiple times in one season. They are what people want to see."
The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., will present the Odyssey Dance Theatre's "Thriller" for three weekends: Sept. 23 to Sept. 25, Sept. 29 to Oct. 2 and Oct. 6 to Oct. 9. Evening curtain is 7:30 p.m. Sunday's performances start at 6 p.m. and there will be a special matinee on Oct. 8 at 3 p.m. Thursday and Sunday, Sept. 25, tickets range from $19 to $29. Tickets for Fridays Saturdays and Sundays range from $23 to $35. For more information and to buy tickets, visit http://www.parkcityshows.com.