The return of Odyssey Dance Theatre’s ‘Thriller’ continues a Park City tradition
What: Odyssey Dance Theatre’s “Thriller”
When: Sept. 20-22, 26-29 and Oct. 2-6
Where: The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St.
Derryl Yeager doesn’t really like horror flicks.
That may come as a surprise to fans of Odyssey Dance Theatre artistic director’s annual Halloween-inspired “dance macabre” known as “Thriller,” which will run for three weekends, starting Friday, at the Egyptian Theatre.
“I rarely go out and watch these kinds of movies,” Yeager said. “I’m not a huge fan, but here I am doing this Halloween show for the past 23 years.”
Apparently, Yeager has been doing something right, because audiences fill the seats to see “Thriller,” which is also presented in Ogden, St. George, Logan, Price, Provo and Salt Lake City, he said.
It’s a unique performance where people can get an eyeful of grooving zombies, hip-hopping mummies, rhythm-chasing masked murderers and a Frankenstein monster pas de deux.
The secret of “Thriller’s” longevity lies within the production’s humor, Yeager said.
“There are always scary elements, but the funny parts in the show are what people really respond to,” he said. “Laughing in a dance concert is very unusual, but when you have some really scary elements, humor relieves a lot of the tension and makes it fun.”
“Jason Jam” is one of those funny pieces, according to Yeager.
“When we first started this whole thing, the piece was nine minutes long, but now, since we’ve been expanding it, the piece runs between 15 to 20 minutes,” he said.
“Jason Jam” features a trio of hockey-masked serial murderers, and while two of them try to maintain their menacing reputations with chainsaws and machetes, one just can’t get the hang of things, Yeager said.
“He’s the one who is easily distracted by things like a teddy bear,” Yeager said with a laugh. “He tries to be mean, but ends up being a misfit.”
This year Yeager will introduce a new scary work called “Annabelle of the Ball.” The piece is based on “The Conjuring” universe’s “Annabelle” series, which revolves around a satanic doll.
“I actually did see ‘Annabelle,’” Yeager said with a laugh. “I thought it was pretty good.”
Yeager decided to do a dance piece based on “Annabelle” when he found a bunch of Annabelle masks.
“These masks are really creepy, and the piece is about a bunch of Annabelles who come and attack the dancers,” he said. “We have devised an effect where it looks like the Annabelle dancers rise up out of the floor, and it’s actually kind of scary.”
Yeager choreographed another new work, “Trick Or Treat,” that will make its debut to close the performance this year.
In years past, “Thriller” features a work called “The River of Blood Dance,” which featured Irish step dancers who were set up in a tongue-in-cheek shooting gallery. Last year, Yeager pulled the pice due to recent mass shootings and the debate over gun rights and gun control. So this year, he decided create “Trick or Treat” to fill its place.
“‘Trick Or Treat’ is a huge production number that has a lot of blacklight, strobes and dancing robots,” Yeager said. “We have the robots dub-stepping around, and I think it turned out pretty neat and cool.”
Another new element Yeager will bring to Park City are aerialists who will perform between the big numbers. The aerialists will replace Bubbles the Clown, who would tell jokes while dancers and the stage crew changed sets.
The aerialists perform a Phantom of the Opera theme, and will also perform as snakes in another segment, according to Yeager.
“We have been presenting the aerialists in Salt Lake during our run at Kingsbury Hall for the past few years, and we’ve figured out how to make them work in the Egyptian Theatre,” he said. “They will be flying around in that little theater, and I’m excited to bring this whole new element in and share it with Park City.”
While longtime audiences will enjoy a fresh experience with the new works, Yeager knows many people return year after year to see “Thriller’s” staples, including the title piece, “Curse of the Mummy” and “Frankenstein and Frankenstein.”
“We have to do ‘Thriller,’ because not only is it the name of the show, but because zombies have to dance,” Yeager said. “You never see them dancing in ‘The Walking Dead,’ but you will in our show, and we have to thank Michael Jackson for the inspiration.”
Although “Curse of the Mummy” is about someone who was buried 3,000 years ago in Egypt, the piece “never gets old,” Yeager said.
“It’s simple,” he said. “He wakes up, and then wakes up his maidens and crew to have a party.”
The one thing that does make Yeager feel old is that many of the dancers who perform “Thriller” today weren’t born when Odyssey Dance Theatre premiered the show in 1996.
“One day I turned around and can’t tell you where the time went,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s very gratifying to be able to carry on a tradition for all of these years. It shows how strong the show is.”
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