Beyond ballet

April 12, 2018 GMT

What started as a simple ballet has become a synthesis of inspired art, a moving sculpture of visual, performance and auditory elements.

“This collaboration of the show ‘Peer Gynt’ is so unique, so rich and so enticing for all people to see,” artist Satoko Motouji said.

Paintings, dance and orchestra each play a starring role in Eugene Ballet’s performance of the Norwegian fairy tale “Peer Gynt” on the Hult Center’s Silva Concert Hall stage this weekend.

Toni Pimble, Eugene Ballet’s artistic director, said she first thought about doing “Peer Gynt” as a ballet more than two years ago. Early in the process, her vision for the stage was different than anything the ballet company had done before.

“I wanted something seamless and different than traditional backdrops and already knew Satoko and her remarkable watercolor paintings and deeply admired (the) nonliteral feel she creates in her works,” she said. “I wanted that feel for the scenes of the ballet.”

Pimble asked Motouji if she would consider making paintings to be the background scenes in the ballet, and the multifaceted artistic project began. “I was inspired by the idea for this collaboration because I have never done anything like this before,” Motouji said. “I began reading the story and listening to the score for the ballet to find my vision for the works.”

Chronicling the journey of character Peer Gynt from the Norwegian mountains to the North African desert, the play, written by Henrik Ibsen, adventures through the real and surreal, touches romantic borders as well as tragic ones, and results in a story of redemption.

Motouji said she painted eight or nine paintings for the ballet’s 11 scenes — some will be shown in the ballet more than once — that capture the “abstract, esoteric vision” that she and Pimble desired.

“At a certain point, I became so relaxed about the work and really let myself be immersed in it, and that’s when I made the right paintings,” she said.

The paintings range in color, style and mood, corresponding and supporting the narrative of the ballet. As in the show, none of the paintings are literal. They display “rhythm, transformation of colors and an element of surrealism and unpredictability,” Pimble said.

The music for the ballet came from Pimble’s adaptation of the play’s original music, composed by Norwegian Edvard Grieg, into an original score, which will be performed live by Orchestra Next.

“We’ve all come to realize that it’s so much better to let this great partnership take place between the artists and designers and the musicians,” Motouji said. “It just makes the whole project so much richer.”

The production is designed for viewers to see the paintings, which are on display in the White Lotus Gallery, before seeing the ballet. The paintings are traditionally sized and were professionally photographed and enlarged to be 50 feet wide and 26 feet tall to become the scenes in the ballet.

“Satoko did not create enormous watercolor paintings as many people think. They are traditional, truly beautiful paintings adding so much to this gallery,” Pimble said. “And the enlarged photographs of them will add so much to the ballet.”

In addition to the scenic paintings, Motouji made a number of paintings that feature ballet dancers and characters themselves. They are on display among the scenic pieces at the gallery.

“I began thinking about the show separately from the production and wanted to create a narrative for the gallery,” she said. “These watercolor paintings of the dancers help carry along the narrative and story in the gallery, encouraging people to see the performance on stage.”

In the ballet’s final scene, the first painting will be reintroduced, appearing first in sepia, and slowly coming into full color — creating the play’s sense of redemption, the sense of hope, Motouji said.

“People will be immersed in this collaboration of art, from the dancers and the live music to Satoko’s paintings creating these elegant scenes,” Pimble said. “This is truly our most entrancing show.”

Follow Morgan on Twitter @morgan_theophil . Email morgan.theophil@registerguard.com .