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Byline: Fred Crafts The Register-Guard

SWORDS FLASHING and foes falling, D'Artagnan and the three Musketeers - Porthos, Aramis and Athos - have at last vanquished their foes. In a moment of supreme triumph, they turn to each other, slap their swords together and shout - nothing.

This is a ballet. Ballets have no words. A gesture must convey it all, and this sword-smashing display of unity fairly shouts the motto, "All for one and one for all."

Projecting that famous phrase across the footlights was a key hurdle that Eugene Ballet artistic director and chorographer Toni Pimble had to clear as she turned Alexander Dumas' swashbuckler into a full-length dance opus.

Trimming Dumas' novel down to a two-hour action libretto, creating her own musical "soundscape" and teaching dancers to fight with swords were other challenges Pimble had to overcome.

In Pimble's sleek version, a young Gascon gentleman, D'Artagnan, sets out to Paris to join the king's musketeers. He wins the respect of three musketeers by displaying courage and heart. They become inseparable as they battle the red-clad swordsmen of the wicked Cardinal Richelieu and thwart his scheme to disgrace their queen.

Underscoring the action will be a sound collage that Pimble assembled herself using recordings of music by such Renaissance composers as Praetorius, Maniero, Johnson and others. For the court scenes, she drew from Baroque composers including Scarlatti, Handel, Corelli, Marcello and Vivaldi.

Right in the thick of the fray will be 25-year-old Eugene Ballet newcomer Jonathan Guise as D'Artagnan. He will be swordfighting - in seven sequences, some of them 50 to 100 moves long - for the first time in his life, with the guidance of master swordsman Christopher Villa.

"He's got me doing all this spinning and twirling stuff with the sword, which I would never have dreamed I could do," Guise says.

Most of the Eugene Ballet company has taken Villa's crash course in swordfighting. "It looks very flashy, and I love that," Pimble says.

Ballerina Brett Mills, who plays the queen's maid, agrees. She doesn't fight with swords, but one breaks out right next to her: "The sound of the swords whizzing by is a little scary. It looks so real. I dodge a lot."

As a fight choreographer, Villa brings the dancers along slowly, so they can gain confidence and avoid injuring themselves. They wear no protective padding.

"I tell the dancers, `Your armor is the rehearsal period and your ability to focus on the work and be clear about what you're doing at any particular moment,'' he says. ``If you do the right move at the right time in the right place, then everything will be fine. But if any of those things is missing, then you're in danger.''

In a thoughtful process that he's refined since 1976 through some 350 assignments with the Oregon and Utah Shakespeare festivals and Universal Studios, among others, Villa gradually increases the tempo until the swordplay is at full speed, timed to the music.

"I'm a coach in a lot of respects. I teach them the basic plays; they run them; then I tell them how to win the game," he says. "If they foul up a move here or there, that's their fault, but if they're not prepared for the whole game, that's my fault."

Villa's star pupil is Guise, who will play D'Artagnan as an eager country boy.

"D'Artagnan is a very show-off role. That's what I like about him," says Guise, who has danced with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Florida Ballet and Boston Ballet.

"He's got a boyish character, and I, fortunately, have a boyish face, with some dimples in it. That helps out a bit. Since he's got that farm boy mentality, he's got a lot of comedy. He's got a lot of heart. He's an idiot at times, but he knows the right thing to do and always does it," he says.

An injury almost kept Guise from the role. He fell during the Sept. 24 rehearsal of "Romeo and Juliet" and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. It was surgically repaired Nov. 14 by taking muscle from his hamstring. Ever since, he has been rebuilding both areas, wearing an oversized knee brace in rehearsals.

Villa praises Guise for doing "the best job of any single performer I've ever worked with," but Guise downplays his abilities. "I don't consider myself a swordfighter. I really don't consider myself anything until I can teach it - and I can't teach swordfighting."


What: Alexander Dumas' swashbuckling tale is told by the Eugene Ballet Company, choreographed by Toni Pimble

When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 23

Where: Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center, Seventh and Willamette streets

How much: $18 to $55, through the Hult Center (682-5000)

Fred Crafts can be reached at 338-2575 or


Jonathan Guise dances the role of musketeer D'Artagnan. Peter Pawlyshyn Please turn to BALLET, Page G5
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Title Annotation:Flashy Eugene Ballet adaptation of 'The Three Muskateers'puts a new challenge before the dancers: swordplay; Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 16, 2003
Next Article:Insightful, expressive pianist will play a difficult bit of Mozart.

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