Salem Symphonic Winds and Rainbow Dance Theatre partner for stunning, colorful tango

Salem Symphonic Winds is once again partnering with Rainbow Dance Theatre – a troupe whose performance is captivating enough to divert the band’s attention away from the conductor’s baton. 

“It’s a challenge for the musicians to keep their eyes off the dancers and on their music,” conductor John Skelton said as he laughed.

On Sunday, Jan. 29, the groups will perform the U.S. premiere of the “Tango Suite” from Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla’s 1968 opera “María de Buenos Aires.” The show will include vocal and instrumental soloists, and additional songs about nature.

The groups have adapted the original tango opera that depicts the life, death and hauntings of a woman named María, a sex worker who is killed on the streets of Buenos Aires.

Rainbow Dance Theatre, the resident ensemble at Western Oregon University, developed its choreography as a more abstract visualization focusing on women’s rights, Skelton said.

The dancers will be in elaborate costumes, including some lit with LED lights and others covered in mirrors that reflect under the stage lighting. It is the third collaboration between Salem Symphonic Winds and the dance group.They last performed together in 2018.

“It’s quite a show. We’ve always been knocked out by what Rainbow Dance Theatre does, it’s kind of over the top,” Skelton said. “There’s other effects that no one would expect from a dance troupe. I think it’s fun to have surprises that way.”

The show’s first performance on Jan. 8 in Monmouth was well received, he said. 

The performance is more family-friendly than the original opera, with most of the adult themes of María’s life left to the plot summary in the program.

“Frankly, I love the full opera but I know that opera is an acquired taste for some people,” he said. “Our singer is someone who, I think, they’ll have no trouble connecting with.”

Hannah Penn, a mezzo-soprano, will be singing in Spanish. She has performed in over 20 operas, including in Portland and Eugene.

“Her voice is a really low and sultry kind of beautiful. There’s times when I’ve said ‘this could be a lullaby,’” he said. “It’s that kind of richness.”

Tommy Thompson, who was string bass in the Oregon Symphony for 35 years, will perform the opera’s accordion solos.

Sunday’s program also includes the pieces “Unveiling,” and a Grand Canyon-inspired song “Sunrise at Angel’s Gate.” The piece “Sheltering Sky” will play with an animated film.

“Our Cast Aways,” composed by Julie Giroux, was inspired by pets left in shelters across the country.

During the piece, Salem Symphonic Winds will project photos of adoptable pets from the Oregon Humane Society during the performance, as well as photos of family pets submitted by community youth.

Skelton said the entire show will be entertaining and visually stunning. 

“We’re real proud of what we’re bringing,” he said.

The concert starts at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29, at South Salem High School’s Rose Auditorium, 700 Howard Street S.E.

Tickets are available through the Salem Symphonic Winds website. Admission for youth under 18 is $5, and $10 for college students. Tickets are $15 for people over age 60. Adult tickets are $20, and reserved seating is $25.

Clarification: South Salem High School’s address has been updated to a closer entrance to the auditorium, at 700 Howard Street S.E.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.