Entertainment

Putting the 'tea' in waltz

Gliding to a Strauss waltz, dancers John Burke and Doreen Thompson demonstrate the grace and agility required for ballroom waltz competitions.  - Photo by Nelson Wong
Gliding to a Strauss waltz, dancers John Burke and Doreen Thompson demonstrate the grace and agility required for ballroom waltz competitions.
— image credit: Photo by Nelson Wong

As a prelude to Valentine's Day, the Strathcona Symphony's An Affair in the Afternoon is waltzing into the Comox Valley this Sunday  from 2 to 4 p.m.

This is the fourth year Maestra Pippa Williams and the SSO present an afternoon of treats for the eye, the ears, and the palate.

Combining dance with symphonic offerings from the 19th century waltz kings, the SSO's program is designed to bring out the romantic in us all — and what a treat this old style afternoon tea dance promises to be!

The SSO will fill the Native Sons Hall with dreamy Strauss waltzes and spicy polkas.

Doreen Thompson and John Burke, competitive ballroom dancers from Courtenay, will demonstrate disarmingly sensual waltzes. Choreographed by Bev Martyn, Nanaimo dancers Abby Dishkin and Madison Hovey will bring youthful sparkle to the timeless polka.

Irresistible sweets and treats (some of them gluten-free) have been created especially for this event by the ever-charming SSO auxiliary team.

Conductor Williams, building on the past three years of sold-out performances for An Affair in the Afternoon, delights in the great Strauss melodies.

"All three Strauss composers wrote incredible music — uncomplicated, relaxing, soothing and poetic. It was so fashionable in its time and we're only tapping into a small amount of a vast repertoire.

"For us it's a little like comfort food after a demanding concert of Russian classics a few weeks ago. Much of this music was written almost 100 years ago, and yet, here we are! Re-energized by this great music."

The younger Strauss wrote over 500 pieces for dance, drawing on European and Euro-American folk and classical music traditions. So important was the waltz that great waltz composers competed the honorary title of "Waltz King," a position that came with an accompanying royal staff and an ornamental silver baton that was passed from musician to musician.

Largely responsible for the popularity of the waltz in Vienna during the 19th century, Johann Strauss II (1825-1899), the most famous composer in the Strauss family, frequently received the title.

The audience will recognize several Johann Strauss II waltzes: The Blue Danube; Tales from the Vienna Woods; Emperor Waltz; and Kunstlerleben (Artists' Life). From Strauss's operetta, Die Fledermaus, the SSO will perform the Thunder and Lightening polka. Making it a family affair, the SSO includes Ban Frei! (Clear the Track), a "quick" polka by Johann's younger brother Eduard Strauss (1835-1916), as well as the lively Radetzsky March by the patriarch, Johann Strauss, Sr. (1804-1849).

"We love this event!" enthuses Doreen Thompson. "It's so much fun and it's one of our favourites.

"Waltzing with a live symphony is challenging. We aren't dancing to a strict tempo, so we have to be flexible and creative in following the music.

"John and I are more focused on expression than detail, and at the same time we strive to achieve artistic grace and enhance the music through dance. It's more athletic than it looks, but our goal is to make it appear effortless and aesthetically pleasing."

Between the dance demonstrations, there will be plenty of opportunity for audience members to try out their own waltz and polka steps. Dress is optional — from fancy ball gowns and tuxes to comfy jeans.

"It's an event for everyone!" says Pippa Williams. "If you're shy about waltzing, jump into a lively polka!"

A limited number of tickets are available from Blue Heron Books and Laughing Oyster Bookshop — or at the door. The Native Sons Hall doors open at 1:30. For reservations or to reserve a table for eight to 10 people, call 250-331-0158.

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