A ballet 'Thriller'

DeWayne Bartels
Peoria Ballet students perform Michael Jackson's 

Zombies are not exactly what one expects to see at a ballet performance.

But, grisly ghouls are exactly what people who gathered last week for Jim Maloof’s 90th birthday celebration saw as students of the Peoria Ballet performed to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

“I’ll bet none of you in here thought ballet could look and sound like this,” Maloof said, following the performance.

Blowing up perceptions of ballet as dull is exactly what Peoria Ballet artistic director Erich Yetter sought to do with the surprising performance.

“Ballet is like literature. You have timeless classics that are serious and refined. But, you also have newer works that are just fun to read,” Yetter said.

“Ballet is the same way. Doing ballet set to ‘Thriller’ serves as a fun introduction to ballet.”

Yetter said doing ballet set to rock, hip-hop and country music allows the art form to cross generational barriers.

“If we can grab people with things like ‘Thriller,’ the hope is they will become open to ballet and soon want to come back and dig deeper into it with the classics,” Yetter said. “We’re pioneering to get more people interested. Ballet can be, and is, fun. It is multi-faceted.”

Yetter, and three North Peoria students of the Peoria Ballet following the performance asked the same question: Where do people get the idea that ballet is like this or that?

“It can be anything,” Yetter said.

Sarah Neuhaus, 13, a ballet student for nine years said her friends have often had the wrong idea about ballet.

“They think it’s just a graceful thing that’s boring,” she said. “It’s something fun and a way to express yourself through movement.”

Kelly Neuhaus, 16, a 13-year ballet student, nodded in agreement.

“At first people don’t know what to think. But, once they watch ballet they are blown away. There’s a magic to ballet. You have to see it to appreciate it,” she said.

“When I was in sixth grade my class went to see ‘The Nutcracker.’ Nobody wanted to go. They were blown away. They still talk about it today.”

Katie Hollandsworth, 18, a 15 year ballet student, said ballet needs to be seen before being judged.

“Give it a chance. We do so many different things. Don’t judge without seeing it,” Hollandsworth said.

Yetter said the same thing asking people to come to the Peoria County Courthouse on Friday. Between 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. the ballet students will be performing their “Thriller” ballet routine.

“It will capture the public’s imagination,” Yetter said.