Crowds gathered at Weber State University’s Val A. Browning Center on Sept. 29–30 to watch Odyssey Dance Theatre (ODT) perform a Halloween fan-favorite: “Thriller.” The show encompassed dance, terror, beauty, wonder and comedy.
“I think what draws audience members to ‘Thriller’ is the unusual and humorous twist it takes on Halloween classics,” Founder and Artistic Director of ODT Derryl Yeager said. “We bring dance to a new level and make people laugh — really laugh.”
The show opened and closed with the decomposing, shambling zombies who broke into dance to the iconic Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Throughout the performance, Halloween characters like Frankenstein, Jason Voorhees, Chucky and the undead wandered through the crowd, keeping audiences alert, attentive and waiting for spooky surprises.
Tantalizing Egyptian maidens graced the stage as they awoke hip-hopping mummies. Tap dancing glow-in-the-dark skeletons lost their heads in “Dem Bones,” and witches brewed a magical force in “Salem’s Mass.”
WSU student Katie Burns said, “The music, lights and prompts were creative, which made the entire show one which I will never forget.”
A crowd favorite, known as “Jason Jams,” featured three Jason Voorhees — from the Halloween classic “Friday the 13th” — in a synchronized dance with knives, machetes, baseball bats, chainsaws and a few scripted blunders along the way.
Spectators bellowed with laughter as Jason twerked, cried and begged for forgiveness from his peers.
“Everyone can relate to the Jason that has a touch of ADHD because they either knew someone like him in school, or they were him,”
This year’s production provided a few new numbers, including “Justice League — The Short Version,” which featured unconventional versions of Wonder Woman, Superman and
Yeager recollected his first year with “Thriller,” which sold fewer than 50 tickets for four performances. The general manager of Kingsbury Hall suggested canceling the show altogether, but Yeager insisted that if he was going down, he was going to “go down in flames.”
Yeager came to Utah from Amarillo, Texas, and became a principal dancer with Ballet West, where he met his wife Cheryl. During that time, he completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in performing arts and choreography before determining to start his own dance company.
ODT formed when Yeager realized he needed his own kind of
He knew Christmas was filled with ballet performances, but there wasn’t anything to entice people around Halloween. Money was scarce at the time, and the concept of a full-length theatric on “Dracula” was nice but unobtainable.
After considering how he could create a show centered around Halloween, Yeager developed “Thriller,” a cheap way to encompass several characters that would deliver horror and humor.
“Crowd interaction, the laughter, the energy — it makes for an intimate and rewarding night every single time,” ODT dancer of three years Diego Ballesteros said.
“Thriller” would eventually pay for additional productions, including “Redux Nut-Cracker,” where Clara gets an iPhone instead of a nutcracker.
“Thriller” now has two separate casts that hit stages in six different locations throughout Utah, including WSU, Cache Valley Center for the Arts, Ellen Eccles Theatre, Kingsbury Hall, Covey Center for the Arts, Sevier Valley Center and Tuacahn
From an unpromising first performance to a Halloween hit, “Thriller” has become a competitive show to perform in.
Casted dancers attend “Thriller Boot Camp,” which consists of three days when new dancers learn choreography and then coalesce with veteran dancers.
Nine “Thriller” dancers have gone on to “So You Think You Can Dance.”
“We have recruited people from New York and Los Angeles, but 85 percent of the dancers come from Utah,” Yeager said. “We have one of the best talent pools out there.”
“There is a lot of dedication that goes into this work, but the challenge is rewarding when I see the confidence that my dancers gain,” Yeager said. “I see them grow every day.”