Ground Control To Major Eva

 

Eva Blanshei is a force of nature—more appropriately, she is a force of culture. She is a dancer, a dance choreographer, and a stage production writer. She sports waves of beautiful blond hair, piercing blue eyes, and a simple fashion sense that frames fantastic curves. Until this last year, she was a relatively uninvolved figure in Chico’s arts scene, but a huge shift occurred with the debut of her first burlesque show, Everybody In Outer Space Wants To Go To Japan. Featuring amazing dancing, amazing bodies of both genders, fantastic costumes, and live music by jazz group Bogg, the quirky presentation of local talent was a huge success. “I had no idea that I could stay in Chico to make art, and actually be supported by it.” says Eva. “Before Japan, I had been planning on moving away.”

Chico’s mixed-pot arts culture had different plans for Ms. Blanshei. “[Bogg and I] were so jazzed after that first show, we decided right away to do more.” Soon after Japan, Eva, Bogg, and other local artists formed the Uncle Dad’s Art Collective. This group of artists and performers was directly responsible for Thriller The Musical (choreographed by Eva), Bogg Presents The Christmas Telethon (Eva had no part of this one, being otherwise engaged in Phil Ruttenberg’s Christmas Burlesque), and Ms. Blanshei’s upcoming sophomore show: Everybody In Outer Space Stayed In Room 213.

“The Uncle Dad’s Art Collective is a group of artists devoted to making well thought-out shows that push boundaries.” says Eva. “One of our main goals is to have every member of a cast walk away with a paycheck. Sounds simple enough, but it doesn’t happen often. There’s no platform for dancers [to make a living] in Chico… I’d like to change that. Dancing should be expected here. It’s important.” Maybe it was only her fierce eyes and the aura of cinematic focus that was rolling off this woman in waves, but I found myself agreeing heartily. Listening to her, I saw in my mind’s eye the latest wave of strange, wonderful shows in Chico… all the burlesque shows, all of Bogg’s special-event concerts, everything The Pageant Dads have done… and I felt glad she had decided to stay here to keep things simmering.

Everybody In Outer Space Stayed In Room 213 promises to be an experience just as scintillating and strange as the first. “I liked the rhythm Japan had,” says Eva. “You’d hear a part of the story, then you’d get a dance number. Having a story is crucial… my shows have very different influences; they’re more like variety shows, honestly. The story ties it together. Last time, every girl represented a different planet. Here, every girl represents a different death.”

Room 213’s story takes place exclusively in a hotel room in Las Vegas, where the Grim Reaper has made a habit of staying every year on the night before Valentine’s Day. “Death gets lonely around February, so he decides to take souls who are staying in that room on the night of the 13th, to keep him company in Purgatory while they’re waiting to ascend.” says Eva. “The Grim Reaper is like the boy with a magnifying glass, burning ants; he’s mischievous, and to us, omniscient. He’s also very wise, and experienced, from being around for so long, but he still has his shortcomings.”

Confused, but enraptured, I kept listening to Ms. Blanshei relate Room 213’s oddball story. “Every girl has a story, a dance, and a death.” Eva continued. “One girl is Mod Wang. She got raised in Salt Lake City, then followed the Love & Peace train in the 70’s and ended up in Vegas. She ends up falling off the balcony of Room 213 because her GoGo boots are way too high. Another is Paula Banks, from New York. She goes to Vegas, where she manages to triple her trust fund… She buys an anaconda, but Death undoes the lid on its cage, and her pet strangles her.”

I was beginning to understand where she was coming from, remembering my experience of the strangeness of Japan, but I finally brought up the glaring issue in my mind: Why is Death involved in this dance show? How do you make that entertaining and sexy?

“Why does death have to be a bad thing?” Eva countered. “I mean, you’re right… In our culture, death is something to be feared. While I was making this show though, I was really inspired by it… Death is beautiful, and it’s important to embrace it, to be able to accept it. It comes in forms of tragedy, but death also comes in forms of romance and beauty. We tend to want things to last forever… but sometimes, things have a preordained ending. Like sometimes, that relationship is only meant to last a year, you know?

“Why does sadness have to be a bad thing? When I’m feeling that pain, part of me is happy, because it knows I’m transitioning to a new place in life.”

Among the myriad cast of Room 213 (which includes Ms. Blanshei herself) are just three soloists. Courtney Osteen is a young dancer who starred as Alice a few years back in a Laxson Auditorium ballet of Alice In Wonderland. Kelsi Fossum-Trousch choreographed the recent local production of Grease, and Ruttenberg’s 2013 Christmas Burlesque. Room 213’s female lead will be Jessica Sijan, an actress who played in the latest Butcher Shop, is part of the local group Slow Theatre (who were responsible for Butcher Shop), and played in numerous shows in the Bay Area.

“It’s going to be insane,” says Eva. “This one is way bigger. Tons of talent, way more organization… it’s a lot longer… Aubrey Debauchery is playing music this time, and she’s fucking amazing… it’ll be like the first one on steroids.” These are bold statements, considering the grandiose nature of her first production.

I don’t remember what I had been expecting last year when I arrived at the Women’s Club to watch a burlesque show called Everybody In Outer Space Wants To Go To Japan. I had been expecting sexy women, and dancing, and awesome costumes, of course… I didn’t expect a strange, sprawling sci-fi love story told through elaborate, expansive prose, alternated with dance numbers. I didn’t expect the moon to be portrayed as a boy, and the planets to be portrayed as eight women (and one Queen), all of which had ravenous sexual appetites, and a generally unhealthy way of attempting to dominate our poor male lead.

“I came up with the idea for Japan while I was having some stupid conversation-well, uninteresting, at least-and whenever I am in those more empty conversations, I start spacing out. I completely disassociate. And then I thought, ‘I wanna be in a dance show! I should make one!’ The Japanese theme of it came up during a brainstorm with Dragonboy… I was drinking tea here at Empire, he walked into the train car, and I just said, ‘Start listing themes for dance shows.’

Japan’s story was about looking for love,” Eva continued, “The Moon goes to all the planets searching for it, and in the end, he finds his true love in the inevitable relationship to Mother Earth. It’s one simple way of expressing life— you meet so many people, all with their own stories… sometimes there’s a connection, and that’s beautiful.”

Japan was at turns strange, hilarious, sexy, awkward, and beautiful. The live backing tracks being performed by Bogg elevated the emotion of each dance wonderfully. The Women’s Club was a beautiful place to host such a grand event of artsy expression, and I wondered aloud about her reasons for moving the show to 1078 Gallery.

“Josh Hegg and Matthew Wiener of the Collective are on the board of 1078, so we’re able to rehearse there for free,” says Eva. “It seemed appropriate to have an art show in an art gallery… Plus, it’ll be more interactive and intimate with the crowd. There’s no real stage there, so the… um… ‘stage area’ will be floor level, and extend out into the seating a bit.”

I came away from the interview with a solid feeling for Eva Blanshei’s creative process—very commanding and directorial, very honest and real, and very accepting: ready to embrace and celebrate her art, no matter how random it appears. And I think her show will work even with all its randomness; how can you lose with a ton of foxy women in amazing costumes?

EVERYBODY IN OUTER SPACE STAYED IN ROOM 213 Burlesque Show 

February 13th & 14th. 

$12 advance, $15 at the door. Get advance tickets at brownpapertickets.com. 

Featuring live music by Aubrey Debauchery & The Broken Bones. 

 

Presented by 1078 Gallery and the Uncle Dad’s Art Collective.

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Howl was born in the wastes north of Hithlum, where only beasts and witches dare roam. He was raised by two old hags, Tabby and Wiles, who had an unhealthy fascination towards the literary arts. Howl now resides in a well-furnished cave off South Rim Trail, complete with an old iBook and Wi-Fi.