Guest choreographers join EOU’s song and dance concert

Benton and Rugh

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.54.14 PMLA GRANDE — Two professional choreographers are visiting Northeast Oregon for a concert “that takes you places.”

Billy Rugh and Michelle Benton said the annual song and dance concert at Eastern Oregon University has something for everyone.

“There’s going to be a lot of variety,” Rugh said. “There are modern hits and some older songs,” such as “Proud Mary” and “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie.”

The “Life Is a Highway” theme also opens the show up to a variety of dance styles.

“We always love teaching ethnic cultural dances, and that fits really well with the theme,” Benton said. “There’s Afro-Cuban dancing and a genuine hula dance.”

The choreographers said the hula dance presented a challenge for some of the performers
because the softness of the hula was different from the high-energy of the rest of the show.

Fortunately, the EOU students who are participating in the concert are embracing the challenges.

“They’ve been amazing,” Benton said of the student performers. “They have so much dedication and drive.”

Rugh and Benton, who have 20 years of experience on major productions and founded
Creative Planet School of the Arts for children, are new to working with college students.

“The younger kids you really have to push harder, and the working adults usually get it right away,” Rugh said. “At the college level, they don’t necessarily have the skillset, but they have the energy to learn it.”

Benton agreed that the students are quick to learn.

“We’ll rehearse something for one day, and they’ll come back the next day and have it down. That’s great considering how little time we have with them.”

The choreographers have been in La Grande for about a month, running two-hour rehearsals several nights a week. Although they are accustomed to much longer rehearsal periods, the choreographers said “Life Is a Highway” is coming together well.

It has helped, Benton said, that the show is more segmented than many other productions. Rather than one overarching plot, the broad theme allows for more freedom.

Rugh said the first act encompasses songs about physical travel, with numbers about bus, bike and foot travel. The second act dives into larger themes of coming home and one’s spiritual journey.

The choreographers said they believe the show is artistic and fun for all ages. There’s a pirate number for the kids and a high-energy gospel church scene. Dancers will at one point come out into the aisles among the audience, Rugh said.

Benton, whose parents Jim and Jeannette Benton are professors at EOU, said she’s visited La Grande but never worked here. This is Rugh’s first time in Eastern Oregon, and both choreographers are impressed with the students.

“They’ve taken it to the next level,” Rugh said. “Hopefully they’re learning a lot. I think anytime you work with someone new, you learn something new.”

Benton said the students are having a good time with the show.

“Everyone loves it,” she said.

The show has three runs at McKenzie Theatre in Loso Hall. The first show is 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2, and the others are at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Feb. 3.

Music professors Peter Wordelman and Luke McKern will lead the EOU Chamber Choir and live band during the performances.

Tickets are available at Red Cross Drug and the EOU Bookstore. The cost is $8 for general admission, $7 for students and seniors and $6 for a group of 10 or more. Tickets are also available to subscribers of The Observer.

Sponsors include Red Cross Drug, Koza Family Dental and The Observer. Visit for more information.

More about Benton and Rugh

Michelle Benton and Billy Rugh have worked as dancer/choreographers for over 20 years in national tours, industrials, music videos, Europe, S. America, and the Bahamas. They founded and artistically direct Creative Planet School of the Arts, a non-profit arts program for at-risk local youth where they staged and choreographed musicals such as “Quilters,” “Peter Pan,” “Alice,” “The Nutcracker: Crack’d,” “Christmas Carol,” “The Beatles: Imagine” and “A Thousand Paper Cranes.”

Their choreography has been seen on organizations such as Idyllwild Arts, Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, Vox Femina L.A., Culture Shock L.A., Culver City Chamber Orchestra and Peace Child International with artists such as LeAnn Rimes, Lily Tomlin, Alan Cumming, Susan Eagan, Rachel York, Joanna Gleason, Jennifer Holliday and Randi Driscoll and at venues such as Disney Hall and the Ford Amphitheater.
Their work has been performed internationally in Canada, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina and Mexico.

As Directors of CPSOA, they served on the Congressional Arts Committee for Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Congresswoman Judy Chu, were awarded the David Chow Humanitarian Award, and partnered with the Phil Simon Clinic in Tanzania, Africa, where they and CPSOA students collaborated with children at a local AIDS orphanage to create arts programming and social theater.

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One comment

  • Thank you for this wonderful article. I have always been proud of my daughter and her business partners but seeing it laid out like this is truly heartwarming for a parent, as you can imagine.

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