Arts and Entertainment

Dancer dads add a dimension to Vashon ballet production

Martin Koenig and Ravenna Koenig rehearse a scene in “Pinocchio.” - Leslie Brown/staff photo
Martin Koenig and Ravenna Koenig rehearse a scene in “Pinocchio.”
— image credit: Leslie Brown/staff photo

For the last 14 years, Martin Koenig has been one of the Vashon Dance Academy dads, getting his daughter Ravenna to dance rehearsals, supporting her on stage, cheering her on from the audience.

Now, months before she heads off to college, he’s taking it one step further. Martin, a man whose professional life has been devoted to dance and music, will take to the stage himself for the first time on Vashon. And for a few minutes, father and daughter will dance together.

“The connection between the two of them, I feel it, it fills the stage,” said Vashon Dance Academy director Cheryl Krown. “When they dance together, it is really charming and sweet.”

Martin won’t be the only dad on stage. John “Oz” Osborne, Grant Ballingham, Neil Shiosaki and Roger Taylor will play the Lies that Pinocchio tells. But the other fathers won’t be dancing duets with their daughters, and their daughters aren’t on the threshold of departure from home.

Martin plays the principal role of Gepetto, the craftsman who carves Pinocchio out of wood, and Ravenna, a senior at Vashon High School, is Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio’s conscientious best friend. Half a century apart in age, the pair said they’re thrilled to dance together in their first duet.

“I was asked by my 18-year-old daughter, as she’s about to leave my home to go to college, and I thought, ‘I can’t refuse such an invitation,’” Martin said. “I had never really yearned to dance on stage in any of these productions, but she asked if I wanted to dance, and I said sure.”

The father-daughter duo will share the stage for three dances, said Ravenna, who’s in her 10th show with the Vashon Dance Academy.

“He doesn’t know how sweet and endearing he is on stage,” Ravenna said of her father.

Ravenna will head to New York City to attend Barnard College in the fall, and this will be her only dance collaboration with her father before she leaves. She said she’s pleased she’ll be dancing with her father before hundreds of people.

“I have a great relationship with both of my parents,” she said. “Kids and parents can have a hard time quelling tension. I respect them both a lot; they’re really amazing people and have a lot in the way of wisdom, even though sometimes I think I know everything. They understand me pretty well.”

For Martin, 69, this is his first time performing in 40 years. He began dancing, folk dancing to be precise, while he was in high school, and his love of dance grew until he became what he calls “a public sector folklorist,” traveling to the Balkans to research and document folk dance and music from 1962 to 1987.

Martin also said his relationship with Ravenna is a good one — “I feel pretty lucky; she’s a great kid.”

He said watching her dance skills improve over the years has been a joy.

“It is fascinating, and it’s moving to see how she grows.”

Ravenna began dancing at age 3, and hasn’t stopped since. She’s danced ballet, modern and flamenco, which she said may be her favorite type of dance.

“Flamenco is amazing because it has so much feeling behind it, not that all dance doesn’t, but the power really resonates with me,” Ravenna said. “The music is very soulful and full of emotion, and the dynamic between the dancer and the music is very powerful.”

Ravenna is an artist as well as a dancer, working with mixed media, collages and photography. Her father’s interest in photography may have inspired her own — the city of Chicago, the Bulgarian consulate and the University of Chicago are sponsoring a show this summer of 30 of Martin’s photographs of traditional rural life in Bulgaria, taken between 1966 and 1979.

The dancers play different roles on different nights, so Ravenna will also play Evil McDiva, the leader of a crew from Pleasure Island.

The four other ballet fathers who dance in Pinocchio do not play principal roles, nor are theirs as dramatic as the role of Gepetto.

“Martin — his role is a lot more serious than ours,” said John “Oz” Osborne, father of dancers Madeline and Maria in “Pinocchio” and a dancer himself. “He’s more straight-faced than ours, pining after his Pinocchio and all.”

Osborne, Ballingham, Shiosaki and Taylor personify Lies Pinocchio tells.

Each time Pinocchio tells a lie, his nose gets bigger — and in this production, “his nose gets really big by the third lie,” Osborne said.

The four fathers stick together, he said, and the roles are “not at all serious.”

“I suppose there’s security in numbers,” he said. “I’ve raised the embarrassment bar very high. Last year, in ‘Aladdin,’ the dads were the magic rug, and at one point we were belly dancing. The year we were in ‘Fantasia,’ the dads were the dancing hippos in tutus. In ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ we were the Winky Dancers, and we did this dance with toilet plungers.”

The productions, he said, showcase serious talent and dancing, but have an element of levity and fun as well.

Osborne is a school board member, and he said his lighthearted roles onstage have made for interesting fodder at the meetings following his performances.

“People said, ‘It’s a little hard to take you serious after seeing you on stage dressed as a hippo in a tutu,’” he said.

Krown said the fathers’ participation in “Pinocchio” and previous productions was a welcome reminder of their devotion to their dancing daughters.

“I think for the girls whose dads dance, it’s wonderful validation for something that’s important to them,” Krown said. “For the dads to put themselves out there — how many teenage girls are out there with their dads? When they are blown away that their dads are willing to show a whole other side of themselves to the audience, they know that it’s because their dads care so much about them.”

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