Renovated Pasadena Performing Arts Center Ups Its Game With Ambitious New Season

Most unusual show on lineup? That would be the Zombie Ballet

Published : Friday, August 9, 2019 | 4:53 AM

[Updated] A newly-refurbished Pasadena performing arts center plans a higher-profile lineup of new shows featuring comedy, music, holiday theater and … zombies.

“We really had a soft opening towards the end of last year, but this is the first rollout of several shows so we’re ramping up,” said Rob Woodworth, manager of the AGBU Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Performing Arts Center, at 2495 E. Mountain Street.

Woodworth said the Center is preparing for an ambitious fall season, with a mix of performances from the music of the 12-piece Gurdjieff Ensemble to end-of-year holiday-themed productions by Purtill Ballet Company and The Pasadena Civic Ballet to comedy Maz Jobrani.

Sweet Sorrow - Courtesy Leigh Purtill Ballet

Quirkiest show? That would the Halloween-season’s Zombie Ballet, billed as a beautifully-awkward, gracefully-creepy little tale that hopes to do for Halloween what Nutcracker has done for Christmas.

“Due to its popularity they needed a bigger venue and we’re excited about that,” he said.

AGBU stands for Armenian General Benevolent Union and there are many Armenian-themed performers and events at the newly refurbished center.

Woodworth touts one show in the new season called “Santa On Line!” because of how it so closely relates to the challenges of adapting to today’s modern technology.

“Pasadena Civic Theatre has a Showtime Ensemble and they do musicals,” he said. “In the story of ‘Santa On Line!’ Santa is taking children’s gift lists online and things kind of fall apart. It’s a children-based musical. The Pasadena Civic Ballet did Cinderella here a few months ago.”

The theatre is a for-profit organization that is funded through ticket sales, Woodworth said. He said there is a theatre committee that oversees operations, to whom he reports.

Each of the productions has its own theme or focus that appeal not only to the local Armenian American community but also to community-wide fans of the arts, Woodworth said.

“Sweet Sorrow, A Zombie Ballet” is a sequel to Romeo and Juliet, and takes the tragic love story into a more comedic and innovative, modern realm.

Sweet Sorrow - Courtesy Leigh Purtill Ballet

“My dancers are not professionals, but they’re wonderful and they’re great actors as well,” said Leigh Purtill. “These are all productions that give people a new perspective. It’s also really female-centric. The hero, the anti-hero, the villains, they’re women. It’s not about the princess being rescued.”

Much like the production, Purtill’s Ballet Company is all-inclusive group that works with adults who may or may not have had a lot of ballet training. It’s appealing to those who can’t fit the strict appearance or regimen of professional ballet dancers, but want to have fun.

“This is our third year, and the show is bigger than it ever has been,” Purtill said. “It has more characters this year we’re adding werewolves and it’s a bigger story. I wrote a novel that hasn’t been published called ‘Sweet Sorrow,’ it’s a sequel to Romeo and Juliet. Romeo and Juliet are dead, the only way we see them is as zombies. In the original Shakespeare story, Rosaline is the original woman Romeo is in love with, Rosaline spurned him and that’s when he met Juliet.

In Purtill’s unpublished novel Romeo and Juliet come back, but in the dance production she was more constrained and made the action occur in the underworld, where Rosaline goes to find the couple.

“In this very different world, there are vampires, spiders, ghostly souls and of course there are zombies,” she said.

Woodworth revealed what’s planned for the upcoming season.

On Sept. 8 is “Kebob Komedy,” headlined by comedian Maz Jobrani who is best known for his Netflix and Showtime comedy specials. Jobrani has appeared on numerous television shows and on the big screen and his humor is based on common experiences of living in the world today and has Armenian flavor. Tickets are available here. 

Sweet Sorrow - Courtesy Leigh Purtill Ballet

On Sept. 29, The Gurdjieff Ensemble, recipients of the Edison Award “Album of the Year,” will bring their international sounds to the AGBU. The Gurdjieff Ensemble is comprised of a 12-piece group of internationally touring musicians performing “ethnographically authentic” arrangements on Armenian and Middle Eastern instruments. Tickets are available here.

On Oct. 26-27, The Leigh Purtill Dance Company will perform “Sweet Sorrow, A Zombie Ballet.” Appropriate for Halloween time, this production has continued to grow and puts the viewers right in the underworld with Romeo and Juliet who have come back to being “undead.” Tickets will be available for Oct. 26 and Oct. 27.

On Dec. 7 and 8, The Pasadena Civic Ballet celebrates its 60th year of arts and dance in the Pasadena community and returns to the Manoukian Performing Arts Center with their productions of Solo Fete, and their Showtime Theater Ensemble’s “Santa On Line!”  The show is a non-ballet musical that tells the tale of how Santa’s Elves bring their boss into the 21st Century technology-based methods of delivering holiday presents with hilarious results. Tickets will be available soon.

For more informnation about the AGBU Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Performing Arts Center visit