By Steve Sucato
News Contributing Reviewer
The newly renamed Charlotte Ballet (formerly North Carolina Dance Theatre) in residence at the Chautauqua Institution on July 30, showed that whatever the company calls itself, artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and dancers bring the same high level of dancing and dance works to every performance. In “Dance Innovations” in the Institution’s Amphitheater, the company along with A Far Cry string orchestra, presented a diverse program of ballets that both satisfied and left the audience wanting more.
A reprise of choreographer Mark Diamond’s techno-electronic music driven “There Again Not Slowly” provided an energetic start. The 10-minute contemporary ballet in three parts set to music by Chemical Brothers and Aphex Twin exuded a slick dance club vibe where the club patrons happened to be highly trained ballet dancers who tossed off bravura dance moves with ease. Dense with rapid turns, soaring leaps, tight, sinewy leg extensions and precise on pointe footwork, the ballet’s three women and three men rocketed on and off the stage like fireworks in bursts of “ooh, ahh” moments tempered with a cool and carefree attitude. Highlighting the ballet was the sexy and powerful dancing of Anna Gerberich and a shirtless and ripped Pete Leo Walker looking like an urban Tarzan in ballet shoes along with a sleek and smooth pas de deux performed by dancers David Morse and Sarah Hayes Harkins.
Energetic then turned to enthralling in Charlotte Ballet resident choreographer Dwight Rhoden’s thought-provoking and moving civil rights era-themed ballet “Sit In Stand Out.” The ballet, set to a mix of music and sound from Max Roach to samples of Martin Luther King reciting the U.S. constitution, began with the projected images of photographs depicting the period and African-American struggle for civil rights. Emulating one of the photos of black activists at a lunch counter, six of Charlotte Ballet’s dancers took seats in chairs lined up across the back of the stage and began a series of emotionally charged and anguished movements that mirrored the sharp and dissonant piano music they were performing to. Rhoden’s smart and well-crafted ballet avoided preachiness while leveling a critical gaze back on a turbulent and troubled time in this country. The emotionally gripping ballet full of superior dancing climaxed in a riveting pas de deux danced by Harkins and Walker to Nina Simone’s searing song “Strange Fruit”.
Charlotte Ballet associate artistic director Sasha Janes’ “Chaconne” then once again lightened the mood. Set to music by Bach, the abstract ballet made use of a ribbon curtain at the rear of the stage for inventive dancer entrances and exits and showed Janes’ sophisticated taste level as a choreographer. The deliciously polished ballet exhaled beautiful breaths of movement and dancer skill with every powerful twist, turn, jump and soaring lift. Gerberich shone once again in a lightning fast pas de deux with dancer Addul Manzano full of whipping legs in close quarter partnering.
The program ended with the Diamond and Janes’ world-premiere collaboration “Environment” danced to Benjamin Britten’s “Variations on a theme by Frank Bridge” performed with gusto by the 18-member A Far Cry. The large group ballet in 11 movements proved the least effective choreographically of the ballets on the program, offering little more than vaguely recognizable environmentally themed vignettes that as a whole failed to match the intensity and artistic level of the music they were danced to. Wonderful individual dancer performances especially from whirling dervish turner Jordan Leeper along with a few visually pleasing moments mostly offset lackluster moments but still led to one being more moved by A Far Cry’s playing than the ballet’s dancing.