Ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev’s told associates to “Épater le bourgeois” – to shock bourgeois audiences – which is one reason he could never hold a full-time job in Charlotte’s cultural community.
Big players in this city fall somewhere between coddling the bourgeoisie and nudging it toward new experiences; smaller ones try the riskier experiments.
Yet all contributors to the upcoming arts season have touches of daring in their lineups. And if you’ll abandon arts highways for byways, you’ll find quite a bit.
Take the big three performing arts groups in town. The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra will conclude many concerts with the usual suspects: Brahms’ Second Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Sixth, Holst’s “Planets.” Yet concertmaster Colin Lupanu will play Prokofiev’s mischievous First Violin Concerto, and British composer Benjamin Britten (who would be 100 if he were alive today) will get three outings, plus the odd cadenza or encore.
Opera Carolina made two choices that were safe and obvious – “Aida” and “The Flying Dutchman,” by 200th-birthday boys Verdi and Wagner – and one that isn’t, Puccini’s “Il Trittico.” These three one-act operas, the last Puccini completed, include his only comedy, satirical “Gianni Schicchi.”
N.C. Dance Theatre will anchor shows with familiar characters or pieces: Carmen, Othello, Cinderella, “The Nutcracker.” But look closely: Czech master Jirí Kylián and American genius George Balanchine are there, and NCDT will alter its Innovative Works format by pairing choreographers with local visual, performing and musical artists.
Blumenthal Performing Arts strikes an elegant balance in Broadway Lights tours, mingling the familiar (“Evita,” “Godspell”), huge hits (“The Book of Mormon,” “Porgy and Bess”), smaller hits (“Once”) and imaginative or re-imagined new works (“Peter and the Starcatcher,” “Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty”).
Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and Theatre Charlotte, mainstays for kids and adults, rely mostly on tried and true properties that will appeal to their respective audiences: “Tarzan: The Stage Musical” and “Hansel and Gretel” for one, “Gypsy” and “Driving Miss Daisy” for the other. But each will take on social issues of the 1960s in a daring way: Children’s Theatre with the new “Don’t Tell Me I Can’t Fly,” Theatre Charlotte with the still-daring rock musical “Hair.”
Yet you’ll find lots of theatrical innovation if you look around. Actor’s Theatre gets off to a rollicking start with “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” reimagining our seventh president as a take-no-prisoners rock star. Its season finale, the introspective “Passing Strange,” deals with a bohemian musician from a very different era.
Carolina Actors Studio Theatre brings an “experiential” immersion technique to each production, whether the giddy farce “Boeing Boeing” or the harrowing “Angels in America.”
And although small companies – Queen City, Machine, Paperhouse, Citizens of the Universe and others – don’t announce full seasons in advance, their transgressive or avant-garde work pops up dandelion-style around the city. That’s also true for modern dance and music ensembles: Audiences have to stay alert to stay abreast.
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