Any mixed dance concert becomes a collage assembled by a company’s artistic director. “Inspired Works,” a salute to Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s two decades of leadership at Charlotte Ballet, reveals his psyche more than anything the impresario has ever presented.
We see his love of pure classical movement in “Rubies,” choreographed for Patricia McBride – who would later become his wife and assistant director of this troupe – by their New York City Ballet mentor, George Balanchine. We observe Bonnefoux’s loyalty to longtime lieutenants Sasha Janes and Dwight Rhoden, his resident choreographers.
We realize that even in his 70s, Bonnefoux continues to explore what dance might be: “Transformation,” his collaboration with spoken word artist Quentin Talley, shows that. And we remember that he has tried (when budgets permitted) to import works by important choreographers from other countries, such as Canada’s Mark Godden or the Czech Republic’s Jiri Kylian.
Most of all, we’re reminded that he wants to give pleasure. He speaks in a 15-minute tribute film about trying to maintain a sense of joy in his daily life and impart it in his work. Almost all these pieces do that, from the zaniness of Kylian’s “Sechs Tanze” to the quieter wit of Godden’s “Angels in the Architecture.” And all the choreographers seem most like themselves in this lineup.
Rhoden, working with a Baroque setting of “Ave Maria,” has dancers writhe erotically as a countertenor salutes the mother of Christ. (Jamie Dee Clifton and Josh Hall do so convincingly.) Janes, coming out of retirement for his own pas de deux with Chelsea Dumas, invests a baroque aria with characteristic tenderness in “Lascia la Spina, Cogli la Rosa.” (The title advises us to leave the thorn and pluck the rose.)
Balanchine’s “Rubies” has the whole troupe high-stepping to Stravinsky’s jaunty Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, as if they were circus ponies. Alessandra Ball James, dancing McBride’s role opposite James Kopecky, brings sly good nature to her mock-seductive moves; she’s officially vamping her partner but unofficially vamping the audience.
Godden’s humor has more subtlety. He sets “Angels” to a suite from “Appalachian Spring,” inevitably suggesting Martha Graham’s groundbreaking 1944 ballet. He pays homage to her with long skirts and angular arm gestures, but gender role reversals (men with brooms) and unexpected behavior eventually turn tribute into teasing. Still, the elegance and mystery of the movements gives the piece emotional impact.
Talley ended up onstage for “Transformation.” He spoke of connections between audiences and artists while Raven Barkley and Kopecky (credited as co-choreographers with Bonnefoux) did crisp moves to bits of Schoenberg and smooth slides to modern R&B. They seemed untroubled by large, movable mirrors used irrelevantly to bounce images of the audience back at us.
Kylian’s “Six Dances” inspired the most head-shaking and maybe the most pleasure. He intersperses fluffy chunks of second-tier Mozart with strange droning sounds – distant bomber planes? – as dancers in mime-style makeup and 18th-century wigs shed talcum powder and inhibitions in equal measure. Kylian gives them classical ballet moves but also treats them as puppets and puppeteers; they manipulate each other gleefully, surprised at their own daring and naughtiness.
Watching this piece, I remembered Bonnefoux’s explanation for the name change from N.C. Dance Theatre to Charlotte Ballet three years ago: “Everything we do is ballet.” I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced. But in some way, everything Charlotte Ballet does is Bonnefoux.