Big partnership. Big turnover. Bigger roster of dancers. Bigger productions of old favorites and a bigger run for “The Nutcracker.”
From all angles, Charlotte Ballet’s 2015-16 season looks to be the most tumultuous since Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride were hired in 1996.
The last show of this season, “Contemporary Fusion,” opens Thursday. But artistic director Bonnefoux already looks forward to next season, when he’ll expand the first company from 18 dancers to 20 and begin a partnership with Gaillard Center that takes the troupe to Charleston for two productions a year. With a longer Charlotte season and a summer in Chautauqua, N.Y., Charlotte Ballet expects a company-high 60 performances.
Bonnefoux has sought a sister city for a while and started working on the Gaillard partnership in 2013. That was about the time Charleston Ballet Theatre died after 26 years, which the Charleston Post and Courier says “startled and embittered parts of the local arts community and discouraged ballet patrons and donors.” That paper quotes Gaillard’s Rick Jerue as saying, “We needed to do something to provide ballet and offer educational opportunities.”
In waltzed Bonnefoux’s troupe, which will perform two shows in the ’15-16 season and conduct a multi-week dance residency in summer 2016. Charlotte Ballet started building bridges in March by holding a workshop for public school and private dance instructors from Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley counties.
“We want to make sure local companies know we’re not trying to take over,” says Bonnefoux. “We’re not trying to compete with summer courses people already teach. We went in (to the March workshop) asking ‘How can we help?’ If we can bring back an audience, Charleston can eventually develop its own company.”
The troupe Gaillard fans get will half-resemble the one Charlotte has seen this year. Six dancers will leave the main company: Melissa Anduiza, Anna Gerberich, Jordan Leeper, Amanda Smith, Pete Leo Walker and Lucas Wilson-Bilbro. (Anduiza, Gerberich, Leeper and Walker regularly dance key roles.)
“We’ve developed their talents, and maybe it’s time for them to get out of the nest,” says Bonnefoux. “Anna is going to the Joffrey, a wonderful recognition of her talent. Pete goes to Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, which is less of a classical company. Jordan goes to Atlanta Ballet, and Melissa will dance for Complexions, Dwight Rhoden’s company, in New York.”
Charlotte will see nine new faces: six to replace them, one to fill a spot Bonnefoux kept open, two for expansion. They’ll include dancers with international backgrounds – Brazilian, Japanese, Albanian – and one Juilliard student.
That group will dance premieres by Dwight Rhoden and other company choreographers plus old favorites: not just the perennial “Nutcracker” but Jiri Kylian’s “Forgotten Land,” Bonnefoux’s “Shindig” and George Balanchine’s “Who Cares?”
Sasha Janes will expand his brief “We Danced Through Life,” adapting the Innovative Works piece for the Knight Theater stage. And Mark Diamond’s “The Little Mermaid” swims back into view with newly designed set, costumes and projection.
Bonnefoux says last year’s rebranding and the Kennedy Center Honor for associate artistic director McBride have raised awareness nationally. His annual New York auditions used to draw 60 to 70 people, many seeking first jobs; this winter, it attracted 110, including more experienced dancers.
In person, Bonnefoux supervises three hours of auditions: 90 minutes for classical work, 90 minutes for contemporary. He also likes to have Rhoden or associate artistic director Janes design steps for applicants who have to learn them and send back videos.
“It’s so important to choose the right dancers,” he says. “How fast can someone learn? Do they respond with fear or excitement?
“All but one (of the new hires) have come here and seen the company. They’ve talked to our dancers, trying to find out if they’ll fit into this team. Many of them will start in Chautauqua; by the time they get here, they’ll have become part of the family.”
Charlotte Ballet ends its 2014-15 season with works by Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Mark Godden and Dwight Rhoden.
WHEN: Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St.
DETAILS: 704-372-1000 or charlotteballet.org.
Charlotte Ballet’s 2015-16 season
“Fall Works,” Oct. 15-17: Revivals of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s “Shindig,” with live bluegrass music by the Greasy Beans, and Jiri Kylian’s “Forgotten Land.” Sasha Janes will begin a new work at Chautauqua, N.Y., where Charlotte Ballet performs every summer, then finish it here.
“The Nutcracker,” Dec. 10-23: Charlotte attendance for Tchaikovsky’s fairy tale has doubled since 2011, so the troupe will do 17 performances of Bonnefoux’s version instead of 14. The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra will play live music, as always.
“Innovative Works,” Jan. 29-Feb. 20: Bonnefoux, Mark Diamond, David Ingram, Sasha Janes and Dwight Rhoden will create premieres for the 200-seat theater at McBride-Bonnefoux Center. Look for technological innovations – and, perhaps, brief danced adaptations of famous commercials between the numbers.
“The Little Mermaid,” March 11-20: The company raised money to revive Mark Diamond’s piece with more opulent sets, costumes and projections. It comes from the Hans Christian Andersen story, set to music by Borodin, Debussy and Gliere.
“Spring Works,” April 28-30: We’ll get George Balanchine’s “Who Cares,” which was done in December at the Kennedy Center Honors for Patricia McBride; Sasha Janes’ “We Danced Through Life,” a tribute to marital longevity that will be danced on a larger stage than it had in its Innovative Works incarnation; and a Dwight Rhoden premiere that may feature live jazz musicians.
Details: Subscriptions range from $133 to $411.85 for all five productions; you can buy packages that don’t include “Nutcracker” or “The Little Mermaid.” A “Super Selection” lets you attend any three shows, from $83.67 to $250.98. Info: charlotteballet.org.