Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, artistic director of Charlotte Ballet since 1996, announced Monday that he will retire at the end of the 2016-17 season.
But he’ll be just as busy.
He’ll become artistic director emeritus, advising the company about productions he has choreographed and building relationships like the one the troupe started this season in Charleston. (It performs there at Gaillard Auditorium.)
And he’ll pursue a passion that has simmered for a few years and will come off the back burner: creating a program to train dancers from around the country in contemporary styles.
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“When I audition dancers, I spend an hour and a half on ballet and an hour and a half on contemporary work, maybe something by (resident choreographers) Dwight Rhoden or Sasha Janes,” he said. “Dancers who are good at ballet arrive at the contemporary part without knowing much about it.
“I want to offer classes and workshops, where people from Jiri Kylian or Mark Goddard’s companies advise students. The effect will be transformative, especially when they look for jobs. The repertoire in (many) companies now is 40 to 50 percent contemporary. Dancers are comfortable with classical training, but it’s not enough.”
Patricia McBride, Bonnefoux’s partner in life and work, will continue as associate artistic director, master teacher for Charlotte Ballet Academy and a répétiteur for George Balanchine works at the dance center that bears their names. The board of trustees has formed a search committee to hire a new artistic director and is working with Genovese Vanderhoof & Associates to identify candidates.
Bonnefoux has long been focused on education. When he came to the company (then N.C. Dance Theatre), fewer than 150 students attended its school; today, it instructs more than 700 annually. He has been a special advocate for diversity; he helped start Reach, which provides dance training to students with financial needs, and undertook a partnership with Dance Theatre of Harlem, bringing conservatory graduates to dance in Charlotte Ballet II.
He expects to begin his contemporary training program as a separate nonprofit that might use some of the facilities at the dance center. He hopes to teach, scout for talent and contact potential employers on behalf of people who attend it.
“I will be 74 when I retire,” he said. “At my age, it’s nice to feel excited about the next few years. I would love to play golf, but I don’t think I will have the time.”