Local Arts

The new Charlotte Ballet season marks this dancer’s latest unexpected breakthrough

The Charlotte Ballet’s Maurice Mouzoun Jr.

Maurice Mouzon has danced in the Charlotte Ballet for three years. Artistic director Hope Muir invited him to choreograph for the second company for the 2019-20 season.
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Maurice Mouzon has danced in the Charlotte Ballet for three years. Artistic director Hope Muir invited him to choreograph for the second company for the 2019-20 season.

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Maurice Mouzon Jr.’s experiences in ballet have all been serendipitous, and the Charlotte Ballet dancer called his journey as unplanned as it was fulfilling.

Mouzon recalled sitting in his eighth grade social studies class in Baltimore when some other students told the teacher he was a really good dancer. Just one thing: he’d never danced in his life.

But his teacher moved the tables and chairs to the side and turned on the music. Although he was terrified, his dance moves made quite an impression. The teacher printed out an application for him to audition for the Baltimore School for the Arts.

A couple weeks later, he walked into the audition barefoot and wearing basketball shorts — not typical ballet attire. When the dance teacher told the kids to stand in first position, Mouzon glanced around the room. He had no idea what that was.

“I completely bombed every single combination in the audition,” Mouzon said.

At the end, each kid had a chance to perform a solo.

“They turned on the music, said go and I just danced my little butt off,” he said. Two weeks later, he found an acceptance letter in the mail.

Chelsea Dumas’s Sonnet 116_Group_Photo by Taylor Jones_DSC_2692.jpg
Maurice Mouzon, Jr. and fellow Charlotte Ballet members in Chelsea Dumas’s choreography “Sonnet 116.” Taylor Jones

On the spot

Right after Mouzon was accepted to the dance school, he gave up baseball and football. He started taking classes in an after-school program that exposed kids to the arts. Quickly, Mouzon noticed that baseball, football and ballet had some similarities. They all required focus and precision.

“You have to be subtle and quick at the same time,” he said.

Mouzon attended BSA for high school, graduating in 2015. After dancing at SUNY Purchase for a year, he received an offer to join Charlotte Ballet II, a troupe of young dancers transitioning from students to professionals.

One day, the second company dancers auditioned to be part of the main company’s performance of a piece called “Minus 16.” The next thing Mouzon knew, he was improvising just like he did in middle school and at the BSA audition.

Those moves worked out for him again. Ohad Nahirn, the choreographer of “Minus 16,” told Mouzon he was intrigued by the way he moved and chose him to perform in the piece. What’s more, Nahirn cast him in a main solo.

“It was euphoric,” Mouzon said.

Minus 16, by choreographer Ohad Naharin, uses Gaga movement language.

Following the performance and a short layoff, he was back at the studio for class and rehearsals. Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, who was then the ballet’s artistic director, stopped Mouzon while he was walking to the bathroom.

Bonnefoux said he had a spot in the first company, and wanted to know if Mouzon would like to join.

“I just froze and yelled ‘yes’,” Mouzon said.

Most dancers spend a year or two in the second company before being considered for the main company. Mouzon had been in the second company for a month.

“It happened so quickly, I was like, ‘Wait. Wait, what? Are you serious,’ ” he said.

Medhi Walerski_Petite Ceremonie_Maurice Mouzon Jr & Peter Mazurowski_photo by Jeff Cravotta_fix_1205-4504.jpg
Charlotte Ballet dancers Maurice Mouzon, Jr., left, and Peter Mazurowski, right, perform in French choreographer Medhi Walerski’s “Petite Ceremonie.” Jeff Cravotta

Mouzon was only 19 years old when he accepted the main company contract. Now 22, he is entering his fourth season with the Charlotte Ballet.

“(He) is a very articulate dancer that has the ability to be both powerful and sensitive at the same time,” artistic director Hope Muir said.

Puzzling it out

Last year, Muir invited her dancers to create pieces for the Choreographic Lab, a performance where company members showcase their own work.

At first, Mouzon wasn’t sure he wanted to choreograph. He thought he didn’t have enough experience and was too soft spoken. Then, he felt an unexpected urge to go for it.

“It was intimidating at first because growing up, I was really shy. It was hard to take command of the room,” he said. “Actually, I kind of like it now. It’s like putting a puzzle together.”

Mouzon choreographed his piece “6” to Dustin O’Halloran’s “Opus 28, Piano Solo vol. 2” for company dancers. He said it was a ballet-styled work with a contemporary twist.

Maurice Mouzon Jr.’s 6_Raven Barkley, Ben Ingel, Peter Mazurowski, Amelia Sturt-Dilley_Photo by Taylor Jones_DSC_3012.jpg
Charlotte Ballet dancers Raven Barkley, Ben Ingel, Peter Mazurowski and Amelia Sturt-Dilley perform in Maurice Mouzon Jr.’s choreography “6”. Taylor Jones

Before he had started crafting “6,” Muir announced she would choose two choreographers from the lab to create dances for the upcoming season. Mouzon said he wasn’t banking on that possibility, but wound up with the gig.

After the Choreographic Lab performance, Muir called the dancers and choreographers back onto the stage, and said she had chosen Mouzon to handle choreography for the second company during the 2019-20 season. He was shocked.

“I was just hoping that (the choreography) came out well. I just didn’t think it would come out that well,” Mouzon said.

This fall, Mouzon plans to choreograph a jazz-styled piece for the second company dancers. He’s considering using music by Nigerian composer Fela Kuti, but he’s not sure yet. The dancers will perform at demonstrations for school students.

Mouzon was surprised by the trajectory his life has taken and sometimes wonders if others are too.

“I will ask people, ‘If I didn’t tell you, what would you guess to be my profession?’ ” Mouzon said.

Football player, basketball player and gymnast are common guesses. Even after he tells people he’s a dancer, they don’t always understand.

“They’re like, ‘Oh! Do you strip?’ ” he said.

He’ll shake his head and tell them he does ballet. Sometimes he has to remind himself, too, that his life is reality.

“I’m still pinching myself to the day,” he said.

Obvious cool/Hidden cool

We asked artists and arts administrators interviewed for the Fall Arts preview to talk about their favorite piece of Obvious Cool art in Charlotte and their favorite Hidden Cool art.

Obvious Cool art: The mural painted on the outside of Charlotte Ballet. “It’s not a typical mural. It’s more so on the graffiti side, but with a touch of history behind it,” Maurice Mouzon Jr. said.

Charlotte Ballet mural.JPG
This is the mural by art duo PichiAvo painted on the side of the Charlotte Ballet building. Courtesy of Charlotte Ballet

Hidden Cool art: “Walking Mad” by Johan Inger. Mouzon said when he performed it, he has to “dig deep in, enter my emotions and bring them out. And make sure the audience felt them as well.”

Walking Mad
Charlotte Ballet’s 2017 performance of Johan Inger’s “Walking Mad.” Jeff Cravotta Observer file art

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