When Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux realized four dancers were leaving Charlotte Ballet, he was in the midst of replacing two others, filling a spot that had been left vacant and adding two positions to the company. He took a moment to let it all sink in.
Nine new dancers. He had to add nine new dancers for the 2015-16 season.
“By now, I could have been really in a terrible state thinking about the company and what’s happening,” said Bonnefoux, who’s in his next-to-last season as artistic director. “But we’ve been really fortunate that we have these people coming.”
“These people” are the nine dancers he found to help make up the 20 in Charlotte Ballet’s first company. They came from an audition in New York, recommendations and word of mouth. They bring a strength in classical training and a diversity Bonnefoux has sought to build in his nearly two decades in charge.
Three hail from other countries: Tendo Pereira Dos Santos from Brazil, Ryo Suzuki from Japan, Amand Pulaj from Italy. Additionally, 22-year-old Lauren Baznik danced in Zurich, Switzerland, for the last three years.
“The good thing with ballet is that we all speak the same language,” said Pulaj, who has danced everywhere from Italy to Iowa. “Even if I couldn’t talk English, we still ‘tendu, jeté,’ everything is the same language.”
Two other dancers, 22-year-old Raven Barkley and 19-year-old Juwan Alston, are African-American. “Diversity is very important to me,” Bonnefoux said. “That’s really something that I think is necessary. We are in America.”
Five new dancers are men, four are women. Sarah Lapointe, 18, comes directly from high school, while Pulaj has danced professionally for 14 years.
The strength of the new dancers lies in classical ballet, according to Bonnefoux, but that will have no impact on the season repertoire, which has been set for more than a year. The season starts Thursday.
Now, the challenge comes in learning how everyone fits together. Oh, and in remembering nine new names.
Charlotte Ballet 2015-16
The season kicks off with the Fall Works concert: Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s “Shindig” (done to live bluegrass by Greasy Beans), a new Sasha Janes piece set to “The Four Seasons” and Jiri Kylian’s “Forgotten Land.” Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St. Tickets: $25-$95. Details: charlotteballet.org.