Lawrence Toppman

Charlotte Ballet’s ‘Fall Works” a half-extraordinary evening

Religious ecstasy is one of many moods in Ohad Naharin’s “Minus 16” at Charlotte Ballet.
Religious ecstasy is one of many moods in Ohad Naharin’s “Minus 16” at Charlotte Ballet. Jeff Cravotta

If you delay a bathroom visit at intermission or spend too much time gossiping over your glass of wine, you’ll miss one of the most remarkable extended moments in “Minus 16” – and, I suspect, in Charlotte Ballet’s season, which began Thursday at Knight Theater with the Fall Works program.

With the house lights up, Maurice Mouzon Jr. stood before the curtain, wriggling contentedly to cha-cha music. (He alternates in this solo with James Kopecki.) He’s a comic hipster, a faux athlete, then a real athlete who hurls himself through flips and barrel rolls. As the half-aware crowd realizes what he’s doing, the curtain rises, and Ohad Naharin’s fascinating series of ideas unfolds.

The Israeli choreographer runs through many emotions in this work. A semi-circle of 18 Jews, who flail arms and rend garments to the sounds of chanting, pass through religious ecstasy into a kind of mania – except for one lonely, struggling figure on the end.

A duet of longing, anxiety and tenderness (done well by Ben Ingel and Elizabeth Truell on opening night) unfolds to part of Vivaldi’s “Stabat Mater.” Goofy narcissists swivel and slink to Dean Martin’s “Sway,” pulling volunteers from the audience to accompany them.

You might go mad insisting on connections, especially as the piece concludes with delicate moves to a calm Chopin excerpt. (Or used to; now there’s a frenetic curtain call.) We float through the mind of an imaginative choreographer as he shifts from mood to mood.

The evening opens with a revival of Dwight Rhoden’s “Groove,” set to interchangeable bits of club music blasted at us at the volume the CIA employed to drive dictator Manuel Noriega from his Panama stronghold.

Rhoden’s hip-thrusting, high-kicking steps create a carnal excitement within five minutes, then go on for half an hour in the same vein. By the end, there’s a hint that characters may be establishing some connection, though they seemed to fall into each other’s arms more from sheer exhaustion.

The precision of the ensemble in both pieces showed how Charlotte Ballet has improved over the 20 years of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s tenure. So the announcement of a June tribute to the retiring artistic director is good news, especially as it offers George Balanchine’s “Rubies” (staged by Patricia McBride, for whom it was created), Jiri Kylian’s “Sechs Tänze” (a Charlotte Ballet premiere) and Mark Godden’s “Angels in the Architecture.”

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘Fall Works’

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St.

Tickets: $25-$85.

Details: 704-372-1000 or charlotteballet.org.

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