This is innovative: Dancers wind around the stage at McBride-Bonnefoux Center for Dance to string music by Boccherini, as five large balloons rise and fall and a projector shows grainy images of movement on the back wall.
This is “Innovative Works:” Charlotte Ballet’s 20th annual concert for pieces that have never or seldom been performed and challenge us to consider what dance may be. It opened Friday at the center, offering four pieces out of five by former or current CB dancers.
The show began and ended with associate artistic director Sasha Janes. The finale, a reprise of “Hallelujah,” came from his longer “Sketches of Grace;” it made a welcome return, three months after the death of composer Leonard Cohen. Janes’ exuberant, slightly swoony pas de deux got a thrilling interpretation from Josh Hall and Sarah Hayes Harkins, even if Janes doesn’t give in to the darkest lyrics. (It’s partly about falling out of love.)
He opened the night with “Utopia,” the serio-whimsical story of a 1950s married couple (Hall and Elizabeth Truell). At first, she seems clingy and cheerful, he inattentive and vain. We soon see why: She seeks aid from a therapist, and he dallies with a sexy secretary (Jamie Dee Clifton). Janes sticks to the subjects of his songs: “To Know Him is to Love Him,” the plaint of a girl ignored by a boy, inspires a dance for Truell that’s a primal scream. (Then she actually lets loose a primal scream.) When he repeats the opening sequence to the Platters’ “No Matter What You Are,” there’s pathos.
Harkins choreographed the short “Gemini,” danced by Drew Grant and Ben Ingel, to explore the double sides of a personality: public and private, extroverted and solitary, supporting each other at last without aligning. She was undermined by the volume of the music: Chopin shouldn’t make dental fillings vibrate, and you couldn’t understand what one dancer said as he moved among the audience. (Open question to Charlotte Ballet: Why is the music always distractingly loud in this theater? Can’t dancers hear it otherwise?)
Mark Diamond contributed one of his strongest pieces, “Ever After.” It felt like three states of ecstasy embodied by Harkins and the corps: penitential to Bach, rhapsodic to a Bulgarian woman’s choir and blissful to music by Karl Jenkins, as the corps enfolded her. She and Hall paired memorably in the first section; are they becoming a regular team?
David Ingram’s “Flamouria” brought out those balloons. A grant from Reemprise bought technology that could be used here and later, yet that was the weakest part of this work.
Ingram mostly used pas de deux and pas de quatre, and his fluidly engaging choreography suited the Boccherini. Meanwhile, blurry projected images of dancers and community members remained irrelevant to what we heard and saw live.
They were innovative, but innovation doesn’t guarantee success: It takes risks and redefines boundaries. “Innovative Works” always does that, with or without machinery.
When: Through Feb. 18 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Also 2 p.m. Feb. 4, 11 and 18.
Where: McBride-Bonnefoux Center for Dance, 701 N. Tryon St.
Running time: 95 minutes.
Details: 704-372-1000; charlotteballet.org.