Lawrence Toppman

Charlotte Ballet opener thrives on new blood

Charlotte Ballet’s Alessandra Ball James and James Kopecky share a moment in Jiri Kylian’s “Forgotten Land.”
Charlotte Ballet’s Alessandra Ball James and James Kopecky share a moment in Jiri Kylian’s “Forgotten Land.”

Everything in Charlotte Ballet’s “Fall Works” may remind you of artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, though I don’t suppose it’s intended to.

Sasha Janes, a choreographer Bonnefoux has nurtured over the last few years, contributed a new piece set to Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” Bonnefoux revived his own “Shindig,” again with live bluegrass music by The Greasy Beans. And Bonnefoux, who will retire at the end of next season, has brought back Jiri Kylian’s “Forgotten Land;” that masterpiece is about (among many things) the transience of our actions and inevitability of loss.

Charlotte Ballet has hired nine new dancers, though two (Amand Pulaj and Tendo Pereira Dos Santos) are injured. The additions have perked up a troupe that sometimes depended on the star power of a handful of soloists, and the weight of the performances is distributed more evenly.

The entire company seems more animated – look at the facial expressions of each performer – and more fearless, hurling themselves into big moves more confidently.

Veteran Alessandra Ball James asserted herself in all three pieces Friday at Knight Theater. Lesser-used Chelsea Dumas, Josh Hall and others stepped into the spotlight with assurance. There was a sense that anything might happen now – and to anybody, new or old.

Kylian’s moody piece vaguely charts the progress of a woman’s life from innocence through passionate adulthood to an acceptance of death. Though it’s not a narrative, it’s powerfully emotional: Kylian sometimes splits the body into two planes, earthbound below the waist and aspiring above, and he conveys a deep peace when dancers embrace themselves and each other at last.

Bonnefoux’s high-kicking scenario, which begins after three solo songs from the Beans before a closed curtain, shows what might happen if Ado Annie and Will Parker took over “Oklahoma” for 25 minutes. All the guys show off, all the girls flirt, and the mood of unrelieved gaiety never breaks for a reflective or melancholy song.

Vivaldi’s “Seasons” already stands as a programmatic piece with barking dogs, drunken shepherds, a summer storm, a droning bagpiper, etc. Janes doesn’t worry about that, because he’s conveying moods: elegant gaiety for spring, sexy indolence for summer, placid joy for autumn, whirling anxiety in winter. (Raven Barkley conveyed that in a bravura solo.)

Backdrops remain distractingly literal: images of wheeling birds at sunrise and falling leaves the size of motorcycles, snow drifting down from the ceiling like a “Nutcracker” moment. That doesn’t always suit the abstraction of the dances. Except for a striking solo by Hall during “Winter,” where you know he’s chilled physically and perhaps spiritually, only the handsome changes of costumes firmly place us in different seasons.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘Fall Works’

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

Where: Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St.

Running time: 135 minutes.

Tickets: $25-85.

Details: 704-372-1000; carolinatix.org.

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