Career

Director's Notes: Southern Charm

Bonnefoux rehearsing dancers Melissa Anduiza and David Morse (photo by Jeff Cravotta, courtesy Charlotte Ballet)

Take a look at Charlotte Ballet’s repertoire, and it’s clear it’s a company fueled by innovative contemporary works yet rich in ballet pedigree. Led by former New York City Ballet stars Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride, the company has challenged its home audience with Dwight Rhoden’s civil-rights themed Sit In Stand Out and delighted attendees at the Chautauqua Institution, its summer home in upstate New York, with Sasha Janes’ inventive and sophisticated Chaconne.

Founded in 1970 as North Carolina Dance Theatre, the company relocated from Winston-Salem to Charlotte in 1990. Bonnefoux took over, in 1996, with his wife McBride as associate artistic director. Both left positions in the ballet department at Indiana University to inherit a financially struggling company that hadn’t yet solidified its place in Charlotte. But they were able to quickly turn the company around with a vision focused on a wide-ranging repertoire.

“We were not there to say ‘We come from this specific ballet tradition and that is all you will see,’ ” says Bonnefoux. “I wanted to find the new talent in America and bring it to Charlotte. You need exciting choreographers to attract exciting dancers and vice versa.”

Bonnefoux hired both. Over the past 19 years, the non-ranked company has built a consistent roster of dancers to perform new contemporary ballets by the likes of Alonzo King, Jirí Bubenícek and resident choreographer Rhoden; modern classics from Balanchine, Forsythe, Kylián and Tharp; and full-length story ballets.

Aside from the repertoire, many dancers come for the chance to learn from the legendary McBride, who acts as a mentor and coach, as well as a master teacher in the company’s affiliated school. Bonnefoux, too, “is very selfless, understanding and genuine,” says 10-year Charlotte Ballet dancer Alessandra James. “Yet he commands so much respect. His stories about his career and insight into ballets are absolutely priceless.”

James is the poster child for the type of dancer Bonnefoux hires: not just an excellent performer and technician, but someone who’s eager to grow. “If a dancer is not working to improve and stays the same from year to year,” says Bonnefoux, “it is not good for the company. There is no routine here.”

Bonnefoux has also been supportive of his dancers as choreographers, including former member Janes, who shares the role of associate artistic director with McBride.

In addition to their annual five-program season and occasional regional touring, Charlotte Ballet’s dancers get extra weeks of work at Chautauqua, where they present new ballets and preview their upcoming home season. Bonnefoux has headed Chautauqua’s summer dance program since 1983, and the relationship led to Charlotte Ballet’s summer residency officially starting in 2001.

Beginning this season, a partnership with South Carolina’s Gaillard Center in Charleston will add more performances—including major productions like The Nutcracker—and educational programming. The goal is to help build an audience in a community which recently lost its lone professional ballet company, Charleston Ballet Theatre.

Another change came in 2014 when the company rebranded to Charlotte Ballet. Bonnefoux and McBride wanted to better define the company as a ballet troupe with Charlotte as its home, and it has already led to increased ticket sales. The key element in the marketing strategy? Using the dancers’ faces and stories in advertisements to personalize the company/dancegoer relationship.

For Bonnefoux, that face also needs to be a diversified one. “You don’t have that many African American dancers coming to auditions, and that is disappointing,” he says. But the company has been proactive via an ongoing program with Dance Theatre of Harlem. For the past three years, Charlotte Ballet II has taken two students from DTH’s school into its ranks. The company has also been cultivating homegrown talent through Reach, its community outreach scholarship program for young beginners.

With its new performance partnership and diversity initiatives, the freshly rebranded company has become an increasingly desirable destination. “The dancers that come here know the repertory is not easy,” says Bonnefoux. “It is going to challenge, excite and transform them.”

New York City Ballet in Marc Chagall's costume designs for Balanchine's "Firebird."

I am a self-confessed costume nerd who really needs little persuasion to travel nearly 3,000 miles to see a costume exhibition—which is what I did when I set off for California for the new exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Chagall: Fantasies for the StageChagall: Fantasies for the Stage. I knew Marc Chagall primarily for his sumptuous blue swirling paintings featuring violin-playing goats, his incredible ceiling at the Paris Opéra's Palais Garnier, and murals at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, so I was intrigued to see his work with ballet.

Marc Chagall (1887–1985), was born Moishe Zakharovich Shagal in Belarus. He later moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, to study art, apprenticing under famed Ballets Russes designer Leon Bakst. Chagall's work in ballet and opera, however, did not begin until he and his wife Bella arrived in the U.S. as World War II refugees in 1941.

Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage, adapted from an earlier exhibition at the Montreal Music of Art and curated by Yuval Sharon and Jason H. Thompson, is an exciting opportunity to see 41 costumes and nearly 100 designs. But it is the costumes that really steal the show. You won't see any tutus here, but instead amazing, almost cartoon-like realizations of Chagall's artwork. LACMA's exhibition runs through January 7, 2018. For those of you who can't make the trip like I did, here's a rundown of highlights.

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Tiler Peck in "Who Cares?". Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck and Emmy-winning actress Elisabeth Moss (of Mad Men and Handmaid's Tale fame) may seem like unlikely friends, until you dig a little deeper into their backgrounds. Both attended Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica and spent summers at the School of American Ballet in their youths. Moss and Peck's career paths diverged when the former fell in love with acting and Peck went on to study at SAB full time, eventually becoming the star we know today. Now, the pairs' artistic pursuits are uniting in an exciting new project.

According to Deadline.com, Moss will produce a documentary featuring Peck and her work curating BalletNOW, last summer's star-studded, critically acclaimed program at Los Angeles's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Peck was the first woman to lead BalletNOW's programming, and she brought together dancers from companies including The Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Paris Opéra Ballet, putting them on stage with tappers, clowns and break dancers (sometimes simultaneously).


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Looking for creative and healthy ways to get your pumpkin fix this fall? First, back away from the pumpkin-spiced latte—the season's unofficial drink is often laced with sugary syrup and comes with a complimentary mid-rehearsal crash. Instead, try these simple snacks with puréed pumpkin. It's high in beta-carotene, which converts to immunity-boosting vitamin A, and is a good source of vitamin K, iron and fiber. You can buy it canned or make the purée from a "sugar" or "pie" pumpkin (they're commonly available at grocery stores or farm markets).

Fruit-and-Spice Toast

- Spread purée onto whole-grain toast.

- Top with sliced pear.

- Add a dash of cinnamon.

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When Maya Plisetskaya first toured abroad with the Bolshoi Ballet, she stunned the world. Her dramatic and technical abilities were far beyond what anyone outside the Soviet Union had seen before. She quickly became an icon, symbolizing Russian ballet.

Plisetskaya was the perfect ballerina to play the Tsar Maiden in The Little Humpbacked Horse when choreographer Alexander Radunsky and composer Rodion Shchedrin recreated the classic Russian folktale in the 1960s. This vintage clip of the ballet offers a glimpse into an era gone by. Although ballet technique has advanced since then, Plisetskaya's performance is still electrifying. She is daring and agile in her manèges and fouettés, while she shows gentle purity and authentic emotion in the pas de deux with the wide-eyed Ivan. Even half a century later, this magnificent artist continues to transfix us with her radiant presence onstage. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


Pointe Stars
P.O. Alienz in Lavender Leotard; Paulina Waski modelling a Kreature Kulture t-shirt. Photos Courtesy Paulina Waski.

Walk into any ballet class and you're bound to see a row of dancers clad in leotards patterned with dainty flowers and lace. But nearly three years ago, American Ballet Theatre corps dancer Paulina Waski wore a very different kind of leotard to class—and her colleagues loved it. Now an average day at ABT includes any number of dancers in leotards featuring angry aliens, detached eyeballs and grinning monsters.

"My dad, John, is an artist, and he draws all these crazy creatures," Waski explains. "One year he did what he called his paper plate project; he drew a new creature onto a paper plate every single day for 365 days. I thought, 'he should put one on a leotard!' He screen printed one onto one of my old leotards himself, and when I wore it to class everyone was wowed." And so, Kreature Kulture was born.


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Danny Rivera (left) is one of six students from San Juan who the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School is hoping to relocate so he can continue his training. Photo by Soho Images, Courtesy SCBS.


Many of us take our ballet training for granted. But for dancers living in Puerto Rico, which is still reeling from the devastating affects of last month's Hurricane Maria, pursuing a ballet career or simply taking class must now feel insurmountable. What do you do when Mother Nature not only destroys your dance studio, but your home and the majority of the city you live in? Priorities must shift to those of basic survival.

Now, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports that the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School is trying to help six Puerto Rican dancers resume their training. The students, whose studio in San Juan was badly damaged, had recently attended SCBS's summer intensive. School directors Ariel Serrano and Wilmian Hernandez have started a fundraising effort called "Sarasota And Puerto Rico Dance Together" to temporarily relocate the dancers. While they can easily offer them scholarships, Serrano and Hernandez must raise an additional $36,000 to provide housing, food and living expenses for one year. (SCBS has a dormitory for female students, but not for male students.)

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Videos
Photo by Nisian Hughes

Transform your next black-and-white tutu look with these on-trend details like mesh cutouts and lace sleeves. And checkout the behind-the-scenes footage from our tutu shoot, below.

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