Tuesday night’s performance will be, in its own way, a pas de deux.
The Charlotte Ballet, under the direction of its outgoing artistic director, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Grant Cooper, will take the stage together at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater. The evening is themed “Charlotte & Chautauqua: Celebrating the Career of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux,” honoring the legacy of the longtime artistic director of both Chautauqua Dance and the Charlotte Ballet, formerly North Carolina Dance Theatre.
For Bonnefoux, working with a live orchestra is nothing new. Early on in his career, Bonnefoux worked with live orchestras at the Paris Opera Ballet and the New York City Ballet. As the nature of dance and performances continue to evolve, it’s becoming increasingly rare for dance companies to hire live musicians.
“I feel, in fact, spoiled,” Bonnefoux said. “In Charlotte we don’t have that many shows with orchestras.” This year marks Cooper’s 10th season at Chautauqua Institution. He said Chautauqua deserves a lot of credit for making the CSO available for ballet performances.
“Most ballet companies these days cannot afford to have live music,” Cooper said. “It’s really unfortunate because it’s a really different collaboration with live music.”
Working with live musicians brings benefits and challenges. According to Cooper, live music adds an organic and spontaneous quality to the performances. Bonnefoux believes that it challenges dancers to pay particular attention to the choreography they’ve rehearsed and how it may need to be improvised to match the conductor’s tempo. Finding the perfect tempo may not matter much to the audience, Bonnefoux said, but it can make or break the choreography.
“You really have to follow what’s happening,” Bonnefoux said. “It can really change the performance for the dancer — if it’s too fast they can’t do everything they wanted to do; if it’s too slow, then it lingers.”
The orchestra and the dancers only have one joint rehearsal, and Bonnefoux admitted that makes him a bit nervous. For Cooper, it’s important to become “as comfortable as possible in the limited amount of rehearsal time” he has with the dancers. That means studying the tempos of the recordings to ensure that he’s not making unexpected demands of the dancers by being too fast or too slow.
“I don’t try to follow the dancers,” Cooper said. “If I did, everything would probably be too slow.”
Mark Godden’s “Angels in the Architecture” adds new choreography to Aaron Copland’s iconic ballet score, “Appalachian Spring.” The music is full of asymmetric meters and sudden tempo changes.
“It’s a difficult piece to conduct in concert, let alone with ballet,” Cooper said.
The ballet was originally choreographed by Martha Graham, the so-called mother of modern dance. Cooper said synchronizing a score he knows well with new choreography isn’t as challenging as it might seem.
“The only difference is: ‘How fast are the fast parts, and how slow are the slow parts?’ ” Cooper said.
Like Charlotte Ballet’s opening performance last Thursday, Tuesday’s show features five pieces, but this time from five different choreographers. Alonzo King, the first choreographer Bonnefoux invited to work with the Charlotte Ballet at Chautauqua 20 years ago, created “MAP,” a three-part work featuring the music of Arvo Pärt.
Mark Diamond, the School of Dance’s associate artistic director, choreographed the night’s opener, “La Valse.” It originally debuted at Chautauqua in 2001. There will also be a George Balanchine recreation set to John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Bonnefoux’s own choreography will also be featured in an excerpt from the third act of Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty.” Bonnefoux said he was inspired by Russo-French dancer and choreographer Marius Petipa.
Both Cooper and Bonnefoux said the variety of music and movement represented on the program show how versatile the dancers and musicians are.
“When you have different styles, then you have to be careful to do justice to the choreographers,” Bonnefoux said.
“It’s an incredibly varied evening,” Cooper said. “It should be very beautiful and very exciting.”