North Carolina Dance Theatre is bringing its program “Under Southern Skies” to Chattanooga during its national tour March 5, 2006, at Hayes Concert Hall, in the Fine Arts Center on the University of Tennessee campus. The program explores the theme of Southern heritage, and includes four pieces, “Shindig,” “Sweet Tea,” “Salt,” and “I’m with You.” Dancers are joined on stage by North Carolina bluegrass band The Greasy Beans, and critically acclaimed acoustic guitarist Christine Kane.
“Hayes Hall has 500 seats,” says Bob Boyer, with the Center, “and great acoustics, so it’s a really nice experience for the audience.”
NCDT’s dancers are known for their artistry, precision and speed, as well as their repertory ranging from innovative contemporary works to classical ballets. Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux formerly of the Paris Opera Ballet and New York City Ballet, and at one time chairman of the Ballet Department at Indiana University serves as Artistic Director. Associate Director, Patricia McBride, is a dazzling, celebrated American ballerina and star of international stature. Both Mr. Bonnefoux and Ms McBride are colleagues of dance greats Edward Villella, Rudolph Nureyev, and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
NCDT featured dancer Tracy Gilchrest talks about the upcoming event.
“’Shindig’ is hard to pigeonhole. It is made up of vignettes, so it’s technically challenging, with everything from ballet to modern dance to clogging. The music is catchy, contagious, and incredibly fun and hard – the difficulty is part of the fun – because live musicians improvise. It’s the way they work. But dancers move to counts – it’s how we work. So Mr. Bonnefoux started by choreographing to CDs, and then eventually the band came into the studio. They had to learn to play to our counts, exactly the same tempo every night.”
“Sweet Tea,” by Uri Sands, evokes summer in the South, and is danced to a medley by John Coltrane, who was born in North Carolina. “I feel particularly close to this piece,” says Bonnefoux, “because back when I was living in New York, and before, when I visited the United States with the Paris Opera, I came down to North Carolina just to buy Coltrane’s recordings. His work meant that much to me.”
Then there’s “Salt,” by San Francisco choreographer Alonzo King. “You might say it’s a world theme, showing how people conquer the larger problems, but it’s open to interpretation,” says Gilchrest. “Salt” builds upon an established relationship King already enjoys with NCDT, and uses a commissioned a score that integrates voices and drumming from African, Spanish, Indian, and other cultures.
“Watching a King ballet is like watching music,” says NCDT student Jane Yoon, who saw “Salt” when it premiered in Charlotte this past May. “The steps are unusual, unpredictable. Yet every sound is accounted for, or reflected in the movement.”
Christine Kane was initially attracted to the idea of working with NCDT because she studied dance as a child. “I keep Patricia McBride’s autograph in my scrapbook,” she says. Kane’s music has gained recent popularity for its laid-back humor and personal confessions. With growing record sales and national exposure, her 5th CD “Right Outta Nowhere” whose songs inform Bonnefoux’s “I’m With You,” is a mix of acoustic rhythms and lyrical characters who ride the bus, live on the wrong side of the tracks, and shift with apparent ease – in travel-weary cars – between the profound and the hilarious.
The Under Southern Skies concept, says Bonnefoux, “tries to answer the question: what is our heritage in the South?
“There’s no strict definition. This is one of the reasons we all feel so excited about bringing the ballet to Chattanooga. We really want to reach new audiences, and get them to realize how much fun dancing is, how important it is in our lives.
“The Nutcracker is wonderful. But there is more to ballet than The Nutcracker.
We have to do more than imitate the past. We work in the world that exists right now. So we bring in contemporary musicians, and make chorography that addresses what people are thinking about at this moment, in the present.
“People don’t realize that ballet is not a duty. They’re not in school. Ballet isn’t really about your brain. It’s about feelings. Contemporary choreography challenges us. It changes us. That’s what dance is.”
Tickets: $8 – $20
7:30pm, Sunday, March 5, 2006
Hayes Concert Hall, Fine Arts Center
Vine & Palmetto Streets
University of Tennessee, Chattanooga