Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Making dancers at home in Charlotte

N.C. Dance Theatre gave four departing dancers a warm goodbye after the last performance of "Dangerous Liaisons," but it was of course a bittersweet occasion. 

At the end of the curtain calls Saturday night, artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux came out and paid tribute to dancers who give more than choreographers ask. Then he called to center stage each of the four: Alessandra Ball, Rebecca Carmazzi, David Ingram and Justin VanWeest. Photos of them flashed onto the video monitors that had figured so prominently in "Liaisons." 

"They're going where love takes them," Bonnefoux said. Carmazzi will focus on being a mother of three. Ball and Ingram will join spouses in other states. VanWeest will join his girlfriend in California. 

When I wasn't reminiscing about their performances with NCDT, I thought back to an interview with Doug Singleton, the company's executive director, last summer. He lamented the fact that the budget cutbacks brought on by the recession were making it hard for the company to hold onto dancers. It was on him mind because of three dancers who left at the end of last season. 

NCDT's belt-tightening reached the point that the dancers only had 30 weeks of work in a year. In the wake of the recession, even that was more work than some people had, sad to say. But it sure hasn't helped NCDT hold onto talented people -- especially since dancers'  careers are so short that they can't afford to sit around. 

So, last year, NCDT's Dustin Layton, Sarah James and Kara Wilkes took off. Layton took a job with a Las Vegas show. James moved to be with him. Wilkes joined Lines Ballet, the San Francisco company founded by choreographer Alonzo King, a sometime guest of NCDT. (In case your memory needs a boost: Layton starred in NCDT's "Dracula." James was one of two blonde Sarahs. The long-limbed Wilkes looked about 7 feet tall on pointe.) 

It's to join Wilkes that VanWeest is leaving now. Between last season and now, the turnover is seven people. Comings and goings are a given in a dance companies, because of those short careers. But in a small company, seven people in two years is a lot of disruption. Bonnefoux and NCDT's other leaders have to spend time poring over prospective dancers' videotapes and holding auditions -- time that comes out of cultivating the company they have. 

Next season, when the newcomers arrive, the NCDT will offer 35 weeks of work, Bonnefoux said recently. Will that be enough to  keep dancers here? 

(Photo of Carmazzi, from left, Ball, Ingram and VanWeest by Peter Zay.)