Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Summertime with the King of Instruments

Every summer, when many of Charlotte's musical operations go on vacation, the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists helps save us from a musical drought. 

From June through August, members of the group and  guests perform a free concert each Sunday night. This year's series begins Sunday with a recital by Kevin Neel, a Fort Mill native who graduated from Indiana University's School of Music. 

The series lets music lovers sample some of the most powerful musical instruments in the area, from the venerable ones at Covenant Presbyterian and Myers Park Baptist to the 2006  instrument at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church (photo by Diedra Laird). The instrument Neel will play Sunday, at Unity Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill, was built in 1936 by one of the most prestigious makers of the day, E.M. Skinner. Its original home was a church in Salisbury. 

A handful of guest musicians, including Charlotte Symphony members, will pitch in occasionally. There will also be an Anglican Evensong service and a choral concert. Here's the schedule: 

June 3: Kevin Neel. Unity Presbyterian Church, 303 Tom Hall St., Fort Mill. Neel, a Fort Mill native, is organist at First Christian Church in Bloomington, Ind. 

June 10: Patrick Pope with Hollis Ulaky, oboe; Laurel Talley, violin; Amy Orsinger Whitehead, Flute; and Tadd Hoffman, trumpet. Holy Comforter Episcopal Church, 2701 Park Road. Pope is the church's organist and director of music.  

June 17: Matthew Noonan. Central United Methodist Church, 801 S. Hayne St., Monroe. Music by J.S. Bach. 

June 24: Patrick Scott. Myers Park United Methodist Church, 1501 Queens Road. Scott is the church's organist. 

July 1: Audrey McConnell. South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church, 8601 Bryant Farms Road, Charlotte. McConnell is the church's organist. 

July 8 at 4 p.m.: Royal School of Church Music Evensong. Myers Park Baptist Church, 1900 Queens Road. 

July 15: Student recital featuring winners of the Stigall Organ Scholarship. St. John's Baptist Church, 300 Hawthorne Lane. 

July 22: Timothy Belk. Convenant Presbyterian Church, 1000 E. Morehead St. Belk is the organist of First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia. Works by Guilmant, Elgar, Shearing and others. 

July 29: Timothy Smith. Purity Presbyterian Church, 135 Wylie St., Chester. Smith is parish musician at Christ Episcopal Church, Lancaster, S.C. 

Aug. 5: Nathaniel Gumbs. Myers Park Baptist Church. Gumbs is organist of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. 

Aug. 12: Adam Ward, with violist Martha Geisler. Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 3400 Beatties Ford Road. Ward is organist of Providence United Methodist Church. 

Aug. 19: Lester Ackerman, organist. St. Mark's Lutheran Church, 1001 Queens Road. Ackerman is the church's organist. 

Aug. 26: Choirs of Covenant Presbyterian Church and Myers Park United Methodist Church, with organ, brass and percussion. Covenant Presbyterian Church. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Spoleto: A weekend in the country with Coward

CHARLESTON -- Maybe all the world's a stage. But the Bliss family has all the theatrical arena it needs in its own home. 

The matriarch, Judith, has retired from her acting career, so now she has to content herself with strutting and fretting across the drawing room. Her drama-queen urges have seeped into the rest of the family: husband David, a novelist whose commercial success has installed them in a country manor; son Simon, a would-be artist whose idea of dressing for dinner involving donning a matador jacket; and daughter Sorel, a man-magnet who's clear-eyed enough to see that everyone they know thinks the family is bizarre. 

Noel Coward takes us for a weekend at their home in "Hay Fever," he sendup of the actors and bohemians he must've know by the boatloads during his decades as a globe-trotting playwright, actor and bon vivant. 

Another of Coward's comedies, "Present Laughter," had a sellout run at the Spoleto Festival in 2010, when the Gate Theatre -- a longtime favorite here -- came over from Ireland with it. Now the Gate is back with "Hay Fever," which is still wry and high-spirited nearly 90 years after its premiere. Ego, exaggeration and other foibles of the self-consciously artistic haven't disappeared in the meantime, have they? 

In "Present Laughter," Coward has his fun by letting the audience in on a matinee idol's life behind the scenes. "Hay Fever" is a collision between two worlds: the over-the-top Blisses versus a quartet of normal, or relatively normal, houseguests. 

When we meet the Blisses, they're at home by themselves, and they're chafing at it. Judith is even threatening to return to the stage -- because she's appalled that audiences are not clamoring for it. But such worries are forgotten when the Blisses discover that each of them, unbeknownst to the others, has invited a guest -- actually an admirer -- to come for the weekend. 

"Hay Fever" isn't exactly a play within a play. It's more of an interactive theater experience within a play, and the houseguests are on the receiving end. Coward first creates a series of social train wrecks as the visitors arrive and encounter the full-force family. Then he turns the Blisses and their hothouse personas loose on their startled, susceptible domestic audience. By Act 2, the results are even surprising the Blisses.

The Gate's cast carries off a neat trick: playing over-the-top characters while still keeping a light touch. 

Ingrid Craigie shows that Judith always has her creaky thespian skills at her fingertips. One of the most delicious moments is watching social challenged guest Richard -- who, as played by Mark O'Halloran, has all the easy affability of a paper clip -- fall under Judith's heavy-handed spell. 

Stephen Brennan, as the Bliss patriarch, lets you see the moment David switches on the charm with a female guests. When David lapses into second-rate-novelist lingo, Brennan relishes the floridness of telling the woman in his sights that she's "so tall, so magnificent, so (pause) tawny." 

The other tete-a-tetes are just as juicy. Director Patrick Mason and his cast also deliver some set-piece gems. When the shell-shocked houseguest find their way one at a time to the breakfast buffet, their states of mind emerge in the way they eat. And when one of them gets the hiccups, the ensuing scene is one that we've all played -- but never this well. 

Even with detours like that, the opening performance didn't sag. Mason made the first encounters just cringe-worthy enough that the antics could gain speed from there. The cast's gleefulness took care of the rest. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Spoleto: At home with chamber music

CHARLESTON -- "Welcome to our living room here at the Dock Street Theatre," Geoff Nuttall said. 

He was speaking figuratively. As he introduced Saturday morning's concert, Nuttall -- director of the chamber music series at the Spoleto Festival USA -- was onstage as usual. But onstage in the cozy, wood-paneled theater is the next best thing to a living room. That's one of the big reasons that the daily concerts are most always full: music, up close and personal. 

Nuttall, without getting up from his first-violin chair, chatted about and demonstrated high points of Haydn's "Quintet" Quartet before he and the rest of the St. Lawrence String Quartet plunged into it. After Tara Helen O'Connor played a sonic showpiece for flute -- a tone-painting of trains, believe it or not -- Nuttall brought her back to show how she created its sound effects. Switching to his extra-musical role of proud father, Nuttall came out at one point carrying his six-month-old baby. He admitted that it might've been a cheesy thing to do. But a chorus of oohs and ahs greeted him nonetheless. Can you get much homier than that? 

But the zesty performances -- in the first of this year's 11 chamber-music programs -- were what really made the setting count. Nuttall and company put over the drive and gusto of Haydn's quartet as readily as its airiness and lyricism. O'Connor pulled out the stops in Ian Clarke's "Great Train Race" -- spitting air through the flute to imitate the engines' first chugs, firing notes at machine-gun velocity as cruising speed arrived, letting fly with warning-whistle shrieks. Sometimes she even played harmony, which was one of the tricks she explained afterward (created by fingerings that would be wrong in ordinary music). 

The big finish was one of chamber music's fieriest works, Ernest Chausson's "Concert" for piano, violin and string quartet. It's sort of a mini-concerto: the violin and piano in the spotlight, the quartet subbing for the orchestra. If the size is scaled down, though, the drama sure isn't. 

The music is rich, bold and tempestuous, and everyone played it to the hilt.  Livia Sohn's violin solos were ardent, shapely and full. Inon Barnatan set loose cascades of sound from the piano. The quartet provided a sonorous foundation. In the one peaceful interlude -- the gently swinging second movement -- everyone eased up adroitly. And in the slow movement's quiet opening, the group's deep, smoldering sound suggested that more flareups were coming. And they sure did. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

He told stories through song

The deaths of Donna Summer and Robin Gibb attracted most of the attention, so let's take a moment to remember a great classical singer who passed on within a couple of days of them.  

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who died May 18 at age 86, devoted nearly nearly a half-century to the concert hall, opera house and recording studio. The German baritone sang an almost crazily wide range of music, from Baroque cantatas to Verdi and Wagner operas to demanding contemporary works. There was one branch of music that he was identified with above all, though: the German art-song heritage epitomized by Franz Schubert. 

Listen to the young Fischer-Dieskau sing Schubert's "An Die Musik," a song about the joy and comfort that music provides: 

Last month I interviewed Twyla Tharp about "Come Fly Away," her Broadway musical based on recordings by Frank Sinatra. The show needs no dialogue, she said, because Sinatra is the storyteller. Not only was Sinatra "a consummate musician" and "a terrific singer," she said, but "he was a real actor, so when he delivers these lyrics, there's the emotion of a monologue." 

I don't want to push it too far, but she could've been describing Fischer-Dieskau.  Like Sinatra, he could be silky smooth when it suited the song, as you heard in "An die Musik." Especially in his earlier years, his voice's mellowness and luster could seduce the ear. 

But Fischer-Dieskau had a whole range of colors, energy levels and intensities at his command -- right up to a shout for the awful news in Hugo Wolf's "Der Feuerreiter," a song about a mill that's set ablaze by a supernatural horseman. This video doesn't show Fischer-Dieskau as he sings it, but it does supply a line-by-line translation of the spooky text: 

Only once did I hear Fischer-Dieskau in person. It was in 1989, only a few years before he retired from the stage. The program consisted of Schubert duets for baritone and mezzo-soprano, and most of it was unfamiliar to me. 

Because this was in Austria, the printed program didn't supply English translations, and my modest command of German wasn't enough to keep me well in touch with the words. But Fischer-Dieskau could sometimes put over a mood through a facial expression, stance or gesture as much as through the music. 

As an example of what I'm talking about, I'll leave you with a video of him from that same year, 1989, in Brahms' "A German Requiem." He's singing part of the 39th Psalm, talking about how our days are numbered.  He holds the score -- at least, I assume it's the score -- like a minister drawing strength from his Bible.  Even if you don't understand the words, I'll think you'll be able to sense that he's discussing matters of life and death.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ailey leader on teachers, dance and 'Revelations'

Short of diving into the crowd like a politician on the stump, the leader of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater could hardly have been more outgoing at the company's opening night in Charlotte. Robert Battle even asked Tuesday's audience where to find good barbecue -- and was bombarded with more shouted-out names than he could handle. He let it go before any fights broke out. 

As part of his first season as Ailey's artistic director, Battle is going around with the company making acquaintance with the audiences in its tour cities -- in many of which, including Charlotte, it's a regular visitor. Since the company has a weekend of Knight Theater performances still to go, let's spend a little more time getting to know him. As a sequel to the Observer's advance story on Ailey's visit, here are a few more comments from a recent interview.  (Photo of Battle with his predecessor, Judith Jamison, by Paul Kolnik.) 

On his teachers in Miami schools: As a teenager in the 1980s, living in an inner-city area that was the scene of much-publicized riots, Battle studied dance in a public-school magnet program. He began to believe he had a future in dance because of "a couple of teachers who really took an interest in me and thought I had a gift for dancing. They gave me the courage and inspiration to go deeper. That's a big part of why I'm here -- some great teachers who went beyond the classroom to give me me all the tools I needed to move forward. They went so far as paying out of their own pockets for me to have outside classes and private lessons." 

On leading the Ailey company: Battle took over the company after more than a decade as a choreographer and head of his own group, Battleworks. As his first season as director is winding up, he enjoys travelling with the dancers, "especially to cities where the company has history -- going to see and hear and feel the response to some of the additions I've made to the company's repertoire and to dancers I've hired. To see those dancers experience the Ailey audiences for the first time, and have that reflected back from the audiences, is probably the most rewarding part of the job.

On modern dance and Ailey's "Revelations": "One of the things I love about modern dance is the humanness of it. Even as we achieve joy onstage, or (embody) the idea of it, you're still rooted on the ground. Gravity is still a factor. There's something poetic about that. At the beginning of "Revelations," when the curtain comes up on the dancers with their arms stretched out and their hands and palms open, showing that vulnerable side, they're rooted on the ground. They're weighted. But their focus is up on the heavens. That creates the idea of hope. And hope isn't devoid of weight. Hope is in spite of it, right? I love that metaphor for dance in general." 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Moving up at N.C. Dance Theatre

Sasha Janes, whose ballet version of "Dangerous Liaisons" recently capped off N.C. Dance Theatre's season, is being bumped up to the rank of associate artistic director. 

Janes is "a future leader," said artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, who made the decision.

Janes, who joined NCDT as a dancer, became the company's rehearsal director as he wound down his performing career. With Bonnefoux's encouragement, he also moved into choreography. While the 50-minute "Dangerous Liaisons" was Janes' largest-scale work to date, Bonnefoux decided to elevate Janes before that was completed, he said.  

In his new role, Janes won't gain any specific new duties, Bonnefoux said. While he'll still be involved the studio, Bonnefoux wants him to reach beyond that -- "to be a part of the whole organization and to see how the whole thing functions, and help me with that." 

"I've seen him in all sorts of situations," Bonnefoux said. "He does very well under pressure. He does very well when he's given a project. ... He knows what he wants to do, and he knows how to accomplish it." 

As associate artistic director, Janes will have the same title as Patricia McBride. Having two people at that same rank isn't new: Jeri Kumery and McBride shared the title for several years after Bonnefoux and McBride came to NCDT. 
Janes will choreograph two new works next season. NCDT will also bring back his "Rhapsodic Dances," which it will take to the Kennedy Center in Washington for a dance festival in summer 2013. 

"I really like the way he works with our dancers," Bonnefoux said. "He creates such a nice atmosphere in rehearsal that people give him their best." 

Photo: Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez 


Monday, May 14, 2012

Musical menu for this year's Summer Pops

The Charlotte Symphony is less than a month from kicking off its annual Summer Pops. In case your appetite for music under the stars depends on what you'll hear, here's a look at what's in store at SouthPark and the other locations. 

Amid the traditional mixture of light classics, Broadway favorites and Hollywood fare, a few items stand out. 

In the opening concert, Dmitri Shostakovich's arrangement  of "Tahiti Trot" -- better know as "Tea for Two" -- will show that even Shostakovich could have fun when he wasn't brooding about life under Soviet rule. In the second program, Aaron Copland's "Outdoor Overture" will let everyone get acquainted with some Copland beyond the beloved "Appalachian Spring." 

In a salute to France, the finale of Berlioz's "Fantastic Symphony" will let the orchestra go a little wild. And in a less manic mode, three members of the orchestra -- flutist Amy Orsinger Whitehead, clarinetist Eugene Kavadlo and concertmaster Calin Lupanu -- will take turns in the spotlight during the month.

Here are the specifics:  

June 10: "Symphony Park Serenade," Albert-George Schram conducting. Wagner's Prelude to "Die Meistersinger"; excerpts from de Falla's "The Three-Cornered Hat"; Offenbach's "La Vie Parisienne"; Sibelius' "Finlandia"; Alford's "Col. Bogey March"; Shostakovich's "Tahiti Trot" and "Galop"; Mancini's "Songs of Italy"; Wendel's "Fiesta Mexicana"; and  "Tribute to Irving Berlin." Also June 8 at Stumptown Park, Matthews. 

June 17: "Symphonic Passion," Jacomo Rafael Bairos conducting. Beethoven's "Fidelio" Overture; Copland's "Outdoor Overture"; Lecuona's "Malaguena"; de Falla's "Ritual Fire Dance"; excerpts from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet"; excerpts from "Star Wars" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Also June 22 at Duke Energy Explorium, Huntersville. 

June 24: "Vive la France," Schram conducting. 
Bizet's "Farandole"; Saint-Saens' "Danse Macabre" and "Tarantelle" (featuring flutist Amy Orsinger Whitehead and clarinetist Eugene Kavadlo); Chabrier's "Espana"; "March to the Scaffold" from Berlioz's "Fantastic Symphony"; Ballet Music from Gounod's "Faust"; Ravel's "Bolero." 

July 1: "Three Great American Composers," Schram conducting. Bernstein's overtures to "Candide" and "West Side Story"; selections from Rodgers' "Carousel" and "The Sound of Music"; Gershwin's "Cuban Overture," "An American in Paris" and selections from "Porgy and Bess." 

July 3: "Celebrate America," Schram conducting. Patriotic music such as Sousa marches and "Armed Forces Salute"; "Soul Bossa Nova" from Jones' "Shagadelic Suite"; Gardel's Tango (featuring violinist Calin Lupanu); Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture." Also June 28 at Belle Johnston Park, Pineville; June 29 at Village Park, Kannapolis; June 30 at Bailey Road Park, Cornelius. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

NCDT's season: From Neverland to D.C.

N.C. Dance Theatre has finally unveiled its schedule for next season, which will conclude with a preview of the company's summer 2013 visit to the Kennedy Center. 

The season most notable ingredients include a revival of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux's "Peter Pan," a second look at Twyla Tharp's "The Golden Section," and a new work by Jiri Bubenicek, the Czech choreographer NCDT introduced to Charlotte last year. If those sound familiar, it may be because I mentioned them here a few weeks ago, before NCDT's plans were complete. 

Some new details: 

The season opener will include artist director Bonnefoux's "July's Delight," based on Strauss waltzes and other bubbly Viennese music. Premiered at the company's summer home, the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York, it will now get its Charlotte premiere.  

The annual "Innovative Works" will have four weekends of performances in the compact theater at NCDT's home on North Tryon Street. The company has been moving towards multiple weekends, when the market for a given program will bear them, partly in the hope that word of mouth will have time to boost ticket sales. "Peter Pan" will run for two weekends. 

The season finale will include "Rhapsodic Dances" by Sasha Janes, NCDT's rehearsal director. The work, premiered last fall, is an elegant showpiece based on Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini." Washington's Kennedy Center has picked it for NCDT's appearance at a dance festival there in June 2013.  

Here's the season's full schedule: 

Oct. 25-27: Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux's "July's Spirit"; new works by Dwight Rhoden and Sasha Janes. Knight Theater. 

Dec. 8-9, 14-16, 21-13: Bonnefoux's "Nutcracker." Belk Theater. 

Jan. 24-26; Feb. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16: Annual "Innovative Works," new choreography by Rhoden, Janes, Mark Diamond and David Ingram. Bonnefoux/McBride Center, 701 N. Tryon. 

March 7-10 and 15-17: Bonnefoux's "Peter Pan." Knight Theater. 

April 25-27: New work by Jiri Bubenicek; Janes' "Rhapsodic Dances"; Twyla Tharp's "The Golden Section." Knight Theater. 

Subscriptions are on sale now. Single tickets go on sale in August.  

(Photo of Miami City Ballet in "The Golden Section": Kyle Froman Photography) 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Beethoven and Ailey, kindred spirits

Beethoven and Alvin Ailey came from different centuries, cultures and races. But they had a common goal. 

That hit me after an interview with the leader of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which comes to the Knight Theater next week. Robert Battle, the company's artistic director since last fall, never met its late founder. But Battle's familiarity with the company since he was a boy, and more recently his immersion in it, taught him about Ailey's ideals. One of those is: 

"As Mr. Ailey said so eloquently ...  'Dance comes from the people and should always be delivered back to the people,' " Battle said. "Mr. Ailey wanted this company not to be elitist. He wanted the audience to feel they were a part of what is happening on the stage -- either spiritually or just by the sense of openness and humanity in Mr. Ailey's work." 

Battle mentioned that in connection with a work the company will perform in Charlotte. At one point in "Minus 16," by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, dancers go into the auditorium and cajole members of the audience into coming onstage and kicking up their heels. To Battle, that brings Ailey's philosophy to life. 

Ailey's words made me think of Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis," which the Charlotte Symphony and Oratorio Singers of Charlotte perform Friday and Saturday. Beethoven attached to his manuscript  a dedication: "From the heart -- may it go to the heart." 

Beethoven wanted his music to unite the performers and audience, just as Ailey wanted dance to do. Beethoven proclaims his vision even more clearly in the Ninth Symphony, with its climactic hymn to human brotherhood in the "Ode to Joy." 

The "Missa Solemnis" and "Revelations" -- Ailey's most famous work, and the finale of every Charlotte performance -- are both spiritual journeys. In the "Missa," the trumpets and drums cut loose in battle scenes that set off the singers' cries of "Have mercy on us!" and their final prayer for peace. In "Revelations," the dancers show us trials and turmoil before their troubles are washed away.  Only a few days apart, Charlotte will get to see the world as    Beethoven and Ailey imagined it. 

"Revelations" photo: Miami Herald


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A night on the town with the Charlotte Symphony

I can't say how much it counted toward qualifying Charlotte as a world-class city, but South Tryon Street was alive Friday night. 

The outdoor tables at the new restaurants helped set the scene, but the Charlotte Symphony generated most of the action. The orchestra drew a healthy turnout to its KnightSounds concert, which meant that hungry people started converging on the Knight Theater around 6:30 p.m. for the pre-concert food. Thanks to the balmy weather, the mingling spilled out onto the plaza.

Everyone went indoors at 7:30 for an hour or so of French music.  Christopher Warren-Green and the orchestra brought on a nimble pianist, Swiss-born Louis Schwizgebel, who zipped through the solo part of Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G. Some of the quiet spots sounded dim, no doubt because the stage had no acoustical shell to help project the sound. If a shell goes in this summer as planned, next season's concerts should fare better.  

For the concert's finale, the orchestra played Ravel's "Bolero" in tandem with a video by New York artist Matthew Weinstein. The star of Weinstein's show was a koi whose face was dolled up with a human woman's features. Since this was animation, realism didn't crimp her style. For instance, a couple of golden skeletons obligingly administered her makeup and lipstick for her. Then she went out and caused trouble, as befits Ravel's roaring conclusion. 

Then the concert was over, but the evening had more to go: The orchestra threw a street party on the closed-off Levine Avenue of the Arts. 

The trio slated for the next morning's Lollipops concert played on an outdoor stage. A woman on stilts wafted through the crowd as entertainers did their routines. Warren-Green, Weinstein and the musicians chatted with the concertgoers. Vendors offered dessert. Well after the entertainers packed up, people were still chatting and delaying the trip home. 

Even though the supermoon was 24 hours away, the orb hovering over the Green was so eye-catching that camera phones came out of pockets and purses to preserve the moment. Celestial phenomena aren't to be missed. If the Charlotte Symphony can  get on its feet once and for all, the phenomenon on South Tryon doesn't have to be so rare. 

Photos: John Graham 

Friday, May 4, 2012

A conductor looks at Sinatra

Since Frank Sinatra's singing is the driving force in "Come Fly Away," let's get another look at Sinatra the musician from Christopher Warren-Green -- yes, the leader of the Charlotte Symphony. 

"If he had been a conductor, he'd have been one of the best," Warren-Green said. 

That wasn't just talk. Warren-Green watched Sinatra in action. 

As a young freelancer in 1970s London, before he went into conducting, Warren-Green played the violin in the orchestra at the Palladium -- the theater that showcased generations of show-business greats. Of all the big names who came during Warren-Green's time, "Sinatra was the one one you could learn from," he told me in a 2010 interview. Sinatra's most conspicuous qualities: 

"His tremendous charisma and his professionalism. And most importantly, his musicianship." When Sinatra sang, Warren-Green said, "the way he turned phrases was spectacular." But Sinatra was more than a singer. 

Even though he brought along a music director -- Don Costa, who made some of the arrangements heard in "Come Fly Away" -- Sinatra led the rehearsals,  Warren-Green said.  

"He had slight body movements he'd direct at the orchestra -- very slight gestures. But they had a powerful impact," Warren-Green said. With Costa mainly observing from out in the theater, Sinatra even handled housekeeping chores like giving out the order of musical numbers in the show. 

"He came across as very humble," Warren-Green said. "He was different when he was performing. But in rehearsal with the musicians, he was like just another musician rehearsing in a professional way." 

(Photo of Sinatra in 1979: Associated Press) 

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.)