With seven new dancers in the ensemble, N.C. Dance Theatre is starting a new season in brash style, programming three choreographies never seen here before and titling the maiden voyage of the revamped troupe Limitless. None of the newbies will be waiting long in the wings at the Knight Theater for his or her NCDT debut.
Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux's Blue Danube will bring out the entire company during the first 30 minutes for an energetic suite of seven or eight segments. After NCDT's artistic director launches the evening, newly named associate artistic director Sasha Janes will bring his 20-minute Shelter to Charlotte for the first time — along with the music of Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds. Completing the evening will be a new piece from the unpredictable Dwight Rhoden, who has changed his game plan from a suite of George Frideric Handel to a scrapbook of '80s hits called The Groove. For a freshly reformulated ensemble, it's an audacious mix of choreographic styles and music.
Janes is thankful that the reshuffle happened before the summer, before NCDT's annual pilgrimage to the Chautauqua Institution in New York.
"We did a week of rehearsal with the new and improved full company before we went up there," says Janes, who still pilots rehearsals even after yielding his rehearsal director title. "That was great, because we lost some experience last year. It's nice to have that week here where you get to know all the new names and faces and styles of dancing."
The Shelter concept came to him when he walked into NCDT's costume shop to pick out outfits that would accompany the ensemble on the Chautauqua trip — and came face-to-face with the provocative pantaloons from Sal Aiello's Carmina Burana. Out of that inspiration, and Jamie Dee's work last season in Janes' Dangerous Liaisons, came a work for five women and two men — with Dee on the stage from beginning to end.
The two men represent relationships in the protagonist's life, each of whom gets the chance to entangle himself with Dee in contrasting pas de deux. Bringing ice cream and potato chips on stage after a breakup, the four other women represent consolation and friendship.
"I feel like the women are particularly strong characters," Janes says. "It's just the way they interact with her that you can see the relationships — I hope. The concept of the piece — I think it's like a time lapse, looking at one woman's life and how she interacts with different people in different relationships."
Roughly half of the company spends the first four weeks at Chautauqua each summer while the other half works a second shift. So Janes knew which of the newbies he'd be working with, studied them and choreographed accordingly. But he had to have Dee to carry the 20-minute odyssey — and to lighten his load.
"Jamie is one of those artists," Janes says. "She's a giver. Some dancers sit back and just make you work hard and choreograph every nuance. She'll finish the sentence for you. Sometimes it isn't right, and sometimes it is right."
Previously titled July's Delight when it premiered at Chautauqua, Bonnefoux's Blue Danube actually had its beginnings some 35 years ago when he and superstar wife Patricia McBride ran their first little company while still in the orbit of George Balanchine and the mighty New York City Ballet.
"When Balanchine did Vienna Waltzes, he did a lot of Strauss," Bonnefoux says. "After the premiere, they asked Pat or me whether we'd like to tour with Vienna Waltzes. And the problem with that was that Balanchine was working with 70 dancers, while we could only bring 20 dancers with us. So a long time ago, I put a piece together, and that's really the piece we're doing now."
Approximately. The show has been fortified with more music and adorned with new costumes.
"So there are a lot of changes," Bonnefoux admits. "It's very festive and very joyous, a good way to start the evening. The Groove has a pulse that every young person can catch. It's also very up, and yes, that's going to be a great closer for our company. We'll be happy at the end, we'll be happy at the beginning, and in between is Sasha's piece."
$25–$79. Oct. 25-27, 7:30 p.m. Knight Theater, 420 S. Tryon St. For more information, visit www.ncdance.org.