A year after Covid cut short Charlotte Ballet’s 50th anniversary season, the company reboots to showcase decades of achievement, community engagement and exciting positioning for the future.
By Michael J. Solender
Five decades after Robert Lindgren, the founding dean of the School of Dance at UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, launched the North Carolina Dance Theatre in 1970, his legacy of showcasing classical and contemporary dance lives on as Charlotte Ballet.
The company, rebranded in 2014, has grown its influence well beyond the Tar Heel State to inspire new generations of dance enthusiasts and become an important part of the cultural fabric of the region.
After having its season cut short in 2020 due to the pandemic, Charlotte Ballet is fully embracing the celebration of its 50th anniversary season, with performances beginning later this fall.
“The last year was undoubtedly difficult,” said artistic director Hope Muir. “We found unique ways to engage digitally and even returned to the stage, against all odds, to celebrate our art form. We are looking forward to the autumn when we can welcome patrons once again to the theatre and properly honor our 50 years with unique repertoire representing the incredible range of our talented artists.”
Coming to Charlotte
Charlotte Ballet is the oldest professional dance company in the state. Throughout its history, the company earned recognition and accolades for the strength of its dancers, versatile repertoire and commitment to touring. In 1981 the company was recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts as the nation’s highest rating touring company, an accomplishment it built upon through the years.
“One of the characteristics found in each of our artistic directors is their desire to share the beauty of dance with not just our community, but also with the region,” said Douglas Singleton, Charlotte Ballet’s executive director. “Touring has been part of the organization’s DNA from the very beginning.”
From prestigious stages such as New York City’s Joyce Theater and the Kennedy Center’s Ballet Across America where the company performed Sasha Janes’ “Rhapsodic Dances,” to acclaimed festivals such the American Dance Festival, Spoleto and Jacob’s Pillow—where the company recently performed Bryan Arias’ “When Breath Becomes Air”— Charlotte Ballet relishes extending their reach beyond the Queen City.
Succeeding Lindgren was Salvatore Aiello, a former Royal Winnipeg Ballet principal artist and choreographer who began a 10-year run as the company’s second artistic director & resident choreographer in 1985.
It was Aiello who brought the company to Charlotte in 1990, allowing him to fulfill his dream of launching a newly choreographed “Nutcracker” and establish the first school in the company’s history.
A vision for Community
Aiello’s untimely death in 1995 led the company to bring on power-dance couple of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux as the Ballet’s president and artistic director and Patricia McBride as associate artistic director in 1996. Charlotte Ballet’s growth bloomed under the pair’s leadership with expanded touring, deep choreographic relationships and nationally recognized educational and community programs.
Under Bonnefoux, Charlotte Ballet developed the Reach Scholarship Dance Program cultivating local emerging talent, formed an ongoing program and partnership with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and established a long-term summer residency at the Chautauqua Institution in New York.
In 2008, Bonnefoux and McBride were among the inaugural recipients of ASC Honors, which celebrates lifetime achievements of Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents in the visual, design or performing arts, history, literature or science.
In 2010, the Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux Center for Dance in uptown Charlotte was built with the community’s support. The center houses administrative and rehearsal spaces, a 200-seat theater and the Charlotte Ballet Academy, which serves approximately 1,000 students annually. McBride, a 2014 Kennedy Center Honoree, continues to serve here as a master teacher.
“It’s important for people to understand how the academy and our community engagements are so much part of the fabric of the organization,” said Singleton. “Creating a tradition for dance in our community is a huge component of who we are as an organization.”
Returning to the Stage
Hope Muir, the company’s fourth artistic director, succeeded Bonnefoux, who retired in 2017. By the end of her first season, she presented the work of eight new choreographers to the company, held two American premieres and five new creations. In 2018, the company performed Ohad Naharin’s “Minus 16” at American Dance Festival to launch the festival’s 40th year. That same year, Charlotte hosted the U.S. premier of “The Most Incredible Thing,” Javier de Frutos’ dream-like ballet based upon the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.
“Under Hope’s leadership, we’ve attracted an extraordinary group of creative talent,” said Singleton. “To see them return to the stage is what I’m most looking forward to. The audiences will be there. For a dancer to be on stage and receive the energy an audience provides, it elevates the experience for everyone.”
With Covid restrictions lifting, Charlotte Ballet is looking to its foundation built upon the shoulders of dance innovators with a more than a gleaming eye towards future success.
“The arts are rooted in community,” Singleton said. “This is evidenced in the loyalty of our board members, our patrons and our community partners. Over the past year we made hard choices to emerge on stable financial footing, providing the platform to remount our 50th Anniversary Season with an exhilarating calendar of community activities and events. Charlotte Ballet’s history and values mirror the great entrepreneurial city of Charlotte—all worth celebrating this coming year.”
Charlotte Ballet 2021/2022 Season Highlights
For more information about Charlotte Ballet’s 50th anniversary season, visit CharlotteBallet.org.
- 50th Anniversary Celebration, October 7-9 at Belk Theater. Charlotte Ballet II program director, rehearsal director and North Carolina School of the Arts alumnus, Christopher Stuart, presents a new work set to music by Philip Glass. Also featured are Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House,” and Salvatore Aiello’s masterwork “The Rite of Spring” with live music performed by the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.
- Nutcracker, December 3-26 at Belk Theater. The magic of former artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s “Nutcracker” returns to the stage after last season’s hiatus due to the pandemic. Enchanting from beginning to end, the performance is accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s treasured music performed by the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.
- Innovative 1970, February 4-27 at the Center for Dance. 1970 was the year a group of students from North Carolina School of the Arts first performed at Jacob’s Pillow, and North Carolina Dance Theatre was born under the direction of Robert Lindgren. Fifty (one) years later, choreographers take inspiration for this season’s Innovative 1970 from design, music, politics, and literature from the 1970s as artistic director Hope Muir asks them to pay homage to the company’s first decade as a professional dance company. New works presented by 2019 Princess Grace Award winner for choreography, Rena Butler, along with resident choreographer Sasha Janes.
- Sleeping Beauty: A Fairy Tailored Classic, April 29 – May 8 at the Knight Theater. Choreographer Matthew Hart’s enchanting production makes its long-awaited world premiere in Charlotte next spring. With striking sets and lavish costumes by designer Peter Docherty, this version of “Sleeping Beauty” has been fairy “tailored” with an on-stage narrator to guide audiences through the twists and turns that beset Princess Aurora and her court.
- Choreographic Lab, May 13-20 at the Center for Dance. Established by artistic director Hope Muir during her inaugural season, Choreographic Lab has quickly become one of Charlotte Ballet’s most popular performance series. Dedicated to showcasing the work of new and emerging talent, the Lab has provided a platform for artists from the company, as well as the Charlotte dance community, to present their work on a professional stage.