Janes returns to Ballet Across America, from dancer to choreographer

>Peter Zay | Provided photo North Carolina Dance Theatre’s original pieces “Shindig” (pictured above) and “Rhapsodic Dances” performed at Ballet Across America III and II, respectively

Peter Zay | Provided photo

North Carolina Dance Theatre’s original pieces “Shindig” (pictured above) and “Rhapsodic Dances” performed at Ballet Across America III and II, respectively

They say those who can’t do, teach. Having successfully done both, Sasha Janes, North Carolina Dance Theatre’s associate artistic director, has proven that theory to be absolutely wrong.

Not only did Janes perform at the prestigious Ballet Across America program in 2010, but he also choreographed a piece selected for this year’s Ballet Across America program.

Ballet Across America made its debut in 2008, showcasing nine professional dance companies from across the country.

Janes first performed at Ballet Across America II in a bluegrass piece titled “Shindig.” While some companies were performing well-known ballets from choreographers like George Balanchine, NCDT brought original pieces.

It was nerve-racking for the company because they brought their own bluegrass band for the program, which was very different, Janes said. The piece was being judged not only on performance but also from a choreographic standpoint.

“The company did a great job and they got fantastic reviews last time they were there in 2010,” Janes said.

NCDT’s second encounter with Ballet Across America is still fresh, having just recently performed in Ballet Across America III in June. This time, Janes watched as company dancers made his own choreography come to life on the stage of the Kennedy Center’s Opera House in Washington, D.C. The cast of 10, in pairs of two, performed “Rhapsodic Dances,” which originally premiered at the Institution.

Janes’ inspiration for the playful piece came from the music, performed live by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra and conducted by Grant Cooper. Cooper is the artistic director and conductor of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, as well as a guest conductor for the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.

Janes described it as a “big tutu ballet,” although the ballerinas remove their tutus about two-thirds into the piece.

Jordan Leeper, of Jamestown, N.Y., was one of the NCDT company members who performed at this year’s Ballet Across America. Leeper said the abstract ballet consisted of five couples and intricate partnering. There seemed to be a general consensus from the company that this ballet is overwhelmingly challenging.

“It was one of the most difficult ballets I’ve ever done,” said Anna Gerberich, another NCDT dancer.

Gerberich does not tire easily, but by the end of this ballet she said she would feel sick to her stomach.

It was a daunting challenge to present such a classical ballet, as NCDT is known to be a contemporary company, Gerberich said. It was a big success for the company to be seen in a “whole new light,” she said.

Gerberich broke her foot in January, but made it her goal to make it back to Charlotte, N.C., to perform the dance before traveling to the Kennedy Center. It was her first time with an injury, which provided a new set of challenges.

“Mentally, I’ve always had a hard time getting back on the horse,” she said.

She is extremely proud of herself for being able to overcome such a huge obstacle. Many dancers injure themselves again when returning to dance at such a fast pace, she said. She is proud of the whole company for presenting themselves so well at Ballet Across America III.

The NCDT company enjoyed meeting members of other dance companies and taking classes with other directors during their limited time in Washington D.C.

For dancer Pete Walker, the “change of pace” was motivating. He was taking classes with old friends from across the nation.

Leeper echoed the company’s other dancers.

“It’s definitely an experience I’m glad I was a part of,” Leeper said.

Janes said choreographing caused him much more anxiety than performing.

“When you’re a dancer, you’re in control of what goes on stage, how it looks, what actually happens,” Janes said. “When you’re the choreographer, you just have to put your trust in the dancers and the choreography.”