The Charlotte Ballet dancers take their places on the stage. But they are not alone. As the lights come up, it is former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky who stands beside them as the music begins.
Dwight Rhoden’s “Peace Piece,” featuring dancers Sarah Hayes Harkins and Joshua Hall.
Mark Diamond’s piece, “According to Pinsky,” danced to Pinsky’s poetry and accompanied by Laurence Hobgood, is one of four pieces in the Chautauqua Dance Salon at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.
The night’s theme is movement inspired by poetry.
Diamond, associate artistic director of the dance program at Chautauqua, said that he was first approached by Marty Merkley, vice president and director of programming at Chautauqua Institution, about working with Pinsky, and he agreed to the artistic collaboration.
“According to Pinsky” is the second piece of the evening. Performed en pointe, the dancers use a gesture-based movement vocabulary to act as the physical embodiment of Pinsky’s words.
“Poetry is movement,” said Pinsky, who is the author of Week One’s Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selection, The Sounds of Poetry. “Like music or dance, it happens in time. It isn’t simultaneous. So poetry, properly understood, goes somewhere.”
The ballet is divided into six smaller sections, each set to a poem from Pinsky’s latest CD, “House Hour,” released on June 27. The sections are solos, duets and trios with varied themes, some revealing a narrative, while others remain more abstract.
The fifth section, performed to Pinsky’s “Other Hand” is a duet between female dancers Sarah Hayes Harkins and Elizabeth Truell. The two will convey a feisty battle of dominance, one portraying “the lesser twin” whose “comparison to his brother prevents him from putting forth his best effort,” according to Pinsky’s poem.
Accompanied by Hobgood on piano, Pinsky will be on stage reading his works aloud.
The poet said he thinks of it as a jazz composition — his voice being his instrument.
“My voice is an integral part of it,” he said, “It is improvised and never the same way twice.”
Pinsky has participated in multiple collaborations with musicians and has even done the libretto for an opera. He said he thinks the audience will both enjoy and be surprised by the performance.
“I’m sure that many people will dread that it will be embarrassing or corny,” Pinsky said. “But I think that works in our favor because I believe that it is not.”
“Loss,” choreographed by Chautauqua Dance faculty member Sasha Janes, is the first piece in tonight’s performance. The ballet, danced to Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” was performed at Chautauqua with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in 2013.
Janes originally envisioned it as an abstract ballet but started to see a narrative coming through once he began choreographing.
The contemporary pas de deux, performed en pointe, is centered around a pair of siblings that experience the loss of a parent or sibling. Dancers Joshua Hall and Harkins are the performers in this emotional duet about dealing with grief.
How Do I Love Thee
Mark Diamond’s “How Do I Love Thee” was inspired by the famous love sonnet of the same name by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The four dancers represent two pairs of famous 19th-century lovers, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert and Clara Schumann.
“Passion meets poetry,” is how Diamond described the romantic yet physically challenging soft-shoe ballet.
Chelsea Dumas, Hall, Truell and Gregory Taylor will portray the couples. The ballet is enhanced with lines from Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee” spoken by the dancers wearing microphones during the piece.
The ballet, danced to music by Robert Schumann, was previously performed in “Dance Innovations” at Chautauqua in 2012.
Sketches From Grace
“Sketches From Grace,” the final ballet in this evening’s performance, is a new work choreographed by Janes. The piece features six dancers performing in three pas de deuxs and a finale for all six dancers. Two sections are danced en pointe and two in soft shoes.
Janes said his mother’s love for Leonard Cohen’s music and poetry, especially the song “Hallelujah,” was his original inspiration for “Sketches From Grace.”
Janes has always been a fan of Jeff Buckley’s music and Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” is one of his favorites. He settled on creating a ballet to all Jeff Buckley music, even though he said he tends to stay away from choreographing to popular music.
Although his ballet isn’t danced to poetry or choreographed about a specific poem, “the premise is based in poetry,” he said.
Each pas de deux has a different narrative danced to one of Buckley’ songs. In the first, danced to the song “You and I,” Janes said the couple has a co-dependant relationship and cannot live without one another.
The second pas de deux is danced to Buckley’s cover of “Lilac Wine.”
“It’s almost romantic but the female is almost a figment of his (the male dancer’s) imagination or a ghost,” Janes said.
The final pas de deux, danced by Harkins and Jordan Leeper, is to Buckley’s “Hallelujah.” The couple, dancing in soft shoes, weave in and out of each other’s arms constantly flowing from one movement to the next. Janes said he wanted this section to be a more movement-based, “feel-good” piece.
“Each pas de deux is uniquely individual so they could all be stand alone pieces within the ballet. The narratives of each are also quite different from each other,” Janes said.