Charlotte Ballet prepares program of traditional, contemporary works for ‘An Evening of Pas de Deux’

When the audience hears the phrase “pas de deux,” often a romantic duet comes to mind — the title characters in “Romeo and Juliet,” for example, or the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier from “The Nutcracker.” However, tonight’s “Evening of Pas de Deux” will offer much more than the typical love story — everything from an abstract duet to music by a disc jockey, to the story of a black widow spider seducing her prey.

At 8:15 p.m. in the Amphitheater, the Charlotte Ballet will present a series of eight pas de deuxs ranging from excerpts of well-known classical ballets to innovative contemporary works.

Contrast

Mark Diamond’s piece “Contrast” is all about the music. Diamond, Charlotte Ballet II director, was inspired by contrasting styles of music and their effect on movement.

The piece was composed of four movements, each a different style of music, played by a live guitarist. The sections were blues, classical, jazz and heavy metal. The excerpt being performed this evening is from the classical movement.

The feeling of the movement is very fluid, curly and lush, Diamond said.

“There aren’t really any straight lines in the piece,” Diamond said.

The pas de deux is danced by Tendo Santos and Elizabeth Truell. Santos, a new dancer in the Charlotte Ballet, only arrived last week and has been working hard to learn the dance quickly and establish the partnership that is required for a pas de deux.

Flames of Paris

“Flames of Paris,” unlike most pas de deuxs, only features a few moments of partnering between dancers Gregory Taylor and Sarah Hayes Harkins. Most of this classical piece is synchronized, but it showcases the dancers individually more than as a pair.

The piece is grand and dramatic, featuring solos that claim the entire stage. The dancers movements are sharp and precise and faster than those of other classical ballets.

The pas de deux is an excerpt from the full-length ballet based on the French Revolution. The ballet was originally choreographed by Vasily Vainonen for the Kirov Ballet in Russia in 1932 but was re-arranged by Alexei Ratmansky for the Bolshoi Ballet in 2008 to feature more challenging and technically refined steps.

“This type of classical ballet requires technical mastery,” said Glenda Lucena, ballet mistress for the Chautauqua School of Dance, who staged the ballet.

Valse Triste

“Valse Triste” will look familiar to some members of the Chautauqua audience. It was performed during Week Three’s collaboration between the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and the Charlotte Ballet.

The piece is staged by Patricia McBride, master teacher former George Balanchine dancer and. McBride was the original female lead in “Valse Triste” when it was choreographed by Peter Martins for the New York City Ballet in 1985.

The ballet is about a woman who had lost her husband and her grieving, but also reflecting on the memories they had together.

McBride said that the piece is classical but also has a lyrical feel because it is slower than other ballets.

“It’s a beautiful pas de deux, at one with the music,” McBride said. “But it’s important to feel the music and feel who she is and who he is.”

“Valse Triste” is danced by Chelsea Dumas and Joshua Hall. McBride said the two have a beautiful partnership because they haved worked together fso much.

“You have to take chances and not hold back,” McBride said. “To really throw yourself into it, which they do so beautifully.”

Widow

Diamond is presenting his second “insect ballet” of the summer with his pas de deux “Widow.” Originally choreographed in 1987, Diamond said the piece has been performed many times both in Charlotte and in Chautauqua.

When he was first choreographing “Widow” he looked for the most obscure and contemporary music he could find. He settled on music by contemporary pianist, Milton Babbitt, and experimental percussionist, Karlheinz Stockhausen.

“The music is bizarre,” Diamond said.

The narrative ballet follows an alien woman who has landed on Earth in search of prey. She transforms herself into a human to seduce a man. Diamond said the audience can see the change in her movement.

Once she has seduced her victim, she stings him, and changes back into her alien form. She proceeds to mate with him and kill him.

“She totally destroys him and rips him to shreds,” Diamond said.

Diamond said many audiences interpret the female lead as a black widow spider because they also kill their mates.

“It’s a very extreme piece,” Diamond said.

Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux

“Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux” is a piece McBride knows well, having danced it many times herself.

Originally choreographed in 1960 by George Balanchine with music by the piece’s namesake, “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux” features fast and light classical movements.

“The movements are feminine but challenging,” McBride said.

McBride said it is a dance that is almost always part of ballet companies, repertoires and danced all over the world.

“I loved dancing it, and it is dear to everyone I know who has done it,” she said.

Queen

Sasha Janes’ piece “Queen” is a contemporary ballet based on Suzanne Vega’s song “The Queen and the Soldier.”

Dumas plays the role of a young and lonely queen who is approached by a soldier, David Morse, telling her he no longer wishes to fight for his country on the battlefield.

She tries to seduce him, but he refuses, which brings a certain amount of sexual tension to the piece, said Janes, associate director of the Charlotte Ballet.

The lyrics of the song match almost verbatim the movements and storyline of the piece. Janes originally wanted to perform the ballet to Vega’s song but he said it became too literal. Instead he chose a piece by Ignaz Biber that is almost 300 years old.

“The music blends perfectly with the story,” Janes said.

Le Corsaire

“Le Corsaire” is among the most well known of classical ballet repertoire. The evening length narrative ballet made its debut at the Paris Opera Ballet in 1856.

The pas de deux is a short excerpt danced by Conrad, a pirate, and Medora, a slave girl, who have fallen in love. Conrad has just rescued Medora from being sold to the Pasha. The dance is a celebration of both their love and her rescue.

Ryo Suzuki and Harkins will be performing in this evening’s performance of “Le Corsaire.”

Lucena said that although they are both classical pieces, they are very different in expression.

“Le Corsaire” is softer with an emphasis on lengthening through the limbs, she said.

Spun to the Sky

Dwight Rhoden’s “Spun to the Sky” was choreographed for the Charlotte Ballet as part of the Contemporary Fusion performance in Charlotte in April. The piece combines Rhoden’s contemporary style with DJ accompaniment.

Rhoden used a variety of music for his piece, from Bach to Beyoncé. Diamond said the piece uses music that young people can relate to.

In an interview with the Charlotte Ballet, Rhoden said that “Spun to the Sky” captures the essence of the time we live in.

As the music changes, the dancers movement changes as well, showing the relationship between classical and popular music.

“The piece happens all within the playground of club music,” Rhoden said in an interview with the Charlotte Ballet.

Diamond said that the “Evening of Pas de Deux” appeals to a wide variety of audience members and dancers.

“There is such a huge variety of ballets in the pas de deux evening from contemporary to classical,” he said. “It’s a very popular night among the public and the dancers.”