Art is often used as a way to start a dialogue about what is happening in the world today. And at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, Charlotte Ballet’s inventive, contemporary “Dance Innovations” will be the medium used to bring issues such as bullying, conformity, peace and other social topics to light.
The dancers begin walking on stage, from right to left. A young man enters. He wants to walk the opposite direction, but is stopped by another dancer.
“The key word in this for me is ‘nonconformity,’ ” choreographer Mark Diamond said.
“Path” is a contemporary work that also serves as a social commentary on personal identity and bullying.
Diamond, Charlotte Ballet II program director, said much of the piece is based on his own experiences growing up.
“I could relate to it on many levels myself because, growing up, I was very different,” he said. “We were always moving, and I was always the new kid. I was a dancer and artist, so I was different, and I didn’t really feel comfortable with everybody.”
The ballet starts quietly, introduced by a chorus of recorded voices — family members saying negative things about the young man such as “be like everyone else,” and “idiot.”
Growing up can be especially difficult when children are dealing with peer pressure and negativity from family members, Diamond said.
“If you imagine that someone comes from a home where there is a lot of discord and fighting and screaming and negativity, this is really what the ballet is about,” Diamond said. “Your ability to develop yourself is sometimes thwarted by your very family.”
The music is a movement from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, which provides a pulse for the dancers to move to, Diamond said.
According to Diamond, stories of people dealing with their identity, bullying and negativity are in the news more and more and are relevant in today’s society.
“This is not often what we see with people here in Chautauqua or even back home in Charlotte, but it’s true for a lot of people we don’t see,” he said.
For audience members who have seen the hit TV show “Mad Men,” Sasha Janes’ piece, “Utopia,” will seem like an episode come to life. “Utopia” is what he calls his “ ‘Mad Men’ ballet.”
The ballet, danced en pointe, is about a 1950s housewife and is set to ’50s music by The Platters, Patience & Prudence and The Teddy Bears.
“The music is so upbeat and happy, but the message is really dark,” said Janes, associate artistic director of the Charlotte Ballet. “That’s what I’ve tried to portray.”
The performance begins and ends with the same pas de deux, a housewife desperately trying to get her businessman husband to pay attention to her.
The piece also features a contemporary solo for the male lead and variety of props and set pieces such as an office with a desk and chair to set the scene.
Janes’ piece “Queen” is a contemporary ballet based on Suzanne Vega’s song “The Queen and the Soldier.”
Chelsea Dumas plays the role of a young and lonely queen who is approached by a soldier, David Morse, who tells her he no longer wishes to fight for his country on the battlefield.
The piece was also performed during Week Five’s “Evening of Pas De Deux,” so the audience will have a second chance to grasp the narrative.
When talking about the piece during last week’s Chautauqua Dance Circle pre-performance lecture, Janes decided to simply play Vega’s song instead of discussing the piece because the lyrics describe the movement so well.
“The music blends perfectly with the story,” he said.
“Peace Piece” was choreographed by Charlotte Ballet’s resident choreographer, Dwight Rhoden, and performed in the Charlotte Ballet’s “Innovative Works” in January 2015.
The piece begins and ends with all eight dancers huddled together in a pool of light at the center of the stage. Together, the dancers lift their chests to the sky, bringing their hearts into the light. He said the piece inspires a sense of hope and brings out the strength of the human spirit.
The contemporary ballet looks at a wide variety of issues without taking any sort of opinion on a single topic. Rhoden said the piece is his reaction to the unrest and chaotic environment of what’s happening in the world today.
“What I tried to do with this ballet is juxtapose images of violence with the peaceful, loving nature of human beings,” Rhoden said in an interview with the Charlotte Ballet.
Rhoden’s music choice supports the piece by juxtaposing classical music played on a piano and orchestrations with helicopter sounds and music with a pulse that supports the abstract contemporary movement of the dancers.
“I’m an optimist, so I always think the glass is half full,” he said. “I’m always feel like there is a way to overcome, and to get through, and to make it better.”