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A Community of Dance

by Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux

July 9,2010

I recently traveled with North Carolina Dance Theatre to make our Washington, D.C. debut. As dancers with New York City Ballet, my wife Patricia and I performed in D.C. at the Kennedy Center many times. Now, decades later, it was a special experience to be able to take our dancers to perform as part of the Kennedy Center’s Ballet Across America showcase, which brought together nine dance companies from across the United States. Dance Theatre presented “Shindig,” a nontraditional ballet I choreographed in 2003 to music by The Greasy Beans, a bluegrass band from Asheville.

As the dancers took their bows, I could tell by the standing ovation the audience enjoyed the performance, but I wondered how the critics would react. Being a mid-sized dance company from the Southeast, receiving national recognition is a big deal. I hoped the critics would see the same talent Patricia and I see in the company.

"Lucky North Carolina," wrote the New York Times reviewer, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette added, “The most surprising and popular performance came from North Carolina Dance Theatre’s signature work, ‘Shindig.’” When I read the reviews I was so proud of our dancers and pleased at how we represented Charlotte.

I returned to Charlotte thinking about how much I believe in Dance Theatre and how national critics praised the company, but yet I often meet people in Charlotte who don’t know there is a professional ballet company here. It’s my goal to make sure the Charlotte community is aware of Dance Theatre and also has access to Dance Theatre’s dancers, performances and classes.

People tell me they are hesitant to attend ballet performances because they might not understand them or know how to talk about the ballet with their friends. I think television shows like "So You Think You Can Dance" have done a great service to the ballet community by bringing dance to a large audience. The show helps people realize dance is accessible and easy to enjoy.

While choosing ballets for Dance Theatre to perform, I think about what will appeal to a diverse audience and challenge our dancers. Dance Theatre is unique because we perform both classical and nontraditional works. We’re performing “Dracula” this October, and I think it’s a ballet many people will enjoy because it’s a familiar and exciting story. I tell people when they go to the ballet, they shouldn’t use their mind; they should use their heart. I want people to come to our performances to have a great and relax.

In early June, Dance Theatre opened its new facility, the Patricia McBride & Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux Center for Dance, at the corner of Tryon and 10th Street. I’m so pleased we are now part of the Uptown community. We held an open house and had hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds come into the new space to watch our professional dancers rehearse and perform, and to take dance classes from our School of Dance. There were up to fifty people in each of the School’s classes, with grandchildren taking dance classes alongside their grandparents. The new facility has given us more space to increase the amount of dance classes we offer, especially for adults.

As I look to the future, I want to make sure Dance Theatre continues to provide the community the opportunity to enjoy dancing. One of the things I’m most excited about is the Center’s 200-seat performance venue. I plan to use the space to collaborate with other arts groups and to bring the audience and our dancers together. The space puts the audience very close to the dancers performing, and I even have ideas about how the audience can participate in one our performances and dance alongside the dancers. The crowd at the Center for Dance’s recent open house reminded me how much people really want to dance. As Dance Theatre celebrates its 40th anniversary, with 20 of those years in Charlotte, I want to thank the community for its support and also invite you to be part of Dance Theatre. Whether by attending a performance or taking a class, I encourage you to experience the joy of dance.

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