Usually while writing about this kind of progressive ballet with its striking imagery and complex movements, we’d say this ain’t your momma’s classical ballet. But since one of the pieces in this second program of Charleston Ballet Theatre’s 20th anniversary dates from 1987, chances are she did. It’s a memorable and impressive experience called “Poetry with a Splash of Blood.” Set to a segment of Philip Glass’ Mishima movie soundtrack, it’s as relevant now as it was back then. 

Jill Eathorne-Bahr choreographs, Ruth Hutson sets evocative lighting in the wings, and Don Cantwell costumes the dancers in black with blood red gloves (and ties for the men) against a stark black background. But before the whole thing turns into a Grace Jones video, the males and females start to move; one after the other, they mirror soft and forceful movements against each other to symbolize the excitement and frustration of relationships. By making totemic images with their bodies, arms jutting out, the male dancers help to give this exploration of love and death its primal appeal.

Bahr is less successful with “Wings,” the second dance in the program. Cantwell’s flowing white costumes help to give the dancers a swannish quality; a blanket of dry ice at the beginning emphasizes the theme of stratospheric flight. Majestic ballet mistress Jessica Roan and dancer Steven Hammell ably lead the lithe troupe, challenged to pack the stage while avoiding a mid-air collision. After the complexities of “Splash of Blood,” Bahr’s choreography for “Wings” seems repetitive. Hutson’s subtle lighting is a delight, though, and dancers Trey Mauldwin and James Peronto help to spice things up — they obviously enjoy being up on the stage, and they’re not afraid to show it with mischievous movements.

The show wraps up with “Rite of Spring,” using Igor Stravinsky’s brassy Le Sacre du Printemps to create an otherworld where women rule. A statuesque, straggly-haired Melissa Weber makes a great impression as The Matriarch. She emerges from a pile of dirt to lead morning rituals around a large metal structure that looks like a cross between a giant soccer goal and a rock concert lighting rig. A group of men, led by the dynamic Alexander Collen (The First Man), arrive to shake things up. The messy union of The Matriarch and The First Man creates The Chosen One, played by an energetic Jessica Roan. As with “Splash of Blood,” ballet acrobatics are melded with primitive, ceremonial dance moves to build a striking set of images in a fitting end to CBT’s celebrations. —Nick Smith

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