Charleston Ballet Theater is known for being a relaxed company. Not that they don’t take dance seriously. There is no stuffy air in the King Street theatre, or pretentious technique snobs. Shows like Motown Mania result from this casual atmosphere, where guests are encouraged to sit back, have fun, and maybe even sing along. The famous Motown songs selected for the performance practically urged the packed audience to turn the evening into a mini karaoke session. The night contained most of the classics: Gladys Knight & The Pips, Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, and the Temptations.
Set in the ’70s during the boom in Detroit, the performance loosely follows a young couple in the city as they fall in love before being separated by war. The central theme was focused on the music, and more specifically music as empowerment and accomplishment. Love and relationships were also highlighted but largely because they were the subjects of the tracks themselves. A guitar frequently made its way onto the stage as a prop and symbolized the hope and excitement of the youthful dancers. The guitar inspired one fight but mostly worked as a bonding agent for the characters, as it has the Motor City as a whole, especially in the recent years of decay and economic downturns.
The pieces were mainly pas de deux, with only a few solo and ensemble dances. The most impressive aspects were stunning lifts, particularly a few with the females in beautiful arched and plank positions. Many of the pas de deux were more theatrical than technically focused, with exaggerated movements corresponding to the lyrics of Motown hits too literally. The result was a little dance class choreography assignment, with dancers moving to look as if they are crying or raising devil horns precisely on cue with the description of the lyrics.
The best aspects of the complete performance were the male soloists, and we’re not just saying that because they almost all danced shirtless. The choreography was more complex during the men’s routines and featured more jumps and isolations than the female solos. One particular standout was a tribute to Michael Jackson danced by Steven Boston. The act began with an a cappella version of “ABC” and Boston’s controlled but large movements. He was eventually joined by the remaining male CBT dancers as the collage landed on another a cappella classic, “Beat It” before ending with “I Want you Back” and a somber reminder of Jackson’s death — Boston is left alone, laying still on the floor.
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