Precision, balance, strength — ballet is not for the faint of heart, the weak-kneed, the tender-toed. It asks the fallible human to present an image, shorn from the divine, of absolute, utter, infallible perfection.
Ballet Evolution (BE), an innovative dance studio based in Mt. Pleasant, embraces the beauty and dedication to the art form while flouting outdated stereotypes. Artistic director and resident choreographer Jonathan Tabbert says that BE boasts a very “versatile group of dancers. We don’t necessarily fit into that classical ballerina mold. A lot of choreographers have a ‘this is what I like’ look.” For Tabbert, though, who has worked with and choreographed productions for dancers since he was 13, it’s not about the mold, but the antithesis of the mold: “I enjoy finding individuality in each of these dancers.”
For BE’s original repertory program, Notes Between the Shadows, the company’s seven core dancers meld their individual talents with Chamber Music Charleston, who performs live, and Charleston poet laureate Marcus Amaker, whose poetry is heard through voiceovers.
The program is divided into three distinct pieces that will be able to stand alone or cohere easily with the other two. “I love that about repertory programs,” says Tabbert. “You may not love one piece, but you’ll love another. I enjoy full length ballets, but with repertory work, you get to dive into a lot more things. It’s easier to feel a little bit more uninhibited.”
But isn’t there something about ballet, poetry, and the music of a live string quartet that feels entirely inhibited? Did Shostakovich just wing it? Are pointe shoes optional when executing the perfect plié? Would Wordsworth have balked at rhythm and meter and said screw it: “I wandered lonely as a Cloud/That floats on high o’er vales and Hills/When all at once I saw a crowd/A host, of golden…roses.” Of course not.
Perfection is not relatable, or enjoyable, when viewed by the very human audiences who take in these mediums. But that’s not why we watch, or listen, or absorb. We’re waiting for what’s in between the pirouettes and the gentle pluck of a cello and the carefully calculated rhymes. It’s the notes between the shadows, the ethereal reverberation of a violin, the slant rhyme. We do this unconsciously, so that at the end of the night, we’re left in awe, mouth agape at the beauty of a “perfect” production. It’s not perfection we sought or witnessed — it’s the cadence of bodies, words, and notes flowing without thought on stage, all in harmony together. It’s the messy emotions we don’t want to tap into, brought to the fore.
Amaker says that one of his missions as poet laureate of Charleston is to put poetry in places where people might not expect it. “I was blown away when Jonathan Tabbert called me,” says Amaker, “Ballet is an art form that I’m not familiar with, so it felt like an opportunity for me to reach outside of my comfort zone. I’m more than happy with the results. I gave him audio versions of a few poems and he transformed them into visual movements. I hope the audience feels the spirit behind the words.”
BE’s dancers will be propelled across the stage by the words of Amaker and the music of Shostakovich, Grieg, and J.S. Bach. Tabbert says since their inception three years ago, BE has only ever used live music, “it adds such a special moment to each of our programs. To pull inspiration from that artistic element, rather than just pulling from canned music. It always makes our jobs that much more enjoyable.”
The one poem in the program not penned by Amaker is Henry Lawson’s “The Things We Dare Not Tell,” which will be paired with Shostakovich’s haunting String Quartet No. 8.
“We fight it down, and we live it down, or we bear it bravely well/ But the best men die of a broken heart for the things they cannot tell.” The late 19th/ early 20th century poet may not have imagined 21st century dancers spinning gracefully on the stage, inspired by his heart-rending words, but surely he would approve. The taut muscles, the electric breath, the feet barely grazing the ground, perfect specimens, casting larger-than-life shadows. The creased brows, the worn down slipper, the errant huff of breath, the imperfect embodiment of the human spirit, bursting with emotion. A perfect production.