Courtesy Unbound Ballet Project

Piccolo Spoleto 2021 may have a completely different approach and shape, but that doesn’t mean it is skimping on the quality of the offerings. Case in point: audiences will get to attend events like the May 31 Hampton Park Dance Program, featuring performances from two of Charleston’s premiere dance companies, absolutely free.

Unbound Ballet Project was founded in 2017 by dancer, teacher and choreographer Crystal Wellman and debuted to sold-out audiences. The company has run successful and innovative summer seasons each year since, until COVID-19 put a halt to 2020 plans. 

Shifting gears and not wanting to rely on virtual presentation, Unbound staged It Never Changes, a ballet designed for outdoor spaces that it presented to live audiences in October at Tradesman Brewing Company on King Street Extension. A bit different from the troupe’s usual fare, It Never Changes is a selection of four different female choreographers who gathered to create a ballet show specifically for the new outdoor space. 

Eight dancers will be featured in an abridged version of It Never Changes to the Hampton Park program this month. Since the show was originally designed to be performed outdoors, Unbound won’t need to adjust to the new venue. 

“We’re just really excited that we’re even getting to do Piccolo this year,” says Wellman of the opportunity to stage the show again. “We are so lucky that we live in a city where we have these outdoor places that people can come and still enjoy the arts and still keep life moving the best we can.”

Annex Dance Company, founded in 2010 by artist director Kristin Alexander, also saw its season drastically altered by COVID-19.

Annex was forced to move most of its live performance plans over to the medium of dance filmmaking. The hope for a bigger project earlier this spring unfortunately fell through, but now it can return to live performance with Take the A-Train. Originally planned for last year, A-Train will be making its debut during Piccolo this year.

Take the A-Train is a piece in collaboration with visual artist Mary Walker and composer Michael Wall. It is built around rearranged jazz standards and explores the time of the Jazz Age through modern dance. It’s the first time since the onset of the pandemic that Annex will allow physical partnering between dancers.

“This is our first time with physical connection as a company,” said Alexander. “I think the first lift that I did …the whole room kind of lit up. Everyone was smiling and excited.”

Much like Unbound, Annex doesn’t see any issue with bringing their show to an audience outside. Take the A-Train was also planned to be performed in an outdoor space, and so faces no challenges or shifts because of the venue. There are six performers slated to take part in Take the A-Train.

Both companies are excited to be working together at Hampton Park. “Always honored to be included in anything that’s collaborative with other artists in the city, so it’s cool that we’re doing it with Annex,” says Wellman of the opportunity to present this joint show highlighting two distinct styles of dance.

Alexander echoes that enthusiasm. “I’m so excited to be sharing this event with them,” says Alexander. “We have so much respect for each other as companies and try to support each other as best we can. The fact that we’re gonna be putting this program together for people to see two companies doing something, I think, is pretty great.”

As with everything else during Piccolo Spoleto this year, the one-night performance will be free to all audiences. Masks will be required for attendance. 

Check out the Charleston City Paper Piccolo Spoleto 2021 Guide to learn more about the event schedule.