The Charleston Ballet Theatre wants to turn the stereotype of a tutu-clad, pirouetting ballerina on its head. “Our name has the word ‘ballet’ in it, which can often present a certain stereotype of stuffiness,” says Kyle Barnette, CBT’s administrative director. “We are so far from being a stuffy company, it’s not even funny.” The company has the word “theatre” in its name, too, and there’s a reason for that — each of their performances is heavy on the drama.
Take, for example, The Ellington Experience, one of the productions from the company’s Piccolo lineup. The dancers will use classical steps and fun, open movements to interpret the music of Duke Ellington. “We have ballerinas en pointe, but they are performing to jazz standards from the 1940s,” Barnette says. Another featured production, Nashville, also presents a new take on the concept of ballet, with its dancers decked out in typical country western attire. “Our Nashville show is a complete 360 as well, as the entire show is performed to country music’s greatest hits,” he says. Both productions were choreographed by the company’s resident choreographer Jill Eathorne Bahr.
The company is set to present two additional offerings during Piccolo, including its popular Brown Bag and Ballet series, comprised of three different ballets, two of which were also choreographed by Bahr. For that particular production, given its lunchtime slot, audience members are invited to bring their own lunches to enjoy while taking in the performances.
The final featured production, from CBT’s children’s company, is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, featuring our favorite chocolatier and the slew of misfits vying to take over his candy factory. The production is presented by the Broadway Dance Project and was choreographed by the company’s ballet master Stephen Gabriel. The CBT is also set to perform two pieces during Sunset Serenade, the annual pops concert from the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and the Piccolo Spoleto Symphony Orchestra.
Though these productions were choreographed specifically for Charleston Ballet Theatre, none of them are new additions to the company’s repertoire — they’ve already been performed this season. The dancers started revisiting the choreography and rehearsing the pieces again just two weeks prior to the festival’s start.
Despite the excitement of the productions, Barnette says that he’s most looking forward to the unique “only-during-Piccolo” moments that happen each year. “Last season, we had a group of school kids who were from China attend our show,” he remembers. “They were musicians themselves and trained on instruments that were not familiar to most patrons, including myself. Not only did the students watch the show, but they also decided to perform outside on the street and in the lobby. People went wild about it. It was one of those cool moments you only can experience in Charleston during Spoleto. I look forward to more of these kinds of things happening this year.”