Charleston Ballet Theatre’s 20th anniversary is just like any birthday, says artistic director Jill Eathorne Bahr. It’s a celebration of growing up but still looking good. Under the artistic direction of Bahr and the leadership of Don and Patricia Cantwell, CBT has had to navigate the choppy cultural waters, dealing with hazards like funding, real estate, a competitive cultural scene, audience development, and retaining quality dancers who work very hard for limited pay.
“The biggest challenge,” says Bahr from her King Street studio, “has been changing the perception of what ballet is.” There’s much more to it than stale story lines, wistful ladies in tutus, and men in tights. “We like to show how our dancers are elegant athletes in tight-fitting wrappers,” she says with a guffaw. If football players can wear spandex, then CBT’s dancers should proudly display their physically-fit physiques. “Seriously, though,” she continues, “Spoleto has helped the community appreciate dance and gives them an appetite for more, but we still have a ways to go for people to understand the value of live performance. We sell out in every city that we tour except for our hometown. Once we can get them in the door we don’t lose their support.”
The CBT’s 20th anniversary season includes six mainstage productions and numerous smaller events. The company turned to their fans to choose which works to present, and the line-up is impressive. Peter Pan will kick things off on Oct. 26 as a funny and family-oriented show with aerial effects. The first program of the 20th anniversary season includes three contemporary works: Seven Deadly Sins shows a woman’s battle to destroy the seven harrowing demons in her mind; Nine Lives is danced to the music of Lyle Lovett, and Souvenance was choreographed by ballet great Eddy Toussant.
In December, The Nutcracker returns, putting many local young dancers to work to create an entertaining event.
Come February, The Best of Balanchine will showcase the company’s repertory from legendary choreographer George Balanchine, including the premiere of Rubies, the last of the Stravinsky collaborations.
In March, program two of the 20th anniversary celebration will present the majestic Wings, Poetry with a Splash of Blood from the company’s very first season, and Bahr’s exciting rendition of Rite of Spring. When this was first performed by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in 1917, it prompted a riot by the audience with its raw sound and shocking subject matter. Bahr ramps up the shock value as the dancers wear very little and express a great deal.
Throughout the season, CBT will present the King Street Series, showing off the dancers in Broadway-style numbers and ballroom romps, including Twisted Tango, a not-to-be missed event with live music. Bahr also says to be on the lookout for guerilla dancing — rather informal dance happenings in surprising places as their 20th anniversary spills out of the theatre and literally into the streets. — Eliza Ingle