Palmetto City Ballet will present a tantalizing taste of Parisian nightlife for its season opener at the College of Charleston’s Sottile Theatre. The aptly named French Twist was developed largely by Jonathan Tabbert, the company’s artistic director and resident choreographer. And it appears to have been a passion project for the avid jazz fan.
“I have always been intrigued by the era of the ‘20s through ‘40s, when the style of fashion and music were rapidly, for that time, evolving and booming,” Tabbert told the City Paper. “Also, Edith Piaf and the film La Vie en Rose provided inspiration for the path French Twist took in the creation process.”
According to Tabbert, this time around, the action takes place in Paris, mostly within a jazz lounge, in the late 1930s. “The stage will have a Parisian street scene as well as a lounge scene with full bar set pieces and authentic vintage accents. We also have a mixture of vintage and vintage-inspired costuming that transports you back there in an instant.”
Tabbert said the ballet’s prerecorded score draws heavily upon French composer Claude Bolling’s work, specifically his jazz suites. “It is stylistically such a perfect blend of classical and jazz motifs that are insanely danceable and very catchy,” Tabbert said.
Archetypal characters like “The Ingenue,” “The Lounge Singer” and “The Bartender” drive French Twist’s plot, Tabbert said.
Although the performances were only just recently announced, Tabbert said the plan for making French Twist a reality was unique and intensive.
“The creative process is quite different for each ballet of mine, largely depending on the scope and scale of the idea or production,” he said. “Some ballets are manifestations of ideas or inspirations from years past and some are newer to fulfill a particular void in any given season. With any full-length work, though, I would start prepping for it at a minimum the season prior.”
With the new production, Tabbert manages to tell a complicated tale through dance — a task that poses challenges, but reminds him of the connection he shares with dancers.
“As a choreographer, I seek to create movement within the general style of the ballet and then go a step further to the innate style of each character,” he said. “The ebb and flow of a plot line often directly correlates to the structure of the choreography. When done harmoniously, the story should tell itself.”
As French Twist unfolds, audience members won’t feel like they’re observing the carefully crafted movements from afar. “Different scenes take on a more personal or dramatic flare,” Tabbert said, “So, the audience will definitely be drawn into the action.”
After French Twist, Tabbert said, Palmetto City Ballet will pivot straight into readying its holiday performance of The Snow Queen, which features a cast of over 70 young dancers from the wider Charleston community working in conjunction with his professional artists. Tabbert hopes the ambitious production can help the company grow a national profile.
French Twist debuts at 7 p.m., Friday, at Sottile Theatre, with a matinee at 2 p.m., Saturday