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Ballet Evolution embraces ‘Latin Rhythms’

BY ADAM PARKER aparker@postandcourier.com, Oct 22, 2016

A talented young piano student of Laura Ball’s wanted to play something a little different, not the typical Chopin etude or Beethoven sonata.

“So I gave him a set of Ginastera pieces,” Ball said. Alberto Ginastera was an important 20th-century composer from Argentina. “And he was just nuts about them.”

Little wonder. Ginastera’s music is lively, danceable, innovative, deeply informed by the European classical music tradition but ready to absorb the characteristics of Latin America.

Ball had played the composer’s “Danzas Argentina,” learning the works from a teacher who was a good friend of Ginastera. Now she was rediscovering them, and an idea began to percolate.

She took the music to friends and collaborators Jonathan Tabbert and Stephen Gabriel, co-founders of the Charleston Dance Institute and Ballet Evolution. And she made her pitch: What about designing a ballet production based on this and other Latin American and Spanish music?

So that’s what they are going to do.

“Latin Rhythms” is the first of four shows presented by Ballet Evolution during its second full season. It runs Oct. 28 and 29 at the Sottile Theatre.

Ballet Evolution has benefited from special collaborations with Ball and her musical organization UNED!TED, as well as with Chamber Music Charleston. The dance company is the only one in town that consistently performs with live music.

The live music for “Latin Rhythms” will be provided by The Atlas Trio, a recently formed group featuring Ball on piano, Courtney Sharp on cello and Rachael Kistler on violin. Sharp and Kistler met at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Ball was introduced to Sharp in Charleston when the pair performed Beethoven sonatas together, thanks to the influence of local cellist Natalia Khoma.

The three women of The Atlas Trio live far apart — Sharp in Milwaukee, Kistler in Washington, D.C., Ball in Charleston — but they plan vacations together and find time to rehearse and perform, Ball said.

“We like to explore the dangerous chamber repertoire,” she said.

They transcribed by ear Piazzolla’s “Libertango,” one several short pieces by the composer The Atlas Trio has combined for the “Latin Rhythms” show. (They’re also playing arrangements of Piazzolla’s “Oblivion” and three of his violin etudes.)

The other composer featured on the program is the Spaniard Joaquin Turina.

Tabbert said the format of the program will be typical of classical ballet: an ensemble piece (“Bailamos” set to Turina’s music), a pas de deux (“Strange Love” set to Ginastera’s solo piano music) and another ensemble piece (“An Air of Tango” set to Piazzolla’s music).

Though influenced by the gestures of Latino and Spanish dance and music, the choreography is fundamentally derived from classical ballet vocabulary, Tabbert said. The program is a result of collective brainstorming and careful selection of music, he said.

“Laura is passionate about Latin music, and I’m very fond of it,” he said. “But just because it’s an amazing piece to play doesn’t mean it’s an amazing piece to dance to.”

Ball’s musical suggestions all were made with movement in mind, she said.

“There’s movement inherent in all of these pieces,” Ball said. They encourage one to sway and bend and shimmy. “They’re all very hippy. It’s a very fiery program, I got very distracted at the first rehearsal.”

“Latin Rhythms” employs 10 professional dancers.

Ballet Evolution relies heavily on experienced dancers, Tabbert said. In rehearsal last week, a group of women and a lone male dancer moved with grace around a set of chairs set up in a diagonal in the Mount Pleasant studio. Tabbert helped define the beat and occasionally offered a word of guidance or advice.

Last season, the Ballet Evolution made itself known to the public with four original works, garnering interest among patrons eager to have a cornerstone ballet company in town.

“I’m very proud of the artistic voice we put forth all last season and will continue to do this year,” Tabbert said.

That artistic voice depends a lot on collaboration with Sandra Nikolajevs, director of Chamber Music Charleston, and Ball.

“We do remarkably well with having so many cooks in the kitchen,” Tabbert said. “We all work so well together.”

Earlier this year, Tabbert was named a 2017 choreography fellow by the S.C. Arts Commission, an appointment that comes with a $5,000 grant. He is spending it on Ballet Evolution, he said.

The separate school also is flourishing. About 200 young dancers are enrolled, Tabbert said.

After “Latin Rhythms,” Ballet Evolution presents “The Snow Queen” on Dec. 16 and 17, followed by an original work, newly composed by Ball and choreographed by Tabbert, called “The Good Book.”

The last of the four shows, “Spring Repertory,” is a stripped-down ballet set to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. All feature the musicians of Chamber Music Charleston.