The Dance Of Kings

The Dance of Kings
The Dance of Kings

New York City, Boston, Pittsburgh…these are cities dance enthusiasts recognize and dancers flee to in hopes that their talent will be recognized; their dreams made real.  At the top of a dancers list is American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, and Alvin Ailey.  What dancer wouldn’t want to attend classes taught by Master Teachers who were taught and molded by legends such as George Balanchine, Alvin Ailey, and Mikhail Baryshnikov?  

With demi-god characteristics, dancers may walk and talk like us, but they defy gravity, leaping through the air, pirouetting 5, 6, 7 times (or as Baryshnikov did in White Nights 11); they push their bodies beyond the norm able to flex, extend, and contract while their bodies paint the stage with movement.   Unique in all its aspects, the dancer breathes his or her own inspiration, his or her own sense of wonder into a specific movement, a combination, a piece.  The dancer takes the enthusiast to a state of awe, but the dancer lifts him/herself to heaven.  

Charlotte, North Carolina finds itself a city among the greats, with the North Carolina Dance Theatre, a company to be recognized.  Founded in 1970 and located in Winston-Salem, the company moved to Charlotte in 1990 under the direction of Salvatore Aiello.   With the death of Aiello in 1996, Jean- Pierre Bonnefoux along with his wife, Patricia McBride, arrived as Artistic Director and Co-Associate Artistic Director.

Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux
Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux

Bonnefoux’s background is one immersed in the world of dance.  Born in France, he started dancing  when he was seven.  By fourteen, Bonnefoux joined the Paris Opera Ballet and at 21, he received the title Danseur Etoile (star dancer).   “After having danced with the Bolshoi, Kirov, and Paris Opera,” says Bonnefoux, “George Balanchine invited me to become principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. That was in 1970.”  

His wife Patricia McBride, was also invited to dance with the New York City Ballet by Balanchine in 1959.  Two years later, she became the youngest principal dancer in the company.  Her remarkable talent kept her busy for the next three decades as she performed regularly with Mikhail Baryshnikov and other great male dancers and had master works created for her by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.  

Very fortunate to have worked with Balanchine, Bonnefoux considered him a “real genius.”  But over time the rigorous training and performance schedule eventually took its toll.  “I remained with New York City Ballet for 10 years after which time the injuries and back problems I developed made it more of a challenge, so I began my transition from performer to teacher, dedicating myself to work as an artistic director and choreographer,” says Bonnefoux.

More a classical dancer, Bonnefoux loves the classical repertoire, such as Swan Lake, Nutcracker Ballet, Peter Pan and Swan Lake, but he finds “contemporary works the most exciting a body can do. And that is the way it was and still is now,” he says.  Having started teaching dance when he was eighteen, it was a natural transition.  “I always loved the idea that when one door closes another opens,” says Bonnefoux.   

Being the Artistic Director of the North Carolina Dance Theatre is very exciting.  “I never wanted to direct a large company,” says Bonnefoux. “I always liked the idea of a small group of people.  There exists an exceptional power.  The idea of individual talent and the ability as a director to look for dancers who fit that ideal is much more accepting.”  

There are two companies within the North Carolina Dance Theatre: Company 1 and Company 2, with a total of 26 dancers from various locales.  “We hold auditions in the big cities as well as locally,” says Bonnefoux.  “Our choreographers also come from all over the world.  Dwight Rhoden is our resident choreographer from New York.  Sasha Janes is from Perth, Australia, and Mark Diamond retired from the Hamburg Staatsoper, Germany in1983 and is now Program Director of Company 2.  “We use well established choreographers, like Twyla Tharp and Jacqulyn Buglisi, but they don’t necessarily come themselves.  They may send an assistant,” says Bonnefoux.  “Patricia is Co-Associate Artistic Director.  Her role is not as choreographer.  Her role is to stage Balanchine’s works as well as Master Teacher of the school and company.”

Because the North Carolina Dance Theatre is a non-profit, it is very important for the community to be involved.  In 2008, Bonnefoux and McBride received  lifetime achievement awards from the Arts and Science Council of Charlotte.  With the help of the community, private donations, and funding from the Arts Council the North Carolina Dance Theatre broke ground on its new 34,000 square foot facility.  Completed in June 2010, the Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux Center for Dance officially opened.  The facility houses administrative offices, rehearsal space, six dance studios, the North Carolina Dance Theater School of Dance and a 200 seat performance venue.  It’s an amazing achievement and one that Charlotte should be proud of.

“This city is a gem,” says Bonnefoux.  “It’s quite fascinating what’s going on in Charlotte. With the facility completed, the company’s goal is to continue bringing dance to Charlotte in as many ways as possible, be it classical, modern, or contemporary.  We’ve got amazing dancers,” says Bonnefoux.  “I am very proud of them and to watch them grow, I feel like a Papa.”  

The 2014 season begins with Innovative Works (January 23-February15, 2014) followed by Cinderella, a fairytale ballet (March 6-16) and Othello, a modern theater style production with original music (April 254-26).   For further information on the North Carolina Dance Theatre, go to www.ncdance.org.