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WFAE: Charlotte Ballet, Symphony Give Students Spotlight In New Show

Apr 5, 2018

The Charlotte Ballet and Charlotte Symphony will come together on April 6 and 7 with over 50 Charlotte-area Title I school students for the organizations' biggest collaboration yet. They're taking a classical composition and giving it a modern twist, calling it "The Rite of Spring: Reinvented" all with the purpose of engaging a younger generation and producing arts lovers.

With pagan rituals, warring tribes and the sacrifice of a virgin, Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" may seem like a mature choice for a group largely made up of elementary schoolers.

"So You Think You Can Dance" choreographer Peter Chu said he knew that when he was brought on to the project. So he decided to scrap the original narrative and shift focus.

"I knew instantly that I wanted to talk more about our natural rights to move, and rhythms and reconnecting to community," Chu said.

Chu's choreography has students moving in big herds and circling the stage. The dancers sometimes touch and coalesce to form different shapes all moving together.

Chu said togetherness and community are the themes driving this work.

"We've been concentrating on the power of touch," Chu said. "The power of moving together as a group, as a whole, to create greatness."

The mass of bodies onstage is made up of dancers from Charlotte Ballet II, apprentices from the Charlotte Academy and almost 60 young dancers from the ballet's Reach program.

Choreographer Peter Chu with Reach students
Credit Jeff Cravotta

The Reach program was started 9 years ago with a $78,000 grant from the Women's Impact Fund. It's a three-year scholarship for young students who show natural ability, but do not have the money to pay for dance classes. It operates out of five community centers in Charlotte.

Students from three of the centers Albemarle Road in Idlewild Farms, Hickory Grove in Hickory Ridge, and Ivory Baker in Double Oaks are all participating in the production.

Hope Muir is the artistic director of Charlotte Ballet, and oversees the Reach program.

"This is a free dance program and the program also provides the leotard, the tights and those shoes - all of the equipment that's needed," Muir said. "It's taking an opportunity to these recreation centers that might not otherwise be there."

This is the first time that Reach students have had the opportunity to participate in a production, like the "Rite of Spring" one that involves the Belk Theater, professional dancers and live music from the Charlotte Symphony.

This collaboration, based off of similar programs done in Berlin in 2003 and New York City in 2007, is a behemoth project that's been over a year-and-a-half in the making.

Christopher Warren-Green, the musical director for the Charlotte Symphony, said the decision to choose Stravinsky's score for the collaboration was intentional.

Choreographer Peter Chu leads Reach students in rehearsal.
Credit Jeff Cravotta

"The Rite of Spring can be danced in a way that isn't terribly balletic," Warren-Green said. "In other words, you don't have to have been in the Royal Ballet School to dance in the Rite of Spring."

He said the music -- originally created by Stravinsky to be paired with ballet choreography -- is a perfect piece to include younger, less-experienced dancers.

"The piece lends itself to being able to bring young people into, so that they can really get a window into the arts, which is incredibly important," Warren-Green said.

Malaysia Anderson, 10, is one of the Reach dancers performing in the "Rite of Spring." For Anderson, the best part of the process has been working with professional dancers.

"I don't even have words to describe it. It's been amazing," Anderson said. "There's some great dancers that remember [the choreography] like that. It's crazy amazing."

She said this experience has made her want to get a scholarship, train and become a professional dancer for the Charlotte Ballet.

Yandy Tronco, 11, another Reach dancer, said one of her favorite parts has been working with professional choreographer Peter Chu.

"He's been really funny," Tronco said. "I like how he makes funny names for the dance. Like when we put our feet together, it's like you're going to the bathroom. One is the bathroom, one's smack the fly. The other one is step the bug."

Chu said making the learning process fun for the students was a priority because he wants this experience to make a lasting impression.

"What's important about us reaching out to these younger dancers, these younger artists and citizens of our world. is that they may not be dancers and that's okay," Chu said. "We are educating them and showing them the importance of art."

Chu said it's young people, like the Reach dancers, who could become the future donors and supporters of the arts.

Original story here.