It's a 'Shindig' at Kennedy Center
N.C. dancers 'brought ballet and bluegrass into a surprisingly natural partnership.'
Steven Brown, the Charlotte Observer

N.C. Dance Theatre had to pull off faster footwork than it planned or wanted, but it still went over big in a two-night visit to Washington's Kennedy Center.

During a dress rehearsal mere hours before the opening of the center's Ballet Across America festival, dancer Sarah Hayes Watson turned an ankle. Curtain time was even closer when a doctor ruled that she couldn't perform.

There were no backups. So artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux had to shuffle the dancers in his bluegrass romp "Shindig." Even his choreography had to adapt - as in the finale's square dance, which lost one of its couples.

"It became a triangle," Bonnefoux said, "instead of a square."

Luckily, some of the dancers had done it that way on tour. When the group went on stage - following two other companies - the dancers took the last-minute change in stride.

The festival's opening June15 "was looking woefully predictable until North Carolina Dance Theatre hit the stage with Appalachian strings and a barnstormer aptly named 'Shindig,'" the Washington Post's Sarah Kaufman wrote.

"Shindig," she wrote, "brought ballet and bluegrass into a surprisingly natural partnership, each enlivening the other, and underscoring their shared qualities of lightness, vigor and skimming speed. The Greasy Beans' gentleman virtuosos took on a hearty dose of cool in the reflected youthfulness of the dancers, which the dancers, flying around to such songs as 'Pistolero' and 'Dog Patch Scramble,' proved ballet's got some pepper in it."

By the next night, NCDT had flown in Kayleigh Gorham of its training company to step in. So the New York Times' Alastair Macaulay saw the whole "Shindig." He wrote that it "unfailingly creates a world onstage, and its innocent complexities all occur in its steps."

"Everyone looks expansive, loose, high-spirited," he commented, "and the combination of seeming physical ease and actual virtuosity is irresistible."

And the audiences? In a wrap-up of the entire festival - which featured nine dance companies - the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Jane Vranish said "Shindig" supplied "the most surprising and popular performance."

One night, Bonnefoux said, the crowd clapped along with the entire finale. "It was amazing," he said.

Bonnefoux himself was the center of attention the night before the festival opened. The French Embassy held a dinner for him and the entire company so it could present him with one of his native country's official honors, the Ordre de Merite. He was selected for it in 1973, commemorating his career with the Paris Opera Ballet. But he never picked it up.

"Being young, it didn't mean as much to me as it does now," he said. "It was nice to get it with my dancers around me."

After returning to Charlotte, the dancers began a shortened version of their annual stint at the Chautauqua Institution, an arts-oriented resort in upstate New York. Injured dancer Watson is recuperating. She should be back on her feet in a few weeks, said Doug Singleton, NCDT executive director.

As Bonnefoux got ready to leave for Chautauqua a few days ago, he was still savoring the company's success.

"How often do you see an arts organization from Charlotte that's celebrated in Washington?" Bonnefoux asked. He zeroed in on the New York Times review's three-word final sentence.

"'Lucky North Carolina,'" Bonnefoux said. "I loved that."