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Dancing The Bard

Hamlet one of three NCDT premiers


Choreographer Mark Diamond, like most creative artists, is not content to rest on yesterday's triumphs. Last season, North Carolina Dance Theatre presented his Streetcar Named Desire." People whose opinion I respect called it the greatest dance he has created since he came to Charlotte. I can't venture an opinion. I had a walk-on in the ballet and you cannot see a ballet from the wings. Diamond's next project for NCDT is the balletization of Shakespeare's immortal tragedy, Hamlet. If I hadn't heard such good reports from knowledgeable people about his success with Streetcar, I might be tempted to think Diamond was being overly ambitious. But in dance, as in other artforms, lightning has indeed been known to strike twice.

The English language is such a beautiful form of communication when used by master playwrights such as William Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams. Converting language into dance movements can be a huge hurdle for a dance creator to overcome. The one thing both have in common is the use of gesture. However, trying to express emotion or the complexities of everyday life strictly through movement is no Sunday stroll in the park.

That might explain why no major dance company in the US or abroad has Hamlet in its current repertoire. This includes the two New York City-based companies (NYC Ballet and American Ballet Theatre) and the San Francisco and Houston Ballet companies. Romeo and Juliet lends itself to ballet a lot more than Hamlet and many choreographers around the world have produced their own original version. Not hard to understand. Romeo and Juliet is a love story, albeit a tragic one. Hamlet, on the other hand, is much more cerebral, not to mention containing the complexities of human existence, political intrigues, etc.

Diamond had hoped to do some preliminary work on composing the ballet this summer when the NCDT dancers spent the summer at Chautauqua primarily working on the season opener, Cinderella. Unfortunately, however, artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux' health problems (a heart attack followed by a quadruple bypass) prevented this from happening. Diamond had to pinch hit for Bonnnefoux to finish creating Cinderella.

For musical accompaniment for Hamlet, Diamond has chosen Symphony Number 1 by prolific, and Pulitzer-winning modern New York classical composer John Corigliano. Diamond was able to get a head start on the ballet by choosing a beautiful cello solo as a Pas de Deux for his Hamlet and Ophelia. The duet was shown as a "work in progress" at Chautauqua this past summer. The lead role is danced by Russian Alexi Khimenko, a brand new company member. Ophelia will be portrayed by Amy Rice-Robinson. Last season, as Stella Kowalski, she watched her sister's violent descent into madness. Shakespeare showed Ophelia's similar descent a lot more gently. I'm curious to see Diamond's approach.

Dwight Rhoden spent many years dancing with the Alvin Ailey company, rising to the rank of principal dancer. He was given the opportunity to choreograph dances for the Ailey company, and has created over 30 ballets for companies including the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and the Dance Theatre of Harlem. NCDT artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux invited Rhoden to create a new world premiere for the company. The result is the program's second world premier, Verge, a combination of ballet, modern dance and jazz.

In 1994, Rhoden and Desmond Richardson -- formerly of American Ballet Theater and nominated for a Tony award for his work in the Broadway smash Fosse -- formed a NYC-based dance company called Complexions dedicated to the "uniqueness of artists from different cultures and races." NCDT received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to enable Rhoden to create, and Richardson to appear as guest artist, with NCDT in a work that will put this credo on the Blumenthal PAC stage.

Alonzo King is hot. Not only is his choreography sought after by dance companies all over the country, he's developing am enviable reputation internationally. On three previous visits to Charlotte, he has presented world premieres. This time he is offering the Charlotte premiere of his ballet Tango, which celebrates the sensuous music of Argentinian tango master Astor Piazzolla.

Performances of these three world premiers will be at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center Friday and Saturday, February 8 and 9 at 8pm with a Saturday matinee at 2pm. Tickets range from $17-$50, available at the box office in Founders Hall (704-372-1000) or Ticketmaster. *

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