Talking to CBT’s Jill Eathorne Bahr
Charleston Ballet Theatreʼs Jill Eathorne Bahr talks about Piccolo Spoleto and the companyʼs upcoming 25th Anniversary season
CT: There is such a variety in your offerings this season at Piccolo Spoleto. How did you decide which dance performances would fit well together in such a tight season?
JEB: Music is often the creative inspiration of dance choreography and with of the works of Balanchine and Tharp in our repertoire, two of the most musical choreographers in the world, many of our program selections are centered around music. Music is a constant inspiration for me as an artist, and I felt that all of these works are as much a celebration of music as they are of the art of dance itself. The interesting thing about all the shows we are offering is how extremely varied in style they are both musically and as dance pieces themselves.
CT: Nashville seems like an unconventional choice for a ballet company to take on, yet you have created an entire show set to country music. What brought that idea to the surface?
JEB: Funny enough, a trip to Nashville last year is really what led me to want to create this show. I’ve always liked country music but really wanted to immerse myself in that atmosphere, so what better way than to go to the heart of it all? It was just such a unique city and one that really nurtured and celebrated its most famous export. Feeling that vibe and warmth of the music scene really gave me some wonderful inspiration to create the show. Having so much success with doing Motown Mania last season, I thought another music city inspired show would work well again with Nashville.
CT: Heading in a totally different direction, you are also presenting The Ellington Experience as part of your Piccolo offerings. What makes the show really stand out among the rest?
JEB: Well, there are so many things, from the fact that the entire show is to the music of Duke Ellington, that our costumes are designed by Travis Halsey (who designs for The Joffrey Ballet), and that the entire show is done en pointe.
CT: Entirely en pointe? What made you choose to choreograph jazz en pointe?
JEB: I really wanted to explore the juxtaposition of the fluidity of ballet against the angular movement of lyrical and jazz dancing. The music lends itself so well to a certain style, and I wanted to see how we could achieve the same feel but in a different form. Being en pointe forces a dancer to remain almost entirely straight up and down which restricts other sorts of movement that one naturally associates with jazz dance. I kept envisioning very angular movements when I would hear all of this wonderful Ellington stuff and thought, well, why not create a completely different style while still honoring the feel of the stunning jazz chords and sounds Ellington laid out. The result is a very stylized type of en pointe jazz dance that I don’t think many people will have seen before.
CT: Another popular aspect of Piccolo each year is your Brown Bag and Ballet series, which always have a very eclectic presentation of ballets. Wings, one of your most popular ballets, will be part of that series this season. What made you decide to bring it back for a Piccolo Spoleto debut?
JEB: Wings is such a beautiful piece and something that is complex and very simple at the same time. It is a celebration of the beauty of flight. I was inspired by the flight of over 200 egrets that nested outside in my backyard at my old home in Mt. Pleasant. The expansiveness of their wings and the vision of seeing all of these beautiful white birds taking off in tandem was such an overwhelming sight to me that I could not help but interpret that in my own way on stage. It is something I love sharing with audiences and one I think everyone can identify with in one way or another. And our Brown Bag Series will also include Seasons of the Sun, another piece that I choreographed.
CT: You will also be performing Wings at the Piccolo Spoleto opening ceremony at The Customs House with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra on May 27th, right?
JEB: Absolutely! We could not be more excited to perform live with the CSO again. We did the same thing with them a few years ago and had a blast. We will be performing both Wings along with Bruce Marksʼ Lark Ascending, another incredible and more intimate ballet about the celebration of flight. We are so lucky to be able to present ballet in this sort of format to an audience that is usually in excess of 400 people. It is always such a rush!
CT: You are also gearing up for your 25th Anniversary season this fall. What can we look forward to seeing this fall?
JEB: Ah, there is so much coming up in our 25th season I don’t know where to begin. I can tell you I am very thrilled that we are kicking the season off with my full length ballet version of Don Quixote at The College of Charleston Sottile Theatre. Itʼs epic in every way and filled with beautiful Spanish music and lavish costumes. In November we will be presenting The Big Easy which is a tribute to the sound and influence of New Orleans. It will include my ballet, A Streetcar Named Desire, along with a couple of other guest choreographers lending their talents to some New Orleans inspired works. There is so much more coming up that I could go on and on but would instead encourage people to visit our website (charlestonballet.org) and find out for themselves, and in the meantime come check out all our Piccolo Spoleto season of shows. I guarantee you will find something that inspires and entertains.
Jill Eathorne Bahr is the Resident Choreographer at Charleston Ballet Theatre.