Ballet RI Goes Off the Charts

March performance brings world-renowned choreographers to the state


Some of the best dance choreographers in the world are descending upon the Ocean State in March – not to take center stage – but to impart their movement styles for Off the Charts, a production of Ballet RI, the company evolved from Festival Ballet Providence. While Ballet RI is a dance company in the smallest state, the high level of physicality their dancers showcase attracts illustrious artists from all over the world.

Off the Charts isn’t just educational for company members, but culminates in evening-length “repertory performances” of existing works from celebrated choreographers. In this case, Off the Charts will showcase three pieces: George Balanchine’s Who Cares?, a jazzy, Americana piece filled with dance duets (pas de deux) and solos to the music of George Gershwin; Trey McIntyre’s Blue Until June, set to the moving music of blues singer Etta James; and Katarzyna Kozielska’s Ode, danced to “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

Kathleen Breen Combes, director of Ballet RI, explains, “It’s called Off the Charts because it’s very musically inspired,” featuring dances that were born from jazz, blues, and pop music. Part of the appeal of this unique repertory performance, she hopes, is the program’s ability to “cross genre” by connecting what might be considered the more accessible art form, popular music, to ballet.

“If you’re not a ballet lover and you’ve never been introduced to ballet, then this is an absolutely great program to come to because it’s music that you can easily just listen to and then be exposed to ballet for the first time,” says Combes. The point is to bridge the familiar (music) with the unfamiliar (choreographed movement).

For the non-dancer or a person unfamiliar with ballet, the names of these featured choreographers may be meaningless, but their prestige is awe-inspiring. Balanchine is one of the most famous choreographers ever, recognized as the father of American ballet. Polish choreographer Kozielska, commissioned for pieces around the world, is coming to Rhode Island to work with the ballet corps for three works before Off the Charts is staged. McIntyre has produced more than 100 pieces, and has won numerous awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, and will stick around for opening night.

Combes’ inspiration to create the show came 24 years ago when McIntyre’s Blue Until June premiered with the Washington Ballet. Combes, then 18, was a dancer under McIntyre. “It was my first introduction to what ballet could be beyond tutus and tiaras,” she reminisces of the career-defining moment. McIntyre, like Kozielska, is coming to Rhode Island to work with the ballet corps; it is a huge honor, and their presence guarantees the reprisal of their respective pieces will be unique. “Anytime a choreographer comes and works with your dancers, they change [the piece] and they give it a flair for your company,” says Combes.

Off the Charts will take audience members through three styles of choreography and three types of ballet: neoclassical, classical, and contemporary. Education and accessibility are Combes’ goals with this production, so there will be a video component before each piece to give audience members a backstory: what each choreographer was thinking while creating their movements. “It’s like when you are at a museum and you look at a painting on the wall,” Combes says. “You read about it, and you appreciate it so much more because you understand it.”



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