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April 2004
Leaping to Greatness
By Casey Jacobus

     When Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and his wife Patricia McBride came to Charlotte to head up the North Carolina Dance Theatre (NCDT) in 1996, the company was on somewhat shaky ground. 

     Seven years later the company has grown stronger and more stable; a second company of six junior dancers backs it up; and the dance school has grown from 100 students to 500. A capital campaign to raise money for new studios and to increase the endowment is well underway.

     “We had a good feeling about Char-lotte,” says Bonnefoux. “It is a growing city and The Arts and Science Council is so strong. While NCDT had only a few supporters in 1996, they were passionate. We believed Charlotte could be a dance center and that’s what we are working towards.”

     Outside of a few dance enthusiasts, most Charlotteans are unaware of the talent and experience Bonnefoux and McBride brought to the city. Both have had long careers in which they have been at the very top of their profession.

     “I had no idea of the great experience they had or how strongly connected to the stars of international dance they were,” says Skip Knauff, CEO of Knauff Insurance and a member of NCDT’s board of directors. “I’ve watched them collect a lot of really good talent and build a strong foundation for the company. We are so fortunate to have them.”

 

Pas de Deux

     Bonnefoux, born in France, has performed with the Paris Opera Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, Kirov Ballet and New York City Ballet. He has had works commissioned for the New York City Ballet, Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company, Pennsylvania Ballet and Munich Opera, among others. He has also served as choreographer and ballet master of the Pittsburgh Ballet and as chairman and artistic director of the Ballet Department at Indiana University.

     Over her three-decade career, McBride has been celebrated as the outstanding American ballerina of the day and a star of international stature. In 1961 she became the youngest Principal Dancer in the New York City Ballet, at age 18. George Balanchine created leading roles for her in many memorable ballets, as did other choreographers. She has appeared as a guest artist with ballet companies throughout the United States and Europe and her partners included Edward Vilella, Peter Martins, Mikhail Barysnikov, and Rudolf Nureyev.

     McBride has been married to Bonnefoux for over 30 years and they have two children, Melanie and Christopher. When Bonnefoux was named artistic director of NCDT in 1996, McBride was named associate artistic director. She teaches performance technique to the company, as well as dance training to students at DancePlace. She has also staged several Balanchine works for the company.

 

Piroutte

     The North Carolina Dance Theater is in its 33rd season of producing dance in North Carolina. Robert Lindgren, former New York City Ballet dancer, founded NCDT in Winston-Salem in 1970. Salvatore Alello became the artistic director in 1985 and was responsible for moving the company to Charlotte in 1990. NCDT’s reputation grew quickly in the early days. It was the number one touring repertory company in the nation in the early ’80s, appearing in major festivals including the Spoleto Festival, the American Dance Festival and Dance Aspen. NCDT made several New York appearances and completed two European tours.

     However, touring is very expensive and, while NCDT continues to tour for about ten weeks every year, Bonnefoux has been more selective about where the company appears and more focused on building audiences at home in Charlotte.

     Since Bonnefoux joined NCDT as artistic director, he has greatly expanded the repertory and increased the size of the company. He has commissioned choreographers from around the world and created over 20 ballets. In 2000 he formed NCDT2 as a training ground for young professional dancers. In 2003 Bonnefoux was named president of NCDT.

 

Grande Jette

      Bonnefoux and McBride share a vision for NCDT’s future. They want the company to grow a little larger, perhaps to 26 dancers. “Not too big,” says Bonnefoux. “We don’t want to have a company where some dancers don’t dance much. All our dancers are soloists in their own right.” They also expect to see growing audiences who understand and appreciate dance in Charlotte. McBride dreams of sold out performances in the 1900-seat Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

     “What is a city without culture?” she asks. “All of the great cities of the world have great culture.”

     NCDT is building audiences by expanding its dance venues. Locally, it has performed at Davidson College and Queens College, in addition to the Blumenthal, and held classes at Spirit Square, Country Day School and the Cannon School in Concord as well as at DancePlace. Bonnefoux also works at attracting diverse audiences by balancing programs between classical pieces and more contemporary works.

     New uptown studios are also part of the vision. The current studios at the corner of College Street and Eleventh Street are inadequate. The roof leaks, there are no shower facilities, and only one dressing room. With uptown studios, Bonnefoux says the company will be more visible and this will help it compete with other entertainment and cultural offerings available in the city.

     For Bonnefoux and McBride, dance is a passion. Their personal satisfaction in their work comes from watching young dancers get better and better and from turning audiences onto dance.

     “I want everyone to know ballet is exciting,” says Bonnefoux. “It is something everyone can relate to.”

 

Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
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