Charlotte Ballet‘s Innovative Works: Beyond the Mint features three new pieces performed in the Ballet’s intimate uptown Center for Dance. Each piece was inspired by the Mint Museum‘s current exhibition of the Dutch art collective Studio Drift, entitled Immersed in Light, which exhibits sculptures that “explore the relationship between humanity, nature, and technology.”

All works by Studio Drift are inspired by nature and some actually imitate nature, such as the breathtaking “Franchise Freedom,” a project which released 300 small drones into the sky, each one lit by a small light bulb and together appearing like a sea of shooting stars. (This was done live in Miami Beach; the Mint has a projected video of this work in the exhibit.)

Chelsea Dumas, choreographer as well as Charlotte Ballet dancer in her seventh season, was particularly inspired by “Franchise Freedom” for her work, “Journey Home.” The piece juxtaposed a soloist (Peter Mazurowski) with a group of seven dancers, exploring notions of individual freedom and “questioning what it truly means to be free.” Dumas used another sculpture, “In Twenty Steps,” to inform movement as well: A large installation of hanging glass tubes that move in canon, the sculpture is reminiscent of a flock of flying birds. The influence of this sculpture was particularly evident in “Journey Home,” as the group of dancers flocked together in much of the piece, occasionally standing in a straight line and moving in canon. Dancers also used bird-like movement, such as pecking their heads and standing upright with arms straight down while fingertips at the end of broken wrists touched their legs, creating a triangular shape in the upper body, like a bird with closed wings.

“Journey Home” used its soloist to create a narrative of being lost and found and pushed around by a group whilst trying to maintain individuality. While there were some interesting moments between soloist and other dancers, most interesting about this piece were its distinctive shapes and formations, which could have stood alone sans narrative.

Resident choreographer of Nashville Ballet Christopher Stuart‘s “Dispersal” used lighting and projection (by John P. Woodey, who did the whole concert) to semi-recreate Studio Drift’s “Fragile Future 3,” a beautiful collection of dandelion seeds glued on to LED lights forming “electrical dandelions,” and investigate the dandelion as a symbol of the circle of life. “Dispersal” featured four pas de deux as well as works in groups by the eight dancers. Particular standouts in pas de deux were pairings of Sarah Hayes Harkins with Colby Foss and Alessandra Ball James with Josh Hall. Hayes Harkins and Foss were both technically excellent, with long lines and gentle but powerful leaps, while Ball James and Hall (also technically excellent) were daring and vulnerable. Ball James, at one moment, balanced on the back of Hall’s neck as he stood; she was extended forward on her stomach and he had his head forward while neither one held on to the other.

The final piece, “Colony of Desire,” was choreographed by former Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey dancer, Duane Cyrus, a current Professor of Dance at UNC-Greensboro. This piece emphasized Studio Drift’s mission statement: “creating a dialogue between opposites, exploring the relationship between nature, technology, and mankind.” The piece used opposition of color, music, dance style, and formation, creating a very visually-interesting experience. Dancers either wore black costumes or white costumes which changed throughout the piece, with some dancers ending in the opposite color in which they began. Men’s costumes were particularly cool, with tight pants that had a skirt-like cloth and a belt-like strap on bare chests, which later were partially covered by cropped and open jackets (costumes by Emmy Award-winning Shane Ballard). Movement ranged from modern technique vocabulary such as hinges (a thrust of the pelvis forward and shoulders back so that the upper body creates a straight diagonal line), to hip hop vocabulary such as body rolls, to, of course, ballet technique vocabulary such as turns. Diverse movement matched the diverse music which ranged from contemporary hip hop beats to choral chants.

These choral chants provided the score for the most memorable part of the piece – and perhaps the whole evening – when three out of six panels of black backdrop rose and revealed three differently colored spaces. Three dancers, with the gorgeous Raven Barkley center, danced in and out of the three panels, which each alternated with black backdrop. As one dancer would disappear behind the remaining backdrop, another would immediately appear into the light. In the end, they danced together, all the while the hypnotic voices chanted variations of the same few lines over and over: “just your love, just your name….”

The program runs through 2/15. See the sidebar for details including specific dates.

Innovative Works continues through Saturday, Feb. 15. Please see the sidebar for more details.