Charlotte Ballet opened its annual Fall Works show at the Knight Theater on Thursday night. The program, featuring two works by choreographers Dwight Rhoden and Ohad Naharin, explored dance that grooved and undulated to a variety of eclectic music. Where the audience is usually the spectator only, these two works play with the idea of the audience as voyeur and participant and blur the gap between where dance as an art form begins and ends. The program runs though Saturday, October 22 with three more shows to go.

Fall Works started with Rhoden’s piece “The Groove.” In a video introduction, Rhoden spoke of wanting to capture the club culture in the movement and groove of the dancers. The piece swayed and throbbed with both undulating and percussive music. Lighting designer, Michael Korsch, set the scene well using hazy, almost smoky lighting. At times the dancers faces were obscured by shadows allowing the audience to just see the lines and physicality of their bodies. The asynchronous choreography added to the club scene; the lazy group dynamic spun as if under a disco ball. The open wings to the stage allowed some of the audience to see what was happening on the sidelines, adding to the illusion that we were in the club as well, watching from the side. The moments that were most effective in the dance were when the dancers were facing and communicating with each other. I felt drawn into this club culture world. However, when they faced the audience, the illusion was broken, and I felt uncomfortable under the gaze of the dancers. Perhaps Rhoden wanted this discomfort playing with the idea of voyeurism in the club scene. We were under a veil of darkness being welcomed into this world. I also wished the movement had matched the music better. I wasn’t satisfied with the groove until the very end when the dancers ran rhythmically around the stage to the music, giving the audience a satisfying finish.

“Music for 16,” the beginning movements of Naharin’s larger work Deca Dance, introduced a newer dance form, Gaga, to some of the Charlotte community. Naharin’s choreography has garnered enormous praise and accolades around the world, and it was an enormous gift and honor to see it danced so sublimely on the Charlotte stage. There was a question about when the piece began. Sometime during intermission, a member of Charlotte Ballet II, Maurice Mouzon Jr., stepped onstage in front of a closed curtain. When I returned to the theater, I heard murmurings from the audience about who he was, and why he was standing there. Mouzon Jr. calmly and confidently looked around the audience, watching and observing us. The languid and lounge-like early 60’s soundtrack from Cha-Cha De Amor played softly in the background. Eventually, Mouzon Jr. started moving his body in a way that is hard to describe. Gaga is a dance language described by Naharin, its creator, as a dance of small gestures that still pack a punch. Practiced in a room without mirrors, the dancers instead use their imagination to develop the clarity of the form, which comes from sensing their bodies in space. Mouzon Jr.’s performance inhabited this language so superbly and effortlessly. He undulated and popped to the cheesy soundtrack with humor and grace. He inhabited the choreography so completely that I’m still not sure if it was choreography at all, but a glimpse into his enormously furtive imagination. 

The curtain gradually lifted towards the end of intermission, and Mouzon Jr. stepped across the border from in front of the curtain to the full stage. His dancing opened up from tiny gestures to large outbursts of gymnastic feats. Eventually, the rest of the company joined him, each offering different glimpses into Gaga’s intricacy and brilliance. Naharin’s choice of music for the rest of the ballet was eclectic yet somehow flowed together perfectly. He selected music from Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater following it with a traditional Israeli song arranged for a rock group, and it worked! The highlight of the evening occurred at the end, when the dancers walked out into the audience and selected certain plants (which weren’t apparent until the end) to come up on stage with them to dance. Naharin believes there is a dancer in all of us, and that was never more apparent than watching sixteen random audience members emit as much joy on stage as the dancers. I couldn’t stop laughing and smiling. It was a beautiful sight to behold. 

Charlotte Ballet continues to grow and challenge both their dancers and audience with new ballets and new dance forms that not only open their eyes to different choreography but also to the audience’s role towards art. No wonder that each production quickly sells out. I can’t remember leaving any performance with so much happiness and joy in my heart.