By Logan McSwain, North Carolina Dance Theatre
In 2011, after a 23-year dance career, Sasha Janes became North Carolina Dance Theatre’s rehearsal director and frequent choreographer. He was recently promoted to associate artistic director. Janes was commissioned to choreograph his first ballet in 2006 and since then he has choreographed 15 ballets. Dangerous Liaisons, performed by NC Dance Theatre in April at the Knight Theater, was his first ballet based on an existing story. The ballet told the story of the 1782 French novel “Les Liaisons dangereuses.”
“The biggest challenge to choreographing a ballet using a story people may be familiar with is staying true to the story while at the same time taking the liberty to recreate the drama through movement,” Janes said. Helping Janes recreate the drama of Dangerous Liaisons was musician Ben Sollee, a classically trained pop cellist and vocalist who has released three solo albums and worked with artists like Bela Fleck, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, and Vienna Teng.
“Ben had worked with dancers before and is interested in how music and dance blend together,” said Janes. “I thought of Ben as the storyteller of the ballet. He performed live during each show, suspended above the stage.” Sollee, from Louisville, Ky., was introduced to Janes by company dancer David Ingram. Janes was searching for music for his adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons, and Sollee took on the challenge. “Dangerous Liaisons is a complex story,” Sollee explained. “The music provides detail for each character as they scheme their way around. I took a cinematic approach utilizing solo cello with electronics to create textures and rhythms that accompany the movement.”
Janes and Sollee worked together for months putting together the score, but they were still making final adjustments just hours before the performance premiered. “Adding the element of live music to a performance makes things unpredictable and exciting,” said Janes. “Having Ben and his music as part of the ballet helped propel the storyline and added a richness to the performance that only live music can.”
This fall Sollee will release his 3rd official studio album, Half-Made Man. Janes is spending the summer choreographing at the Chautauqua Institute in Chautauqua, NY, and will present two new works for NC Dance Theatre next season. His work, Rhapsodic Dances, is being performed at the Kennedy Center in June 2013.