Palmetto City Ballet recreates the jazz era in French Twist

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Palmetto City Ballet will present a tantalizing taste of Parisian nightlife for its seasonal opening at the College of Charleston’s Sottile Theater. The aptly named French Twist was developed in large part by Jonathan Tabbert, artistic director and resident choreographer of the company. And it seems to have been a passion project for the jazz enthusiast.

“I have always been intrigued by the days of the 1920s to 1940s, when the style of fashion and music was changing rapidly and in full swing,” Tabbert told the City paper. “Also, Edith Piaf and the film Life in pink inspired the way French Twist caught up in the creation process.

According to Tabbert, this time the action takes place in Paris, mainly in a jazz salon, in the late 1930s. “The stage will have a Parisian street scene as well as a salon scene with sets from full bar and authentic vintage accents. We also have a mix of vintage and vintage inspired costumes that gets you there in an instant.

Tabbert said the ballet’s prerecorded score draws heavily on the work of French composer Claude Bolling, especially his jazz suites. “It’s stylistically such a perfect blend of classical and jazz patterns that are incredibly dancey and very eye-catching,” Tabbert said.

Archetypal characters like “The Ingenue”, “The Lounge Singer” and “The Bartender” lead French Twistintrigue, Tabbert said.

Although the performances were only recently announced, Tabbert said the plan to make French Twist a reality was unique and intense.

“The creative process is quite different for each of my ballets, largely depending on the scope and scale of the idea or production,” he said. “Some ballets are manifestations of ideas or inspiration from years gone by and others are more recent to fill a particular void in a given season. With any full job, however, I would start to prepare for it at least the previous season.

With the new production, Tabbert manages to tell a complicated story through dance – a task that poses challenges, but reminds him of the bond he shares with the dancers.

“As a choreographer, I try to create movement in the general style of ballet, and then to go deeper into the innate style of each character,” he said. “The ebb and flow of a plot is often directly correlated with the structure of the choreography. When done harmoniously, the story should tell itself.

As French Twist takes place, viewers will not have the impression of observing the carefully crafted movements from afar. “Different scenes take on a more personal or dramatic turn,” Tabbert said, “So the audience will definitely be drawn into the action.”

After French twist, Tabbert said Palmetto City Ballet will pivot directly in preparation for its holiday performance of Snow Queen, which features a cast of over 70 young dancers from the wider Charleston community working in conjunction with its professional artists. Tabbert hopes the ambitious production can help the company develop a national profile.

French Twist begins at 7 p.m., Friday, at the Théâtre Sottile, with a morning at 2 p.m., Saturday

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