‘Not everything is about love’
He’s the resident choreographer without a local residence, the last holdover from Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s era with a new work at Charlotte Ballet this season, the Australian native entrusted with quintessential New York music, the guy confident enough to toss out Jerome Robbins’ iconic choreography and match his own ideas to Leonard Bernstein’s sounds.
Sasha Janes’ “Facsimile” shares the Fall Works program this week with “Fancy Free,” a Robbins-Bernstein collaboration, and Medhi Walerski’s “Petite Cérémonie.” (The ballet has hired the Charlotte Symphony to play both Bernstein works live for the com- poser’s centenary.)
“Fancy Free,” which became the stage musical “On the Town,” shows sailors on shore leave in 1940s Manhattan. French choreographer Walerski’s “Cérémonie” has been called “a light-hearted piece of spunky energy.”
Between these bursts of sunshine comes Janes’ darker look at a man battling depression. “Robbins choreographed ‘Facsimile’ as a love triangle, which I cannot comprehend,” he says in the soft voice that
reveals his origins in Perth.
Over his 14-year association with the company, first as a dancer but mostly as a choreographer since 2012, Janes has sometimes been typecast as a purveyor of romance. Publicists billed him as “King of the Pas de Deux” (not that he asked them to) while he produced narratives about love gone right or, more frequently, unhealthily wrong: “Wuthering Heights,” “Dangerous Liaisons,” a striking “Carmen” set in a Carolinas mill village.
“I suppose that’s because I had the reputation of being a good partner as a dancer,” he says. “But I made a ballet (“The Seed and the Soil”) where the CIA did mind-control experiments with LSD, a man jumped out a window and a woman stabbed a guy to the heart. Not everything is about love.”
It’s all about love of movement. Watch him in a “Facsimile” rehearsal, trying out steps on his own lanky body, and think of something Bonnefoux said: “He’s authoritative without being authoritarian.”
Janes takes dancers’ suggestions cheerfully, saying, “I like everything you did there.” He’s relaxed yet focused, spending 60 minutes on half a minute’s worth of steps. “I listened to ‘Facsimile’ over and over,” he says. “Yesterday, in my hotel room, I listened to 17 seconds for an hour. I couldn’t work it out.”
He has become “a lot more confident as a choreographer. Whenever I was apprehensive – which was often – Jean-Pierre would say, ‘Choreography is subconscious. Don’t worry about it.’
“I played it safe with my first piece, ‘Lascia la spina,’ by designing it for myself and my wife (Rebecca Carmazzi), whom I’d danced with for years. (Later), I would take her into the studio to prepare, then give the parts I’d created to men who had to dance them. But I realized I wasn’t playing to their strengths.”
At 47, Janes danced “Lascia” with Chelsea Dumas at Bonnefoux’s 2016 retirement gala. Now, except for the lessdemanding role of Godfather Drosselmeyer in “The Nutcracker,” he leaves the steps to others.
He and his family moved last year to Bloomington, where he teaches dance at Indiana University and anticipates his biggest choreographic challenge: “Cinderella” 18 months away.
He doesn’t miss his days onstage: “You have to stay in top shape, like a professional athlete. That wasn’t fun anymore.”
Nor does he miss being associate artistic director in Charlotte, where “I’d sit in my office until one minute before rehearsals, organizing budgets and planning (schedules) for dancers.”
He’s talked to Charlotte Ballet artistic director Hope Muir about future works, because “I love these dancers. I helped Jean-Pierre find some of them, and I’d like to do more with them.”
And somewhere, among tenure-track duties at Indiana and house renovations with help of his builder dad, Janes knows he has to start selling himself. “I did a piece for Richmond Ballet, but I’ve never pushed my work out to other companies,” he says with a small sigh. “It’s either fear of failure or fear of success; I don’t know which. But it’s time to start.”
This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with Thrive Campaign for the Arts.
Sasha Janes works with Charlotte Ballet’s Lexi Johnston.
Sasha Janes (right) with Alessandra James and Josh Hall.