‘Not ev­ery­thing is about love’

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Carolina Living - BY LAWRENCE TOPPMAN Arts cor­re­spon­dent

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.

Jeff Cravotta

Sasha Janes works with Char­lotte Bal­let’s Lexi John­ston.

Jeff Cravotta

Sasha Janes (right) with Alessan­dra James and Josh Hall.

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