This year’s Fall for Dance North festival in Toronto brings together a number of national and international companies, including North Carolina’s Charlotte Ballet, which will present Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot in the round at Ada Slaight Hall at Daniels Spectrum, from Sept. 26 to 30.
The festival itself runs to Oct. 7 at various venues. Among the other invited dancemakers and ensembles are the Olivier Award-winning Mthuthuzeli November, Cassa Pancho’s Ballet Black, New York’s Gibney Company, and Candoco, a British company at the forefront of conversation around dance and disability.
Charlotte Ballet’s new artistic director Alejandro Cerrudo spoke to The Globe and Mail about fresh starts, breaking boundaries and the irrelevance of bad reviews.
You succeeded Canada’s Hope Muir as Charlotte Ballet’s artistic director and you both danced at one point with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Have your paths crossed?
Yes, we danced together for a year or two at Hubbard Street. That was 2005, a long time ago.
She is currently artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada. Since you seem to be following similar career paths, maybe we’ll see you up here someday?
[Laughs] I’m very happy right now in Charlotte.
Charlotte is a southern city with a lot of transplants and a lot of growth. What is your mission there?
To elevate the cultural status of the city. If you’ve never heard of Charlotte, and the city comes up in conversation, I want people to say, ‘Oh, yeah, Charlotte, they have a magnificent ballet.’ That’s the goal, to be recognized at that level.
Rather than being known for, say, NASCAR?
Maybe one day, yes. There are opportunities to shape what Charlotte becomes in the not-so-distant future. As you say, the city is growing. That means new audiences and new interests. We, and other arts organizations, want to shape what the city might look like and what defines it.
What about how ballets and their audiences look? Where is ballet in terms of diversity and accessibility?
I think we’re in a moment of change. This is my first season that I have programmed at Charlotte Ballet. The opening program is called Breaking Boundaries, with two choreographers. One is Mthuthuzeli November, who, by the way, will be performing with his brother at Fall Dance North in Toronto. He’s from South Africa, based in the U.K. He made a new work for us, and it was inspiring to work with him.
The other piece in your Breaking Boundaries program in Charlotte is Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot, which audiences will also be able to see in Toronto.
Yes. The first time I saw it was at a Jewish community centre in New York. It was basically a gymnasium. It is a work you can bring to the community, versus the expectation and the hope that audiences will come to you. Breaking Boundaries being the first program in the season in Charlotte was very intentional in terms of that vision of diversity and inclusivity.
Before you came to Charlotte Ballet, in 2021 you premiered a piece of yours, It Starts Now, in New York. Given that it was your first independent show ever, did the title serve as a proclamation of sorts?
It was big project to take on. In a way, it was a symbolic title for myself for a new chapter in my career. It was before I knew I was coming to Charlotte. Looking back now, it was a very clear change of direction within my professional trajectory.
The review of It Starts Now in The New York Times was not favourable. Did you ever think, let’s start over?
Look, not to diminish any reviews, or to glorify any reviews for that matter, but a review after all is one person’s opinion. I am not going to change my mind for one person’s opinion. even if it is in The New York Times.
In terms of raising the profile of Charlotte Ballet, what does coming to Toronto mean to the company?
It means everything. Charlotte Ballet has not toured internationally since 1981. And Fall for Dance North is in advance of our own season starting. It is a great chance to showcase the ballet and to be able to perform Ohad Naharin’s work internationally, I am incredibly proud of our team, from the dancers to the production team. The level of excitement and the way the dancers are approaching the work made me so proud. And I’m not just saying that because I am the director. I’m very critical. I wouldn’t be talking about this otherwise.
It is a unique, immersive piece, Naharin’s Kamuyot. Is that part of the concept of breaking boundaries?
We are doing a transformation of the space. I am very excited about the exploration of how dance is presented and how we are taking that risk.
So, for Charlotte Ballet, one might say it starts now.
One could say that. It has been starting now for quite a while, though, and it is going to encompass a few years at least. But, then, every moment is a beginning.
This interview has been condensed and edited.