Charleston Ballet Theatre interprets some of the year's best films 

Dancing with Oscar

Every year, the Charleston Ballet Theatre gets cinematic by interpreting Oscar-nominated films through dance. Ballet is already in the spotlight this year thanks to Best Picture nominee Black Swan, but how do you create a dance based on a nerdy drama like The Social Network? Or a period piece like The King's Speech?

For CBT principal dancers Jonathan Tabbert and Stephen Gabriel, who choreographed five pieces for this year's event, it just comes naturally.

"As we're watching the movie, I'm sitting there trying to think of the most poignant parts of the movie or the most visual parts of the movie and how to bring those out in the dance," Gabriel says.

Tabbert chimes in: "And then there's the really awkward moments when you're watching a movie and you're like, this is a really great movie, but God forbid it gets nominated for an Oscar. I don't know how the heck I'm going to put this into a dance form."

The new works, which also include 127 Hours and How to Train Your Dragon, will premiere at the Oscar Gala on Thurs. Feb. 24, and for the first time this year, they'll continue for a five-night run after the gala. The Golden Oscar will also include pieces inspired by Oscar-nominated films from the past decade.

Due to time constraints, the Oscar Gala is often one of CBT's most stressful shows; after all, they can't start making plans until the nominees are announced. Another challenge is figuring out how to interpret the film in an original way. They must decide whether to capture just a small portion of the movie or the whole, or whether to interpret it literally or abstractly. "Making that decision is often quite challenging because a lot of audience members would go into this type of performance with preconceived notions just from seeing the movies," Tabbert says. "Sometimes it's nice to surprise the audience and take them in a different direction."

That's what Gabriel tried to do with his interpretation of Black Swan.

"When I was coming up with an idea for it, I was kind of like, this is going to stink because, really, they're doing the exact same storyline as the actual ballet," Gabriel says. "I actually told our artistic director I would choreograph Black Swan if I didn't have to put anybody in feathers, because I just thought to myself, every audience member is going to expect some girl up there in feathers flapping her wings, and I just don't want to do that." Instead, he's mixing things up by having the male dancers play the swans.

Another challenge was The Social Network, which Tabbert, ironically a non-Facebook user, choreographed. Gabriel enters the stage first with a laptop and headphones and a dozen dancers follow, drone-like, behind him. While we initially thought Gabriel was playing Mark Zuckerberg, Tabbert interpreted his character more loosely.

"It was an interesting plot, but very uninteresting to me when it came to visualizing it in dance, so I went with the idea of a society obsessed with the internet. I just kind of took a peek into one person's web browsing, and all their little Facebook friends, and looking at their pictures, and all that Facebook-stalking nonsense."

Despite the challenges of the show, Gabriel says it's one that the dancers of the CBT look forward to all year.

"Even though it's really, really hard, they enjoy doing it, so it makes it easy."


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