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Sen. Byrd and the ballet

WANT TO GO?

"Partners and Pairs"

Presented by the Charleston Ballet

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

WHERE: Civic Center Little Theater

COST: Adults $20, students and seniors $15 in advance; $5 more at the door

INFO: 304-342-6541 or www.thecharlestonballet.com CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's most powerful senator with the Charleston Ballet? It's true.

When Robert C. Byrd's fiddle music and narration meets Charleston's finest classical dancers, you get something entirely unexpected and accessible -- what director and choreographer Kim Pauley calls "fantasy square dancing."

"Squaredance," a new ballet set to familiar Appalachian music, is among the pieces to be performed this weekend at "Partners and Pairs," the Charleston Ballet's final performance of the season. Though the entire program is technically known as a mixed bill, Pauley is attracted to using themes to describe her creative products.

"I find people don't always recognize or understand the term mixed bill, but we can all relate easily to a theme," she said.

In 2011, the troupe performed a mixed bill program titled "Classic Country Rock 'n' Roll" to an engaged audience. Classical ballet can be intimidating, Pauley said, but she noticed that the audience at that program clapped and connected to the music and dance easily.

She wanted to do something similar, but to localize the music.

"We all grew up with square dancing. We took it in school," she laughed. "I did some research on popular square dancing tunes and fiddle music and discovered Senator Byrd's CD, 'Mountain Fiddler.'"

 "Squaredance" features local square dancers opening and closing the ballet. Members of the Charleston Ballet perform in between, and Pauley noted the challenges of dancing to Byrd's fiddling.

"On pointe, this is a technically challenging performance. It's aerobic. The fiddle music stays the same tempo throughout each piece, so there is little downtime in the ballet."

Tunes like "Turkey in the Straw," "Cripple Creek" and "Old Joe Clark" keep the ballet dancers moving at a fast pace, just as they do square dancers. The audience will hear Senator Byrd's voice on occasion during the performance, telling stories about his childhood.

Pauley received the right to use "Mountain Fiddler" in "Partners and Pairs" from its record label, Rebel Records. She will have copies of the CD for sale at the performance.

Special guest David A. Corbin, author of  "The Last Great Senator: Robert C. Byrd's Encounters with Eleven U. S. Presidents," will be in attendance to do a book signing at both performances. Corbin knows his subject well, having served for 26 years on Byrd's leadership staff when he was Senate majority leader and for 10 years as Sen. Byrd's speechwriter.

Pauley considers Corbin's book an important read for anyone, and West Virginians in particular. "It contains a lot of anecdotal stories and reveals how quirky and yet how powerful Byrd was.

"As I read it, I remember many of the events when they happened or I have heard about them at some point in my life. But reading them all together is a real history lesson. The book puts everything in context, and it starts to become more clear."

In addition to "Squaredance," the performance includes the Spanish-flavored "Majisimo," a four-couple dance choreographed by Miguel Campaneria; "Diana and Actaeon," a pas de deux based on the Greek mythology of the goddess of the hunt, and the "Flames of Paris" pas de deux performed by guest artists from the Columbia (S.C.) Classical Ballet Company.

Those guest dancers are Thomas Bettin, Christopher Miro, Oleksandr Vykhrest, Tamako Miyazaki and Vivian Wang. Another guest artist, Nick Peregrino from Ballet Fleming in Philadelphia, will dance in "Squaredance" and "Majisimo."

Now celebrating its 57th year, the Charleston Ballet has had only two directors: Andre Van Damme, premier danseur etoile (principal dancer) of the Brussels Royal Opera, who founded the troupe, and Kim Pauley. Pauley mentored with Van Damme until his death in 1989, after which she became director.

"We are all trying to do different things," said Pauley. "We cut our teeth on the classics, and we will always love them, but dancers love challenges. I hope to have 'Partners and Pairs' as part of West Virginia's sesquicentennial celebration and FestivALL, too."

Reach Elizabeth Gaucher at elizabeth.gaucher@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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