Beatlemania Inspires Ballet Spartanburg’s New Works in ‘DanSynergy 8’

Charlotte Lanning and Javier Graupera dance Carlos Agudelo’s choreography set to The Beatles’ songbook.


The Beatles and Ballet?

Alliterating those two words in the same sentence may give some audiences pause, but the Fab Four is fine fodder for dance, according to Ballet Spartanburg Artistic Director Carlos Agudelo who premieres his original ballet in the company’s “DanSynergy 8” program Thursday and Friday at Chapman Cultural Center.

“Ballet is such an art form that lends itself to all genres of music,” he said in a recent interview with Carolina Curtain Call.

The Beatles have been set to choreography before, but Ballet Spartanburg’s visionary approach synergizes several art disciplines by collaborating with musicians, visual artists and filmmakers in program and eighth installment in the series.

“The result is always different,” he said of this unique almagation of artists that is theatrical in nature.

Leading the company for just over half of its 49-year history, Agudelo said this eclectic mixture of the formal qualities of classic dance and the loose structure of catchy pop music riffs from the British Invasion also makes ballet   more accessible to audiences.

And he thought this inspired premise was going to be easy, “but it was most challenging,” particularly in selecting the music from a catalogue of over 300 recordings by the greatest rock band of all time that has been part of the global pop cultural vernacular for over 50 years.

Agudelo ultimately culled almost a dozen compositions for this musical ride through Beatles history ranging from up-tempo numbers like “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Help” (which the company previewed at last month’s ‘So You Think You Can Dance Spartanburg” fundraiser) to ballads like “Yesterday.”

In addition, the ballet will feature a certain antiwar rock anthem accompanied by a film montage of the 1960s by former Hub-Bub Artist-in-Residence Jonathan Ade that examines the era’s tumultuous matters of war, segregation, equal rights, gay rights and abortion, etc.

“All of these issues we were fighting for in the 1960s are still relevant today,” he added.  “The visuals have not changed.”

The Beatles ballet is choreographed by Agudelo and music will be performed live by the local band Blind Vision comprised of Dan and Adam Caston and Jason and Jacob Martin who, so-to-speak, fill in for John, Paul, George and Ringo.

The company’s core dancers will be performing in a multitude of combinations including Charlotte Lanning, Nichola Montt, Analay Saiz, Alfredo Espinosa, Javier Graupera and Will Scott. And guest dancers are Michael Agudelo, a Dance Center alum who has danced with Minessota Ballet and is now in the San Antonio Ballet company and 15-year-old ballerina-in-training Dominique Guerra.

And advanced students from Ballet Spartanburg’s Dance Center will appear in an ensemble piece: Katie Blackwood, Kensley Brandemuehl, Dylan Brandemuehl, Catherine Chapman, Charlie Carrouth, Maria Cochran, Camille Fendley, Aurelia Fendley, Emily Hodge, Zach Kushubar, Lucy Leonard, Bonnie Parrot, John Roche and Luke Umphlett.

But the first half of the program will feature the U.S. premieres of “Largotempo” and “24/7” by special guest Cuban choreographer Nelson Reyes; a new work conceived by Agudelo to Stravinsky’s “Elegy” featuring renowned violist and NPR commentator Miles Hoffman and local pianist Mildred Roche, and a ballet choreographed to contemporary composer Philip Glass by Ballet Mistress and Dance Center Principal Lona Gomez

“We have been working very hard to put a very eclectic program that’s very different and stimulating,” he said.

In addition to presenting “Peter and the Wolf” to young audiences, Agudelo hopes to collaborate with Reyes again and take the company, which includes three dancers from Cuba, to the island nation now that U.S. relations have thawed considerably.

“DanSynergy 8” also features the talents of lighting designer Joseph Walls and Eric Grass & Sara Keller and Eduardo Sosa & Agudelo on costumes.

And Ballet Spartanburg will announce its 2016-17 Season at “DanSynergy 8.”

“DanSynergy 8” will be performed Thursday and Frida, April 21-22 at 8 p.m. at Chapman Cultural Center, 200 East St. John Street in Spartanburg. Tickets are $15-25. Call (864) 542-2787 or visit

Sandy Staggs, a Spartanburg native, is Drama Critic and Publisher of Carolina Curtain Call and has been a journalist and arts critic for 20 years with staff positions and/or articles in the San Francisco Examiner, Greenville News, Spartanburg Herald-Journal, San Francisco Bay Guardian, San Francisco Observer, Oakland Tribune, San Mateo County Times and more, as well as an essay in the Hub City Press book “Stars Fell on Spartanburg.”


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