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By Lea Marshall
Strengthening ties with its community, North Carolina Dance Theatre has rebranded itself as Charlotte Ballet.
Gregory Taylor and Emily Ramirez in Dwight Rhoden’s Gateways. Photo by Peter Zay, Courtesy Charlotte Ballet.
To some, it was a surprise when North Carolina Dance Theatre announced in April that it had changed its name to Charlotte Ballet. But for artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and his wife, associate artistic director Patricia McBride, who took over the Charlotte-based company in 1996, solidifying NCDT’s regional brand had been a long-term goal. “Jean-Pierre and Patricia have always thought the name should be Charlotte Ballet,” says executive director Douglas Singleton. “Everything we do is ballet.”
The name change has come in response to an evolving Charlotte, now home to Bank of America and many other large financial operations. Today, the city ranks as one of the fastest growing in the U.S. As its population has shifted, so has NCDT’s audience. “Many folks moving to Charlotte haven’t brought an understanding of the ‘dance theater’ tradition with them,” says Singleton. “They are bringing a ‘ballet’ tradition with them.”
North Carolina Dance Theatre had spent recent years refocusing its audience development and marketing strategies. It has paid off: Ticket sales have increased 75 percent and donor gifts have tripled. And in 2010, NCDT moved into the Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux Center for Dance. Still, consultants agreed that renaming the company would substantially help it bridge connections to Charlotte’s artistically conservative community: In a preliminary poll surveying potential local customers—people who had not attended a performance in at least three years—nearly 50 percent said they were familiar with the name Charlotte Ballet, even though the brand did not yet exist.
Singleton emphasizes that the company programming of family-friendly classics and innovative contemporary works will not shift. “The product has not changed,” he says. “Our name has aligned with the product.”