McPhersons team up for dance 'Suite'

Jazz saxophonist Charles McPherson and his dancing daughter Camille to share the stage

By Pam Kragen
FEB. 4, 2015

City Heights — Since she was a little girl, San Diego Ballet dancer Camille McPherson has had a special relationship with her dad. He drove her to every dance lesson, came to all of her performances and even played music at some of her recitals.

Camille, 22, is now a company member with the San Diego Ballet, but her dad is a little bit better known. The famed alto saxophonist Charles McPherson is widely considered one of the top jazz musicians of the past half-century. This weekend, they’ll share the stage in “Sweet Synergy Suite” at the Lyceum Theatre. Camille will be among 16 San Diego Ballet dancers performing live to music composed and played by Charles, with accompaniment from six other musicians.

Camille said she can’t wait to share the stage with her dad.

“The music is so fantastic, and I’m so proud of him,” she said. “I grew up listening to him writing and playing music, but he wrote this specifically for dance, and it’s super fun to dance to.”

Charles first performed with professional dancers 10 years ago with New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center. When his daughter joined San Diego Ballet two years ago, he got the idea to compose a piece specifically for her. In 2013, he won a $20,000 Creative Catalyst grant from the San Diego Foundation to create “Sweet Synergy Suite” with San Diego Ballet artistic director Javier Velasco.


“Even though the lines are improvised on top of what’s happening, the rhythm section underneath is steady. Charles gives them a signal when he’s done improvising and they have to be sensitive enough to pick up on that,” Velasco said.The 40-minute piece for 16 dancers blends McPherson’s signature bebop, Latin and Afro-Cuban rhythms with Velasco’s ballet and jazz choreography. Velasco called the project an interesting challenge because jazz is an improvised art form and preset choreography is not.

“Sweet Synergy” is the last piece on this weekend’s program, which includes the 30-minute “Mambo Mania,” featuring two new company dancers from Cuba, and the 20-minute “Eight Duets.” Camille will be featured in a pas de deux in her father’s piece.

“Camille is a very elongated, elegant dancer with lovely extensions and amazing lines,” Velasco said.

The piece was first presented in a workshop preview last spring at San Diego City College. Father and daughter both say they were too focused on their music and steps to steal even a glance at each other during that performance. This time, Charles said he plans to savor the moment.

FAST FACT: Local jazz saxophonist Charles McPherson can be heard on the 1988 soundtrack for “Bird,” Clint Eastwood’s biopic on the late Charlie Parker.

“It’s great to have this opportunity,” he said. “I’ve been watching her dance since she was 4 years old, and I’m delighted to see her dance professionally and write for her. I’m happy and she’s happy.”

The McPhersons are talking about taking an adapted version of the dance piece on the road when her season’s over next summer. She said it’s a wonderful way to pay back her parents, including her piano teacher mom Lynn McPherson, for supporting her dream.

“My parents both worked from home and we are very close, so I had a really nice childhood,” she said. “I know my dad is really famous, but growing up he was just a great dad who was super playful and fun to be around.”