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The North Carolina Dance Theatre, the Queen City’s vibrant contemporary ballet company, presented another intriguing program in the Booth Playhouse of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. NCDT is adept at alternating grandly produced story ballets with challenging new work during its seasons, and at mixing well-known modern choreography with the new works to both cosset the audience and propel it to a wider understanding of the possibilities of ballet. Rhoden, Bolero and Balanchine was such a mixture, featuring a new commissioned work by resident choreographer Dwight Rhoden, an entirely pleasurable Balanchine classic, and a charming version of Bolero, choreographed by Mark Diamond, program director of NCDT2.
The new Rhoden piece, less flashy and more tender and emotionally resonant than many of his dances, was immensely satisfying — and pointed up one of the rewards of following the work of a resident company. Viewers who saw NCDT’s Innovative Works program last fall may have recognized Rhoden’s “Momentary Forevers” as exploring the obverse of Mark Diamond’s “Endless Now” which was presented in that program. The pieces are quite different stylistically, but each gets at an aspect of the dichotomous truth about dance and life. There is nothing but now — and now lasts forever. Watching dance, you flow with it through the moments, always in the moment; yet you isolate and retain certain of those instants in your permanent mental album.
“Momentary Forevers” is studded with images that burn into the brain. All the dancers were remarkable, but several of these forever images starred Rebecca Carmazzi, partnered with Addul Manzano, and involved her sinking into/pulling up into/ bursting out of a cross-legged lotus position. I am pretty sure that what I saw was not humanly possible: Manzano snatches her up, her back arched against his hip; her legs come up into a mid-air lotus; then somehow she explodes out of that position into the air, before whirling away. Variations on this sequence occurred in different spatial zones over the course of several sections of the dance, giving the sense of images caught by a strobing flash while the mind’s camera snaps. The same type of thing happened with the other six other dancers — each pair combination had quickly identifiable traits that reappeared in varying locations on the stage, and in varying relationships to those of the other pairs.
The overall structure was like a great braid, with each couple’s trajectory weaving in with the others. The nature of a twisting structure like this is to reveal all aspects of its strands as they turn through the pattern, and Rhoden emphasizes this twist by confronting us with body parts that are generally covered or de-emphasized. A lesser artist might lapse into vulgarity (and he can get awfully close), but Rhoden seems to be using the whole body to express a worldview dependent not on the heroic or hierarchical but based on a comprehensive acceptance of the range of human characteristics and anatomical forms. Besides all that, there were wonderful costumes (21st century tutus: asymmetrical, wire-edged, all shape and no fluff) by Christine Dauch, and Rhoden had created a sound collage that includes music by both Handel and John Cage, among other composers. “Momentary Forevers” is one of those remarkable artworks that answers unarticulated questions that one didn't even know to ask.
“Who Cares?,” Balanchine’s scintillating romp set to music by George Gershwin was unalloyed pleasure in a restaging by Patricia McBride, NCDT associate artistic director, who danced in the New York City Ballet’s original 1970 cast. NCDT performed the 8-song version, with three duets, four solos and a rousing final foursome to “I Got Rhythm.” Unlike the Rhoden piece, this is not high-concept choreography. "It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing" — and this version swings. Sasha Janes was dazzling in his solo, and even more so as a partner. It was especially exciting to see him and Anna Gerberich snapping together and apart, confidently whirling with maximum controllable energy. One iota more centrifugal spin on “Embraceable You” and they would have sent each other reeling into the wings. Watching people having this much fun dancing is almost as good as having the fun oneself!
Mark Diamond’s “Bolero,” set to Maurice Ravel’s well-known music, was also very enjoyable. Diamond excels at story-telling, and he’s made a story to fit the sensuous throbbing and escalating intensity of the music. The clever, simple storyline has the seven men, peacefully snoozing on a hot Latin-American afternoon, gradually roused by the piquant teasing of the seven bored ladies, who are not ready for napping. Filled with humorous moments, this narrative supplies the basis for lots of sexy sequences for the women, and swaggering macho outbursts from the men, once they come to and remember what it’s all about. The glorious ending of the music is echoed in the grand pile-up of bodies in the final tableau. As the curtain came down on this blood-racing evening of dance, I was already calculating the days until May 15, when I can have the pleasure of seeing these dynamic dancers in action again.