Less than five weeks after Caroline Calouche & Company commandeered the studio space at the new Patricia McBride & Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux Center for Dance, baptizing the aptly-named 701 North Tryon Theatre, the resident company performed publicly at their primary rehearsal spaces for the first time. If that makes North Carolina Dance Theatre sound a little cautious, remember that the troupe opened their 2011-12 season just three weeks earlier at their larger, more formal venue, Knight Theatre. So after Director’s Choice wrapped up its encore performances, hardly more than two weeks remained for rehearsals of Innovative Works – a fairly reckless regimen for a program that included three new pieces that had never been presented in Charlotte before. The one work that was reprised, Dwight Rhoden’s Alleged Dances, hadn’t been staged by NCDT since they premiered the specially commissioned piece in 2006, so only one of the 12 dancers who are in the current presentation has ever been in the Alleged ensemble before.
The evening began innovatively enough with I, choreographed by David Ingram, who is in his fifth season dancing with the company. Inspired by the “Sunshine Through the Rain” segment of the 1990 film, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams, Ingram’s piece has theatre, dance, and film components. While a grainy black-and-white film was projected on the floor of the stage, including a translation of the spoken words on the foreign language soundtrack, Jamie Day mimed the mother issuing a classic fairytale warning to her son (a split role done by Julian Pereira on opening night): when entering the woods, be sure you never witness a wedding of foxes! Naturally, that’s exactly what “I” does as the dancers move into the spotlight – in an adorable set of costumes by Summer Collins, a chaste tableau lifted to enchantment by John P. Woodey’s lighting. Among the 10 foxes, Sarah Hayes Watson and Jordan Leeper instantly stood apart as the bride and groom by virtue of their costumes, hers a virginal white and his a manly brown. Weddings in the vulpine world are apparently more about movements than words, and those bestowed upon Watson and Leeper sustained the magic of the occasion, set to music of Gavin Bryars after works by Purcell. Though we’ve all peeped in on the nuptials, only the boy suffers the consequences of the sacrilege in a somewhat anticlimactic epilogue. On the other hand, the oddness of the structure may be why the impact is so haunting.
How Do I Love Thee by Mark Diamond is another marriage of music and text, but here the dancers do the speaking, representing two married couples. Ingram and Dee, both of whom take bows at the end of I, make swift costume changes to appear as the first couple, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Fittingly enough, it’s Dee who begins the recital of Elizabeth Browning’s famed love sonnet – while music and dance opulently prolong the spectacle. The second quatrain is handed over to Melissa Anduiza and Pete Walker, portraying Clara and Robert Schumann. While Collins’ costumes are more monochromatic here, they glitter with Victorian elegance, helping the dancers to color Robert Schumann’s music. We can differentiate a little between the Brownings and the Schumanns, noting that the Schumanns draw the more passionate musical passages and choreography, but there is no deep delving into the couples’ turbulent histories. Instead the rhymed pentameters and the costumes impose a glib uniformity upon them.
Romance lingers awhile after the first intermission, in Sasha Janes’ Last Lost Chance, but without text to guide us, we’re led by the customary iconography of dance. The messaging, set to the music of Ólafur Arnalds, is richly suggestive as Anna Gerberich, outfitted in purple, and Watson in blue partner with Jordan Leeper and Walker while Anduiza, in the lime green leotard, remains solitary. The score by the young Icelandic composer is delicate, wistful, and lachrymose, more varied in instrumentation than mood, until Arnalds suddenly goes electric in “37:04/38:37” and rocks out. Contrasts between the couples and the solitary Anduiza swell with the music in Janes’ choreography as we arrive at this last of five cuts culled from Arnalds’ work, but overall, we concentrate less on the drama than on the contrapuntal oneness of the dancers with the score.
Originally presented at the celebration of Bonnefoux’s tenth anniversary as NCDT artistic director, Alleged Dances hasn’t lost any of its freshness over the past five years. Nor has Rhoden’s piece become any more endearing, retaining the same black-and-white Rhoden costumes and its equally abstract John Adams score. With titles in the seven-part score like “Allegator Escalator,” “Dogjam,” and “Stubble Crochet,” there are no programmatic handles for us to latch on to. But it really is wonderful to see a work as large and spacious as this making its way into the annual Innovative Works anthology, usually a nook for smaller chamber pieces. A dozen dancers scurry about in this piece, made all the more treacherous by Adams’ repetitive minimalist style. Dancers lose the luxury of associating unique sounds with the moves they must make – they need to know these dances from beginning to end. Even the dancers waiting to catch their cues must concentrate so much harder. Yet the dancers never missed a step on opening night, even managing to change from looser to tighter costumes as the action swirled. The vibrant performance was most in jeopardy when the wayward sound system, which had flickered on the Schumann music earlier, totally dropped out for precious moments playing the Adams CD. With supreme stage presence, the dancers in the pas de deux kept going, and when the music resumed its flow through the speakers, the couple was perfectly in step. Now there’s another tribute to Bonnefoux and his intrepid company!
Innovative Works resumes on November 10. See our sidebar for information.