The North Carolina Dance Festival, put together by the NC Dance Project, is a yearly round-robin that tours the state with works by North Carolina choreographers and dancers. It returned in its orbit to Meredith College’s Jones Auditorium this week. The festival’s several programs included – on January 27 – an evening highlighted by B.J. Sullivan of Greensboro and alban elved dance company of Winston-Salem that also featured works by Martha Connerton, Katherine Ferrier, and Joan Nicholas-Walker. These latter two currently teach in the dance program at Meredith.

The opening selection, “Latitude,” by Katherine Ferrier, did not do much to carry out the part of the festival’s mission that addresses the encouragement of public interest in regional dance. The rich, resonant music by Zabaikal Uzory made one expect something grand and mysterious, but one was disappointed. No particular musicality was evinced by either the choreographer or the three dancers. The lighting was harsh. The dancers appeared still to be blocking out the motions, as if early in rehearsals. Their “natural” movements were neither natural nor artistic but flaccid and listless. “Latitude” was, in a word, boring.

Next came Martha Connerton/Kinetic Works, with a solo, “If Anyone Asks… Tell Them I’m Out Standing in the Field.” Connerton is a tall, strong, handsome woman, and her body, clothed in white lycra, made elegant images as she moved through a series of postures — many like yoga asanas — and stretches to the spacy, meditative music of Aphex Twin. Eventually (it seemed long…) the music sped up and we saw some tumbles and turns. Connerton has very good control, a crisp line, and a nice movement style, but there was very little dancing out there in the field.

NickWalk Dance Project’s “Mental Picture” was actually a dance, and the dancers actually moved to and with the music. Choreographed by Meredith instructor Joan Nicholas-Walker and danced by her and seven others, “Mental Picture” offered quite a bit of interest, with multiple combinations and solid ensemble choreography. Three or four of these dancers moved like it meant something to them, but overall, the dancers were a little tentative, and their skills were not quite up to the demands of the lifts and the partnered moves. Still, it was a valiant effort, and it demonstrated that Nicholas-Walker is someone to keep an eye on.

I can’t properly reproduce the title of B.J. Sullivan’s galvanizing relationship piece because some of it is supposed to be upside down and backwards. “knowing my emptiness/PUSHING ME ALONG/you can hurt me/WHY I STAY,” danced by B.J. Sullivan and Sean Sullivan to “Conversio” by Erkki-Sven Tuur, was a bolt of exciting energy to open the program’s second half. Sullivan, currently an assistant professor of dance at UNCG, is a talented addition to the roster of North Carolina dancer-choreographers. Her piece is about angry conflict and aggression between a man and a woman who otherwise seem connected by the bungee cords of love. This is hardly a new topic, but it was very well handled here, with some great moves and intense energy (and it was awfully nice to have some male energy in an otherwise all-female program) and generally excellent dancing. The real test of a piece like this is the finish. Sullivan found a good resolution for her drama and made a lovely ending.

alban elved closed the program with Karola Luttringhaus’ delightful “Lena’s Bath.” Danced here by Luttringhaus, Lena Rose Polzonetti, and Dawn Webster, the work showcases not only Luttringhaus’ inventiveness but also the troupe’s power and their witty humor. This is dance theatre as it should be — the dance is not lost amid the theatrics, and the sometimes-severe beauty of Luttringhaus’ spatial geometry is well-augmented by the storyline.

Jones Auditorium was perhaps not the most suitable venue for this work, which fared much better last year in Duke’s tiny, intimate Shaefer Theater (see, but then Jones is tough for any dance because in order to be able to see the stage floor, one has to sit so far back that detail is lost. “Lena’s Bath” is better when you can see the sweat on the dancers’ necks and the cool water shimmering through the air to bead on their skins.

Finding other strong pieces like these works by alban elved and B.J. Sullivan would make the North Carolina Dance Festival concerts even better.

Updated/corrected 1/30/06.