The American Dance Festival has struggled in recent years to find ways to present and nurture choreographers working in this state, while at the same time bringing dance artists working at the highest level from around the world. This season, for the first time, the ADF made an evening of NC dance part of its Reynolds Theater series. In conjunction with the North Carolina Dance Festival, the ADF presented four quite different dances as a sampling of what’s going on in the North Carolina dance world.

The format of several works by various artists danced serially on a bare stage under similar lighting would have been familiar to anyone who has attended NC Dance Festival events over the past 20+ years. The NCDF, led by Jan Van Dyke, herself a choreographer and dancer, has doggedly pursued attention for contemporary dance, sometimes with scant success. On the 19th however, she was smiling as she introduced the program, for the house was full and buzzing. The audience also proved to be attentive and enthusiastic.

I found the program quite refreshing because, individually and as a group, this was dance about connection — personal connections, individual stories — rather than Big Theme choreography about contemporary social conditions and struggles, abstracted, as we had seen in the previous two ADF programs (Shen Wei and The 605 Collective). It opened with a delightful romp by choreographers/dancers Lindsey Kelley and Mindy Upin called A Tribute and Reflection of the Relationship. This sassy, sweet, straightforward duet is set to the music of Queen, but they could have used “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” The no-angst frolicking, smart rather than clever, used natural movement, popular dance styles and references to yoga and Pilates. It was not surprising to learn that Kelley and Upin have both worked with Monica Bill Barnes. Like hers, Kelley and Upin’s good-natured exuberance gives hope for the future of dance as a pleasure. A Tribute… certainly is enjoyable, and if it perhaps draws a bit on Barnes’ Luster (which premiered at ADF 2012), that’s another tribute.

After the clarity, sparkle and spaciousness of A Tribute…, John Gamble’s (recently retired as head of UNCG’s dance program) Changeant d’Habit de Sexe, seemed overthought, languid and crowded. Seven women, dressed not very effectively as men (they just looked like women in well-fitting pants suits), performed in changing pairs to a song by Jacques Brel. The dancing was OK, but the piece failed to sizzle.

Carla Hagan, whose Words Apart came next, sizzles plenty, especially when joined on stage by her sister, Mackenzie Hagan. Their solos and duets are danced to stories recorded by the Storyline Project of Winston-Salem. There’s music in the voices as well as stories in the words, and Hagan gives both a physical presence. I saw this piece a couple of years ago when the NCDF presented it at Meredith College, and the dance has gathered strength and expanded its power in the interim, so that it feels balanced with and inseparable from the spoken words.

The evening closed with Natalie Marrone’s Strega Stories Part II: Revolt, the most abstracted of the program’s relationship dances. It was on the same program as Hagan’s piece in 2011. It remains intriguing, with its almost mystical invocation of witchy female powers to create and to heal, and its energetic, swirling choreography set to traditional Sicilian music that segues to more modern beats. The costuming evokes the dark dresses of old women in the old country, but these strege have revolted from those drab old ways, and boldly scatter the light with their sequined caps, wristbands and other accoutrements as they dance their ancient spells with one another.

This program repeated the same evening, but sadly, not a second night. Let’s hope that the ADF and the NCDF continue this experiment next year, in a dance variant of “eat local, y’all.” There’s some good stuff growing in NC.