Presented by NCSU Center Stage as a part of ARTS NC State, the Brian Brooks Moving Company occupied North Carolina State University’s Stewart Theatre for a program of three works: “Motor,” premiered in 2010, “I’m Going to Explode,” premiered in 2007, and “Descent,” premiered this year. Concentrating in modern dance, the seven-member group is based in New York City and has toured throughout North America, South Korea, and Europe.

Modern dance is a concept foreign to many; I know it was foreign to me for quite a while. Although this style of dance has less of a literal or theatrical storyline, it can carry emotions, ideas, and abstract art simultaneously. That is exactly what Brian Brooks & Co. did in this performance. “Motor,” the first half of the program, featured choreography with many repetitions, almost as if to push the audience’s comfort level. Just as the audience would start to wonder, “Are they going to do anything else?,” another dancer would pick up a new movement or break away from his or her partner, or stop altogether.

The stage set of “Motor” was very innovative: a series of white cords suspended from the ceiling were strung inwards toward a narrow opening on center stage. This immediately drew the focus of the audience to the center and constricted the dancers – which was one of the points that the choreographer was probably trying to make. The tunnel-like stage area also provided an interesting backdrop for the dancers’ shadows, which were scattered and flung in all directions.

The only aspect of the set that might need to be reconsidered was the set of lights positioned at the end of the tunnel, facing out towards the audience. They were very bright towards the end and caused the audience some discomfort, although the effect they provided was very powerful, obscuring the dancers.

Audience discomfort was something that this production seemed to emphasize. The second dance, “I’m Going to Explode,” began in awkward silence with Brian Brooks, performer and choreographer, sitting in a chair facing the back corner of the stage. The use of silence was very important because it challenged the audience to watch a dance with no music. When the music finally did start, the character got up and – I mean this in no unpleasant way towards modern dance! – flailed around as if he were being controlled by invisible strings. Several audience members laughed briefly, either nervously or at the incongruity of a man dressed in a business suit thrashing around.

Of all the concepts of modern dance that really challenge an audience, the openness it leaves in its interpretation may be one of the most intriguing. After the third dance, called “Descent,” my companion asked, “What did you see in that?” I replied that I had felt like the dancers were trying to run away or escape some kind of force and were carrying their fallen comrades in a series of lifts and drags and pulls because they had no life in them – and the remaining people were frightened by this.

My friend looked at me and said, “Really? Because I saw them teaching each other how to walk, and the ones pulling and dragging the others around were supporting them and building them up” – underscoring the concept of openness in interpretation.

Brian Brooks’ choreography was challenging, inventive, and – although sometimes beautiful – challenging to watch. The challenge, however, was one that the audience thoroughly enjoyed taking on and responded to with utmost enthusiasm. These dancers presented comparisons between isolation and togetherness, music and silence, and male and female, as well as theme and movement for movement’s sake. Thanks so much to NC State University for hosting this fantastic performance.

NCSU Center Stage’s series features several innovative dance companies each season. Next up is David Dorfman Dance, on February 4. See our calendar for details.