One definition of innovative is new, and that applies to N.C. Dance Theatre: Only two of the 16 principals have performed for NCDT for more than five seasons.
Yet youth can have one big advantage: The ability to hurl itself into unfamiliar territory. That fearless quality comes out in the annual Innovative Works program: The dancers plunge into pieces that are emotionally warm and chilly, gently romantic and robustly grim, with fervor and confidence.
If you wanted to find a theme in the program, it might be one of disconnection: from the people we love, from duty, from our work, from society in general. (You could even argue that the main male character in At First Sight is briefly disconnected from his senses: He leaves Sarah Hayes Watson standing alone at a bar, while she searches for a partner.)
Resident choreographer Dwight Rhoden raises the curtain with Gateways. It begins as a disquieting piece in which women echoed women and men echoed men, never seeming to connect for long with the opposite sex. (Two martial-arts like moves by the men even hint at abuse.) Gradually, the mood lightens: Cooperation becomes possible, then inevitable, until the last moments inspire a sigh of relief.
Sasha Janes follows a private war with public whimsy. Queen features a regal Anna Gerberich and a respectful Frederick Leo Walker II as a monarch and a soldier who no longer chooses to fight. At first, she dominates him; gradually, he pulls even, accidentally falling onto the throne and puzzling at his own audacity, but old habits die hard. The music by Biber, a passacaglia that repeats bass notes endlessly under mournful strings, suggests how hard it is to break out of any pattern.
At First Sight is about love. The title tells all, though David Morse apparently has second thoughts about his first sight of Hayes. What begins as a giddy encounter among half a dozen people turns into a genuinely romantic moment for just those two.
Mark Diamond closes the program with the only two works that arent premieres, though we havent seen them here. Zokusuru (loosely meaning to try to belong) has the pounding pulse of Japanese taiko drums; Jamie Dee danced herself into a frenzy Thursday, torn between duty and freedom, before an angry husband.
David Balakrishnans string music, which Id compare to a minimalist Turkish hoedown, sets dancers spinning in Alternate Paths. Diamond seems to be exploring the idea that man can indeed be an island woman, too though the possibility of connection is always present.