I can think of one place in Charlotte where a French-born white guy in his early 70s and a black South Carolinian in his early 30s would be likely to meet as artistic equals, and I was sitting in its headquarters Thursday night.
The collaboration of N.C. Dance Theatre artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and poet-actor Quentin Talley capped the first act of NCDTs annual Innovative Works concert. As dancers Melissa Anduiza and Pete Leo Walker wove physical patterns to Talleys mystical bits of quoted poetry, Talley came onstage, sliding between and around them while rotating mirrors showed us glimpses of the dancers, then ourselves. Do you want to evolve? he asked. Artist or audience: Which one are you?
Transformation may sound like airy navel-gazing when you read about it, but it cast a spell. These concerts at 701 N. Tryon Theater are always tapas plates, but this years provided a wider range of flavors than ever, with Dwight Rhodens stick-to-the-ribs climax a work called Sit In Stand Out supplying weightier food for thought.
NCDT sells the most tickets to Nutcracker, probably pleases the widest audience with its big story ballets (Cinderella comes in March) and satisfies connoisseurs with George Balanchine (this years Western Symphony) and Jiri Kylian (Forgotten Land, coming in April). But the company seems to let its hair down most with the Innovative Works programs, which take place literally in its living room at Tenth and Tryon streets.
These are family affairs: The shows feature in-house choreographers, and you get the feeling theyre aiming to please themselves (and perhaps the dancers they use) and hope audiences will grab hold and ride along.
Mark Diamond kicked off the current installment with the aptly-named Contrast. Versatile guitarist Troy Conn sat at one edge of the stage, changing guitars as the work changed moods. He played the blues for a quartet consisting of an aloof man and three women trying to entice him; he shifted to classical music during a quick, tender duet for Walker and Anna Gerberich, then thrashed into a metal solo that reflected the combative attitude of the dancers. Chelsea Dumas and Josh Hall swung gently through a tender jazz finale, hinting at ballroom steps when Conn played a lilting All the Things You Are.
Sasha Janes couldnt find a local violinist willing to take on the monumental chaconne from Bachs second violin partita, so he used a recording. His real collaborator in Chaconne was the unnamed person who came up with the back curtain, a series of ribbons that closed and parted to let dancers appear and disappear suddenly. They were like the melody of the chaconne itself, which peeps at us among Bachs permutations.
The program credited not only Bonnefoux but his dancers as choreographers of Transformation. (It looked semi-improvised but surely wasnt.) If that piece was the most metaphysical, Rhodens was the most physical.
Sit In began with dancers studying photographs from Levine Museum of the New Souths permanent collection and its Focus on Justice exhibit. Those seemed to come from a distant time, when Ku Klux Klansmen in white robes picketed the Visulite Theatre for showing the 1957 Island in the Sun, with its lone interracial kiss. Yet these shots still have power, and they seemed to inflame the dancers, who depicted anger, grief, frenzy and fear to the furious drumming of Max Roach or Nina Simones slow, agonized rendition of Strange Fruit.
Half an hour is a long time to sustain one mood, especially a mood of unrelieved angst. Rhoden doesnt offer optimism in this piece, but perhaps he doesnt have to: The tireless dancers on stage varied in hue from porcelain pink to honey-colored to cafe au lait, and that rainbow of skin tones tells us how far weve come.
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