When choreography by George Balanchine, the master of intricacy, ends up looking the simplest out of three works in a dance program, you know that you're dealing with high-powered stuff.
Admittedly, Balanchine's "Apollo" aims for an air of classical clarity, as befits its roots in Greek mythology. But Balanchine's brand of antiquity still involves leaps, pirouettes, pointe work and lifts.
Yet that's nothing like the workout the dancers get during the rest of "Director's Choice," N.C. Dance Theatre's last program of the season.
In "Constructing Juliet," Mark Godden's look at the Capulet side of the Romeo-and-Juliet story, the young lovers display their passions through flights of energy much more than caresses. Juliet's relatives, clad in gleaming black, envelop her in swirling motion that testifies to the propulsive power of hatred.
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And Dwight Rhoden's "Broken Fantasy," thrusting one man amid six couples, reaches a pitch that may be new even for the always-dynamic Rhoden. The dancers are so active so much of the time that occasionally, when one of them spins around, a stream of sweat whips through the air. Even if Rhoden didn't intend that, it's a potent theatrical effect - accenting his choreography's centrifugal force.
That isn't to say any of this eclipses Balanchine. "Apollo," showing the young god learning the impact of art from three muses, draws its power from simplicity: vigorous, poetic movement; tableaux that arrest the eye; and dashes of whimsy as the muses demonstrate their arts.
Thursday, this portrait of the artist as a young god received one of NCDT's most commanding performances in recent years. When David Ingram's Apollo stood still, he had the dignity of a statue. And he retained it when he went into motion. In the first solo, Ingram's Apollo was agile and eager. After the muses taught Apollo, Ingram brought his second solo dignity, stature and even lushness.
Apollo had the benefit of persuasive teachers. As Terpsichore, muse of dance, Traci Gilchrest was regal without seeming aloof. As the other two, who sometimes dance as a pair - Calliope, muse of poetry, and Polyhymnia, muse of mime - Anna Gerberich and Alessandra Ball matched so well in style and appearance that they could nearly have been twins. They both had airiness and grace. They both were especially alive to the shifts of tone in Balanchine's choreography and Igor Stravinsky's music.
After Balanchine's purity, NCDT was probably wise to go to something radically different: the oddball ritual that Juliet and her mother engage in at the beginning of "Constructing Juliet." Unlikely though it is, the dancers - Rebecca Carmazzi as Juliet and Gilchrest as her mother - do it with total conviction, and choreographer Godden ultimately makes it pay off.
Impetuous though Romeo and Juliet's scenes are, Carmazzi and Sasha Janes, as Romeo, made them look excited, not effortful. Gilchrest's mother had a ritualistic concentration about her. The relatives swarmed across the stage ferociously, but their movement also had a certain richness - as if they were luxuriating in hating Romeo.
Rhoden's "Broken Fantasy" was propelled by Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements, and Rhoden carried the music's driving energy and sudden changes of color into what happened onstage.
A lone man - the fleet, expressive and untiring Max Levy - was thrust amid six couples that he never quite fit in with. The couples were generally tense, too: The women, in tutus whose skirts looked like shards of glass, were more competitors to the men than partners. But Levy's central man eventually seemed to reconcile himself to being an outsider. So he fared better than the men, who dropped to the floor in apparent defeat at the close. The women stood in triumph.