NCDT shows dynamic 'Choice'

The music starts with a bang. But the choreography waits.

You might think at first that you're eavesdropping on a dance rehearsal. When the curtain rises, two women are poised at center stage, shifting a bit as though they're waiting for a director's cue. Other dancers stand clumped in a back corner. The stark illumination from above could be from work lights. The side curtains are pulled back, leaving bare walls in view.

Once the dancers spring into action, though, "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated" rarely lets up.

In William Forsythe's modern classic - the finale of N.C. Dance Theatre's "Director's Choice" - the dancers fling their limbs and propel their bodies as though each one of them is trying to command every square inch of space possible. Imagine that sleek steel sculptures could dance, and that may give you the idea.

But Forsythe adds a few touches that keep "In the Middle" from just being cool and abstract. After one vigorous duo, the man leaves his partner, strides around to other dancers as if he wants a new partner, but gets no takers. The work's climax centers on an enigmatic duet featuring Traci Gilchrest and David Ingram: Mostly it's tense and tightly coiled, but then they sink into another lushly - only to separate, then clinch together in a face-off.

Even without a plot, Gilchrest and Ingram make it clear there's a story there. And all the way up to the final blackout, the 10 dancers are lithe and fearless. Even when they pause, the energy crackles.

Gilchrest and Ingram also pair up as the affectionate central duo in Sasha Janes' "Rhapsodic Dances," which premiered Thursday. Built on Rachmaninoff's "Paganini Rhapsody," it's a classical-ballet fantasy complete with jewel-colored tutus.

Five couples ride the musical waves of Rachmaninoff's piano-and-orchestra showpiece. The women swirl and glide on pointe - especially the glittering duo of Alessandra Ball and Anna Gerberich. The men are their gallant partners, going into lords-a-leaping mode when the music is particularly lusty. The dancers make it all luxurious.

Believe it or not, in Mark Diamond's "Bolero," Gilchrest and Ingram partner again - now with a splash of Tabasco. As "Bolero" opens, men snooze beneath their sombreros. To get them moving, NCDT's women release their inner Bo Derek. Among them, Gerberich does it sinuously; Melissa Anduiza earthily; Sarah Hayes Watson dynamically; Jamie Dee fiercely. No wonder the men perk up.