NCDT invites us into its cozy theater

Call it Southern hospitality, ballet-style: N.C. Dance Theatre is inviting audiences right into its home.

NCDT will stage its perennially popular "Innovative Works" in its studio-and-office building on North Tryon Street, which it moved into last year. The two biggest studios transform into a 200-seat theater. That's where NCDT will spotlight four of its own choreographers beginning Thursday, when the company launches three weekends of performances.

Here's how the studios' metamorphosis works. The two rooms - each roughly equal to the stage at the Knight Theater on South Tryon - are divided by a retractable wall. Away it goes. Half the room, outfitted with curtains and theatrical lighting, becomes the stage.

At the opposite end, a bank of seating pulls out from the wall. Think of the bleachers in a high school gym. But this is much more comfortable: these seats are complete with arms, backs and padding.

This will be the first time NCDT uses its theater for full-fledged performances. Audiences will park across Tryon in the lot next to the Hal Marshall Center. Security officers will be on hand all evening to help everyone cross Tryon. Once everyone's inside, the new setup will let NCDT "try some new things we're excited about," artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux said in a statement.

"We're taking 'Innovative Works' from a performance to an experience, bringing the audience closer to the dancers than ever before.' "

On the first two weekends, audiences will munch on hors d'oeuvres before the performances and during the two intermissions. After the final curtain, NCDT will serve dessert, and the dancers will join in after they change. The last weekend of performances won't have the hors d'oeuvres, but the tickets will be cheaper. Pick your pleasure.