UNC Charlotte prepares for a weekend filled with dance

UNC Charlotte dance faculty members will be cutting the rug with dance world luminaries on Friday. Guest performers from Charlotte Ballet and the renowned Martha Graham and Jose Limón dance companies will elevate the UNC Charlotte dance department’s annual faculty concert to new heights.

The university is hosting back-to-back evenings of dance, showcasing faculty choreography Friday and the N.C. Dance Festival the next night.

Limón and Graham were both giants of modern dance. Limón was on the faculty at The Juilliard School beginning in 1953 and was the director of Lincoln Center’s American Dance Theatre in the mid-1960s. Graham, the first dancer to perform at the White House, practically invented modern dance. (Twyla Tharp and Alvin Ailey were among her students.)

The two annual concerts are not always staged together. “Our faculty concert is usually a separate event in September,” said Ann Dils, chair of the dance department. “A busy Robinson Hall schedule created the juxtaposition this year.”

It’s a stroke of luck for dance fans.

Works will include ballet, modern dance, contemporary dance and contact improvisation.

What’s that? You’ve likely seen contact improvisation, even if you didn’t know it had a name. Dils calls it “an ongoing bodily conversation that emphasizes the sharing of weight between dancers.”

The genre emerged from the postmodern dance movement. Dils has often heard it lyrically described as “a movement sentence without punctuation.” In CI, there’s continued weight sharing during lifts and supported balances. “It often defies gender roles, as women may support women – or even men. There is incredible fluidity and grace to contact improvisation.”

“A lift in ballet might be an exclamation point,” she said, continuing the punctuation motif. “But in contact improv, it’s a comma.”

One of seven works performed at the faculty concert will be a contact improv piece called “Entering the Unknown,” performed by longtime collaborators E.E. Balcos and Alicia Grayson. Balcos, a UNC Charlotte dance teacher who’s practiced CI since 1982, and Grayson of Boulder, Colo., have worked together for years, so their onstage improvisation is the result of “significant experience with each other’s movement,” Dils said.

The concerts celebrate more than dance; music is an important part. Several of the works feature live music. For instance, the faculty program Friday opens with a solo piano work composed and performed by the dance department’s pianist, Dan Knight, a Steinway artist – one of 1,800 concert pianists in the world to hold the designation.

The evenings will be markedly different; Kim Jones’ “Shedding” is the only repeated performance. Jones, a UNC Charlotte faculty member – and a star herself who was once a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company, will perform the work, which she choreographed, with three colleagues from the Graham and Limón companies. “Shedding,” which explores loss, memory and renewal, is performed to Handel’s aria “Cara sposa.”

N.C. Dance Festival has recently danced its way through Raleigh, Boone and Greensboro and will wrap up its tour in Charlotte. Each year since 1991, the festival has toured across the state, highlighting the work of North Carolina’s professional choreographers.

Among the pieces to be presented is “as we were,” choreographed by Sara Ruth Toured (who also designed the costumes). The contemporary dance uses a wooden park bench to create a solitary, dramatic focal point. This duet, described as “gritty,” explores a dynamic range of movement and emotion as the piece unfolds.

In “A Place Apart,” choreographer Diego Carrasco Schoch uses Beethoven’s romantic “Adagio sostenuto” from “Moonlight Sonata” as an aural backdrop for a piece about two men craving a space that’s separate from the physical world.

Both concerts offer raw power – and star power. Said Dils, “I am thunderstruck and amazed that this many professional dancers will be appearing on stage with our faculty.”