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7 lean women 

Plus, Collaborative Arts' first musical

Could a technicolor dream at CPCC be providing a quick spurt of inspiration to an NC Dance Theatre choreographer? Behold, there were seven women onstage at Booth Playhouse -- less than a week after Pharaoh, transformed into a swivel-hipped king by Andrew Lloyd Webber, had his dream of seven fat cows and seven lean cows explained at Halton Theater. Still I'm certain that when Mark Diamond conceived his erotic vision of lean dancers for the Charlotte premiere of his Bolero, he wasn't taking his cue from cows or Jacob's favorite son.

No, if there's any scriptural source for Diamond's concept, I'd say it was Herod's daughter and the legendary dance of the seven veils. Although the seven women of Bolero work seductively to rouse seven bucks from siesta, as Ravel's music sinuously crescendoes to climax, there's a Roman aspect to the scanty togas Diamond has designed for his torrid temptresses. A stack of sombreros, however, veils these Salomès as they form their lusty lineup.

David Ingram is the only hombre immediately prepared to take the ladies' heat, radiated most abundantly by Traci Gilchrest and Nicholle Rochelle, while Sasha Janes is the most responsive of those who must be roused from their slumbers. Suffice it to say that North Carolina Dance Theatre hasn't hatched a fertility rite with this kind of passionate intensity since the halcyon days of Salvatore Aiello.

Neither of the other two dances in the Rhoden, Bolero & Balanchine turns up the heat nearly as high as Diamond's rousing finale. Rhoden's world premiere, Momentary Forevers, is almost chilly by comparison -- nearly as conceptual as Bolero is visceral. We start with two of NCDT's hottest new additions for 2007-08, Kara Wilkes and David Ingram, moving in and out of a large chrome frame during a pas-de-deux that alternates between elegant intimacy and indifference. Harpsichord music by Handel, succeeded by some John Cage, underscores the classical brittleness of Rhoden's choreography -- compounded by futuristic peach-and-yellow tutus designed by Christine Dauch.

Three other couples interact with the chrome frame in this mystifying work, mirroring whatever truth about relationships Rhoden is struggling to express. Elusive as that truth may be, there's no doubting the quality and fascination of the dancers. Seia Rassenti and Joseph Watson are two other newbies who shine.

Rest your gray cells and simply delight in George Balanchine's Who Cares?, a string of flapper pearls set to prime-cut Gershwin. Patricia McBride, a member of the original New York City Ballet cast when the full choreography premiered in 1970, judiciously pares it down to an eight-piece suite.

Solos are distributed to all three flappers -- Gilchrest in a bright blue frock ("I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise"), Alessandra Ball in pink ("Fascinatin' Rhythm"), and Anna Gerberich in teal ("My One and Only"). Simply clad in black, without even a belt, Janes gets a solo ("Liza") and partners with each of the three women. The effervescent finale, "I Got Rhythm," gathers the whole foursome together.

All of these dancers reprise their performances this Friday. Re-mixes of the cast occur on Thursday and Saturday night for Who Cares? and Forevers. Six of Bolero's wantons continue throughout Week 2 as the luminous Mia Cunningham sneaks into line.

Collaborative Arts is keeping their hiptitude quotient high with their first musical production, Closer Than Ever, at Spirit Square. They've innovated only slightly in converting Duke Power Theatre into a cabaret setting, deploying the musicians to the rear of the audience. If you're sitting up front, you'll need to turn around a few times to follow the action, most notably when Lisa Smith vamps with bass player Don Yaeger in "Back on Base."

Each song composed by David Shire is designed to tell its own story. His partner, Richard Maltby, has the wit to write lyrics as intricate as Sondheim's, very fine when he tries be perceptive, slightly lame when he attempts to be profound, and best when he just relaxes and has fun.

Smith and the other members of this fine cast smooth out the rough spots. Joe Klosek, who made his Charlotte debut on the same stage three years ago, reminds us how strong he can be exploring contemporary angst. A funny song about a stalker? Klosek gets hearty laughs in the unlikely "What Am I Doin'?" and salvages the potentially maudlin "One of the Good Guys."

Jerry Colbert returns effectively to his musical comfort zone. His interpretation of "If I Sing," a son's tribute to a dying dad, is a highlight of Act 2, and he provides the comic twist to the early three-part fugue, "She Loves Me Not."

The most pleasant surprise here is Amy Van Looy as the seemingly ordinary "Miss Byrd," breaking out of her nice-girl shell while quoting Keats. Dan Brunson has been gone from the Queen City so long that he will seem to be a newcomer to most theatergoers, but his solo on "I'll Get Up Tomorrow Morning" makes him instantly welcome.

Andrew Gibbons' set design hits all the necessary plot points of this savvy revue, but director Elise Wilkinson somehow contrives to make it look awkward. One of the two entrances is ignored in the opening ensemble, "Doors," and soloists are routinely asked to circle aimlessly around the huge clockface in the middle of the stage. Greta Marie Zandstra doesn't help much in her choreographic debut: She doesn't ask her singers to tramp on that clockface platform even once during "The March of Time." Hello?

The verve of the performers usually comes to the rescue. Aside from the "March," my favorite ensemble gems were a fitness send-up, "There's Nothing Like It," and "The Sound of Muzak."

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