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4 cultural organizations meet at Light the Knight gala 

Officially taking the keys to Charlotte's newest cultural jewel box, North Carolina Dance Theatre has anointed Knight Theater as the city's performing arts hot spot for 2010. Last Friday night's Light the Knight gala began with a two-tiered banquet in the Knight's street-level and balcony lobbies, ended with desserts and social dancing on the Knight stage, with a half-dozen appetizers performed by members of NCDT sandwiched in between, including a new Mark Diamond bijou choreographed specially for the occasion.

Black ties and formal dresses graced the celebration, and the dining, featuring a main entrée of quail, bore no resemblance to Metrolina Foodbank takeout. Ticket prices weren't exactly chickenfeed, either. Some serious fundraising punctuated the NCDT portion of the evening, with Larry Sprinkle and Hardin Minor (in his non-mime mode) serving as live auctioneers. Together they raised $44,500 for five items, including the evening-high bid of $17K for a 54"x42" painting by Herb Jackson, "Pas de Deux," donated to the cause. Winners of the many silent auctions could queue up to a bank of accommodating folk, seated at a table in the handy walkway between the Knight and the Bechtler Museum, ready to take your plastic.

Those brownie squares were sinfully tasty, the crusts on the cunning little Key lime pies were delicate enough to crumble in your hand, and the coffee... um, I should be reviewing the dance, shouldn't I? Aside from the golden oldies I've covered on these pages before, there were two performances of special note, both featuring live music.

Like most newborns at NCDT, Diamond's "At Knight" was noticeably short of full maturity, glittering with the promise of choreography wedded to a Bach partita handsomely played by violinist David Russell. The grace of the piece was already visible in the athleticism of Anna Gerberich in her baby blue top and Justin Van Weest in crimson tights and rust-colored booties. Precision and synchronicity were still in their development stages, and chemistry between Gerberich and Van Weest was barely warmer than the January evening outside.

Chemistry was certainly no problem in the reprise of "Lascia la Spina, Cogli la Rosa," danced by choreographer Sasha Janes with his wife, Rebecca Carmazzi. The moment when Janes tears away part of Carmazzi's rose costume is almost unnecessary amid their intimate entanglement.

What refreshed this latest performance most were the live musicians. The two previous incarnations of "Cogli las Rosa" featured mezzo Cecilia Bartoli singing the Handel aria on her provocative Opera Proibita CD. Now it was Amy Van Looy singing and David Russell returning to the stage with six other instrumentalists. Responding to the gala occasion, the passion of Janes' erotic pas de deux, and the excellence of Mr. Handel, all the musicians were in top form.

From the front row where Sue and I sat at the opposite end of the house, the acoustics were pretty damn good. Just as salient, "Lascia" provided Charlotte Symphony and Opera Carolina with the opportunity to get their names in the program booklet for the Knight's opening gala. Van Looy and harpsichordist Emily Jarrell Urbanek were the emissaries from Opera Carolina, violinist Judy Meister and double bassist Felicia Konczal-Sink were the Symphony contingent, and the name of cellist Tanja Bechtler also rings a bell -- Moving Poets?

With David Russell coming down to us from UNC Charlotte, where he's the newly appointed Belk Distinguished Professor of Music, the Light the Knight gala became -- for an exquisite 5 minutes and 53 seconds -- the meeting ground for an unprecedented collaboration between four of Charlotte's pre-eminent cultural organizations. And the Knight became the place where NC Dance, Symphony, Opera, and hundreds of people with gaudy bankrolls want to be.


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