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October Surprise 

New group instantly makes its mark

Some new groups learn quickly how to put their best foot forward. After just two programs, the new Queen City Jazz Company has proven that it's a force to be reckoned with. They have the sharpest, most intently drilled synchronicity in town. What's more, they have a small corps of exciting individual performers, two highly capable in-house choreographers, and they're fun to watch.

That wasn't always the case at last week's Hot October Night concert, featuring seven short works. The opener, by the company's artistic director, Melanie Sullivan-Coyle, seemed to confuse aerobics with dance. And the repetitive Steve Reich music chosen by the choreographer didn't promote the "Renewal" she was striving for, despite the peppy tempo.

"Call to Arms," by associate director Justin Turnow-Westcott, displayed the assets of the ensemble to better advantage, clearly a darker, angrier, more jagged, yearning and expressive piece. Individuals moved in and out of a simple effective spotlight while, behind each soloist, the group formed intricate formations or provocative pairings seemingly at random -- but always attuned to the moody Radiohead soundtrack. There were numerous solo exploits to acclaim, but Sonshine Allen was the brightest star.

The most imaginative and conceptualized pieces were placed immediately after the first intermission. Corinne McFadden, the associate choreographer for Wicked on Broadway, brought us a richly suggestive allegory about the multiple roles of woman in the new millennium, "Queen Gemini."

Allen returned as "The Woman" who is split and consumed by her multiple roles until she ultimately transcended them. But I'd have to say she was upstaged by the three dancers whose roles were more clearly defined: Sara Atkins as Sexuality, Aimee Moynihan as Ambition and Joanne Jemsek as Motherhood.

If there was a certain blandness and predictability to the movements assigned to Motherhood, it was probably because the concepts for Sexuality and Ambition were so strikingly original. The music composed by Clint Mansell seemed to fit the dance rather than the other way around, further heightening the intensity.

Sullivan-Coyle also had something more compelling up her sleeve, proving her mettle as she unveiled "Escape" with music by Afro Celt Sound System. Once again, as in "Renewal," the beat was relentless. But the scenario here was purposeful.

The ensemble crisscrossed the stage robotically as the piece began, clad in bland wrinkled dress shirts. Then the same women reappeared in savage, glittery, fringed costumes. The screen that restricted them to the upstage at Booth Playhouse lifted away, and their movements acquired new freedom to match the flash of their costumes, accelerating to a frenzy. Yet we were not witnessing a triumphant liberation. As Moynihan broke free from the pack with singularly expressive gestures, it was clear at the end that she was in the grip of an agonized yearning -- with relief hopelessly beyond her reach.

Best of the rest was Audrey Ipapo's solo in Sullivan-Coyle's "The Other Side." We never quite scaled to the urgency or expressiveness of "Queen Gemini," but "Diamond Is Forever" (to the music of the immortal Neil) was a pleasant way for the ensemble to bid their adieux. Tornow-Westcott's "Take Five" was repeated from QCJC's previous concert, if only to prove that the company does have something to do with jazz.

k.d. lang gave a wondrous performance at Ovens Auditorium in a concert that was billed as a Charlotte Symphony special event but which, in actuality, gave off some weird vibes. The first half of the evening was given over to the full orchestra, led by Albert-George Schramm, in repertoire that had all the earmarks of the sort of pap played out under the stars for the unwashed masses who flock to the Summer Pops concerts.Then everybody except the string section vacated the premises, leaving lang and her tight quartet -- plus her own conductor -- to do their concert backed by orchestral accompaniment too subdued to ever count. What a mess.

Somebody was underestimating the sophistication of lang's audience. When she sang her biggest hit, "Constant Craving," the response was staid compared to the fervid adoration that sprang forth when she gave her best performances in Roy Orbison's "Crying" and Neil Young's "Helpless." The live experience was riveting as the pure liquid of lang's voice poured abundantly forth, seemingly unfettered by the normal limits of human lung capacity.

Sadly, the geniuses who organized this concert also overestimated lang's following. Not greatly, but visibly. There really wasn't any good reason why lang's magnificence couldn't have been more elegantly framed uptown in Belk Theater. The more intimate space would have brought more people closer to lang. It also might have mellowed Schramm, whose podium excesses at cavernous Ovens resembled Einstein on amphetamines.

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