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Setting the Choke, Seizing the Rose 

More innovation from N.C. Dance Theatre

It's time again for the fall harvest of new dance at Booth Playhouse. North Carolina Dance Theatre has unveiled their 2007 crop of Innovative Works, and this year's yield is as intriguing as ever.

Aside from Nacho Duato's Na Floresta, a 1990 gem reprised from last spring's "Natural Beauty" concert, there are five fresh fruit getting their world and/or Charlotte debuts. Perhaps the most revelatory is Mark Diamond's Endless Now, if only because the restless creator/performer seems to be embarking in a new direction yet again.

Definitely a retro direction, judging by the music Diamond has chosen -- the Rach Piano Concerto #2 -- and the allegorical costumes he has designed for Alessandra Ball, Sasha Janes and Joseph Watson. The eerie black outfit Watson wears will no doubt leave the deepest imprint, for he represents Time, both as creator and destroyer. You may recognize the iconography of Ball and Janes' subjugation from medieval and Renaissance painting.

Most theatrical of the new works is undoubtedly The Neighbors, with former NCDT principal dancer Uri Sands embracing the rancid music of Tom Waits in his suite of five choreographies. How this piece is an exploration of "the dark nature of family dysfunction" never came clear to me, but the ending -- punctuated by a gunshot at the end of Waits' "Home I'll Never Be" -- isn't likely to strike anyone as cheery.

I wish Sands had kept his own virtuosic capabilities in mind when he immersed himself in this dreariness. Seia Rassenti and Anna Gerberich weren't stretched anywhere close to their limits in "Temptation," and in "Jesus Gonna Be Here," Kara Wilkes and David Ingram were weighted down with even more moribund moves.

Janes, in his first choreographic effort with NCDT, challenges himself -- and partner Rebecca Carmazzi -- far more fully and satisfyingly in Lascia la Spina, Cogli la Rosa. The slant of the carpe diem message, originally sung by Pleasure in Handel's 1708 oratorio, is resolutely sensual; particularly after Carmazzi sheds some of her petals. But Janes keeps his pas de deux firmly in the embrace of the music with a mixture of lifts and rides that alternate between novel and traditional.

Among the four choreographers who try their hands at costuming, Janes also holds his own. Lame lime costuming is just one hobbling aspect of Dwight Rhoden's Choke, in which Randolph Ward ostensibly faces off against Addul Manzano. While the cliché gestures for choking are obvious enough, the promised elements of contrast and competition between the dancers remain stillborn in concept -- without the slightest assistance from the Sergey Gordeev music.

Better is Rhoden's Ave Maria, sleekly presented by Janes and the alluring Traci Gilchrest. Plucked from the choreographer's 1995 Grapes of Wrath, the somewhat mechanized dance moves and the Lamour costume design are not what you would ever call devotional. Or Dust Bowl. A fascinating tension here.

Carmazzi and Ingram step in for Gilchrest and Janes this week at the Booth. While Janes gets a breather, Carmazzi gets a fierce workout. She and Mia Cunningham will be the "Temptation" pair, Nov. 8-10.

The PAC began serving up spectacular dance earlier in the week with Ballet Folklórico de México. With pink leggings, chartreuse pants, and turquoise shirts -- yes, on the guys! -- I was afraid that this energized company was too determined to dazzle. But a modicum of subtlety occasionally leavened the eye-popping carnival as the dance cavalcade proceeded, and the folksiness veered charmingly from the glitter that greeted us to earthier papier mâché.

Of course, we're still talking about colossal mojigangas depicting clowns, devils, criers and African boys in this muted mode -- or rainbow-colored six-foot-wide headdresses suitable for a quiet Tournament of Roses parade. Single couples were not asked to fill the Belk Theater stage. A simulated wedding was how Folklórico celebrated love. A dying "Deer Dance" was about as tender and lonely as things got.

Chaste breaths of the Caribbean intermingled with the obligatory sombreros, mariachi music and clacking flamenco. After that first burst of glitter, I surrendered to every sugary or sentimental confection this infectious troupe served up. Part of the enchantment was the unique Hispanic makeup of the crowd. For once, the topmost seats in the third balcony were filled while some of the orchestra tickets remained unsold.

The amount of fun those folks above me were having was an intoxicating equalizer.

After a full dose of bandolero rope dancing, tent-sized sarapes and a mariachi bass guitar as big as a MINI Cooper, I was ideally prepared to experience the true essence of dinner theater. A Bad Year for Tomatoes is undoubtedly the purest twaddle that the new Pineville Dinner Theater has served up to date.

In PDT's current Sunday afternoon musical, Smoke on the Mountain, you'll find occasional detours from the prevailing hayseed dopiness into roadstops of innocent religious faith and redemption. There are glancing reminders amid the dim-witted hijinx of real hardships experienced in the rural South during the Great Depression.

Nothing of the kind intrudes on John Patrick's three-act comedy. Disbelief is suspended so far during our visit to Beaver Haven that it remains in geosynchronous orbit. The most likable citizen of this sylvan retreat is an ax-wielding manure-selling pervert named Piney, who cleans up to slightly more debonair than Red Skelton's beloved Freddie the Freeloader. Not as bright, though.

As Piney, James K. Flynn pretty well steals the show from Annette Gill, portraying our protagonist Myra Marlowe. Attempting to write her memoirs, the TV legend (nee Myrtle Durtle) is constantly stymied by her gossipy, spacey, scotch-swilling neighbors and the itinerant Piney. Falling back on her acting prowess, Myrtle invents -- and unleashes -- a crazed, homicidal Sister Sadie who is all-too-tenuously confined to the upstairs bedroom. Gill wields the monstrous Sadie dentures with admirable grace.

From a comedy standpoint, Flynn has a tug-of-war with Autumn Gentile, who channels the cluelessness of Willa Mae Wilcox, Beaver Haven's herbalist-mystic-nutball, with an instinctual intensity that is marvelous to behold. Communing with a stuffed owl on her shoulder, Gentile drew consistently large laughs with her feathered medium.

Marcie Moran, a morning drive fixture on the John Boy and Billy Big Show, makes her stage debut as scotch-gulping Cora Gump. With her robust disdain for verisimilitude, Moran's alcoholic tremors could easily be mistaken for the spasms of a rabid bulldog. By comparison, Polly Adkins as town gossip Reba Harper seems quite domesticated and refined.

Last Saturday night's crowd was close to capacity, adding spirit to the silliness. A big house works to accelerate the turnaround of entrees at the buffet, making Chef Ottinger's chafing dish exploits even more flavorful. Seemed to lengthen the intermissions, though, as the wait staff scurried to dish out desserts and resolve the bar tab arithmetic.

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