Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dance review: Director's Choice

Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2011 at 5:36 PM

The analogy between NC Dance Theatre and our city’s pro sports teams becomes especially apt at the beginning of each season. Every year, the team fields a lineup that has changed from the season before — because some of the dancers have retired, moved on to other companies, or started companies of their own, replaced by new faces with new contracts. Of course, the big difference between NCDT and our beloved Bobcats and Panthers, reaffirmed last week at Knight Theater with Director’s Choice, is that NCDT is good every year.

But yes, as the curtain went up on the new 2011-12 season, I confess to wondering just how good the new lineup would be. The first piece, Sasha Janes’s "Rhapsodic Dances", brought a profusion of answers. After distinguishing himself among NCDT’s preeminent dancers, Janes has retired into management and choreography, his wife Rebecca Carmazzi is still relaxing in maternity, and artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s splendid company is reloading.

Turnover is most acute in the male corps, but only one of the newbies, Naseeb Culpepper, appeared in the premiere of "Rhapsodic Dances", set to Rachmaninoff’s most famous rhapsody with five color-coded couples and some distinctly classical touches. Although six-year vet Addul Manzano was on board — and reliably brilliant in his new close-cropped haircut — it was David Ingram, with a year less of seniority, who drew company doyenne Tracy Gilchrest as his partner for the climactic Variation #18 on the theme by Paganini. Predictably decked in scarlet for this signature outpouring of orchestral romanticism, Gilchrest reigns supreme in elegance, with the gilded Sarah Hayes Watson clacking at her heels. Meanwhile Anna Gerberich, in her seventh season, seems to be emerging as the company soubrette.

Gerberich and Watson were certainly standouts in Mark Diamond’s lascivious take on Ravel’s Bolero. With Carmazzi out in the audience with Janes and child, the math worked out perfectly as the remainder of the female corps threw themselves into Diamond’s provocative analogy to Ravel’s exquisitely extended crescendo: seven seductive Latinas gradually rousing their men from siesta. That was no siesta when all the pelvic beckonings worked their magic. If anything, Diamond’s sizzler burned even hotter than its 2008 debut. The new guys smoldered with responsive energy and caught fire.

What Bonnefoux should have remembered, however, is that Bolero was the rousing finale when it was first introduced four springs ago. It’s a tough act to follow, musically and choreographically. So last week’s finale, William Forsythe’s "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated", was noticeably less compelling to the eye and ear. The main knock against it was the jackhammer score by Thom Willems, about as soothing as banging your head against a stone wall. Simulating the randomness, the spontaneity, and the interactions of professional dancers at a studio rehearsal session, the whole concept was rather low-key and cerebral in the wake of Bolero.

With Gilchrest, Ingram, and Alessandra Ball so utterly right in their central roles, "Elevated" reminded us that NCDT does theatre at the same lofty level as they do dance. But if you know of anyone who has that Willems score on his iPod, please report him immediately to the proper authorities.

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