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Robert Abrams
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North Carolina Dance Theatre

by Robert Abrams
April 14, 2004
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011

North Carolina Dance Theatre

Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, president and artistic director
LaRue Allen, executive director

presented at the Joyce Theater
New York, NY

Robert Abrams
April 14, 2004

The North Carolina Dance Theatre is a company that is loaded with talent. The dancers have solid fundamentals. Their one foot holds were very poised. This level of skill was consistent across the entire company. They presented three somewhat different works. The overall effect was very pleasant. One member of the audience praised the company during the talkback following the performance by saying they were "delightful". While I only have positive things to say about this company, I also think that if they were challenged a little more, even more of their potential would shine forth.

The River

The River is a multi-part work originally staged for ABT by Alvin Ailey. Uri Sands, a NCDT dancer who used to dance with the Ailey company, commented that Mr. Ailey made it clear that this was a work that can be adapted to each company that dances it, to some extent. In this tradition, Masazumi Chaya restaged the work for NCDT.

The first section, Spring, begins with a progression of dancers in the background framing a struggle in the foreground. The movement of the dancers in the background looked very much like a flowing river. This section, and the work as a whole by and large, shows off a simplicity of form combined with beautiful lines. The costumes, which were largely gray or a gray-to-color gradient, matched this simplicity. The color edge of the costumes' gradient often matched the lighting. The lead dancer, Jason Jacobs, had great poise. As I mentioned above, the rest of the company would prove that they had poise too as the evening moved forward.

Researchers such as myself are trained to categorize things. It is a way of finding patterns that make sense of the data, but over time some systems of categorization become easy and comfortable, which is, potentially, something of a trap. Thus, if you see enough dance, it becomes easy to say ABT is ballet and Ailey is Modern and Danspace is Post-modern, for example. While these categorizations are generally true, there are other patterns that cut across them. The River as danced by NCDT is a case in point because while the style is clearly Ailey and Modern, the women dance the work en pointe, a clear marker of Ballet.

Both Ballet and Modern choreographers sometimes try to marry their home technique with music and technique from partner dance planets. Sometimes the marriage works and sometimes it doesn't. (Sometimes whether it works for a given person depends on whether they are a purist, and which kind of a purist they are.) One section of The River, Riba (Mainstream) was an attempt to marry Ailey's style with Swing. This is a reasonable idea considering that the original score was by Duke Ellington. This section did indeed have that swing. The dancers formed connected rows of three dancers each. Some rows were three men and some were three women. Jason Jacobs danced solo within the shifting rows of the company. I thought this section was Ballet while also being true to the music in Swing's character and technique. For instance, the dancers had very nice hip action. There is, admittedly, something of a debate in the Swing world whether Swing ought to have hip action, but I am generally in favor of it.

The work as a whole contained passages at varied energy levels, which is a positive feature as far as I am concerned. In addition to the company's poise, there were also nice leaps annd several instances where a dancer spun very fast, coming to a complete stop, and then proceeding to move slowly (another indication of good balance).

Choreography by Alvin Ailey
Restaged by Masazumi Chaya
Original Score by Duke Ellington (The River)
Original Music Coordination by Martha Johnson
Costume Design by A. Christina Giannini
Lighting design by Chenault Spence
Dancers: Spring - Jason Jacobs, Mia Cunningham, Angela Winkeler, Ayisha McMillan, Heather Ferranti-Ferguson, Kelly Greene, Servy Gallardo, Patrick Kastoff, Daniel Wiley, Alec Donovan, Adam Stein; Meander - Allesandra Ball, Adam Stein, Sasha Jones; Giggling Rapids - Mia Cunningham, Servy Gallardo; Lake - Rebecca Carmazzi, Sasha Janes and Company; Falls - Adam Stein Servy Gallardo, Jason Jacobs, Daniel Wiley; Vortex - Angela Winkler; Riba (Mainstream) - Jason Jacobs and Company; Twin Cities - Heather Ferranti-Ferguson, Uri Sands and Company

Alvin Ailey's The River - Pictured: Nicholle Rochelle, Benjamin Kubie
Photo courtesy of Van Miller

Brave! was also a generally pleasant work, but in a more daring and risk taking way than the other works presented tonight. While all of the works presented tonight were enjoyable, as presented I thought Brave! was the best work on the program. The work starts out with a dark set, seemingly bathed in moonglow. The movements are emphatic. The stage brightens and reveals the ensemble on stools. Various passages featured solos or groups. The groups of movement did a good job partitioning the stage, which can be a more interesting choreographic choice than just always having the entire ensemble moving in sync in a single group.

I especially liked the section with the purple backdrop. Nicholle-Rochelle and Uri Sands responded to the music, playing off each other with great musicality.

At one point towards the end of the work, one dancer proclaims that love is the bravest thing. While it is unusual for dancers to speak, I thought this element retrospectively put the whole work in context, enhancing the meaning of what the audience had already seen. Overall, I liked both the choreography and the dancing. Brave! is a well done work with daring and risk taking that takes the whole up a level.

During the talkback, the audience learned that Brave! is remarkable in the process used to create it, in addition to its presentation. This was a work created using social science methods. The choreographer, Nicolo Fonte, asked the dancers "What is the bravest thing you have done?, What is the bravest thing you have witnessed? and What is the bravest thing you could imagine yourself doing?". The dancers proceeded to express their inner lives through this abstract concept. They came to a consensus that love was the bravest thing. Mr. Fonte combined this raw conceptual material with an original composition by Diego Dall'Osto and his own movement ideas combining both Ballet and Horton technique to produce the final work. One specific example of this combination is the use of an arabesque where the dancer's head is near the floor.

Brave! was definitely a work I would want to see twice.

Choreography by Nicolo Fonte
Music by Diego Dall'Osto
Text by Nicolo Fonte and Company
Costume design by Nicolo Fonte, executed by Betsy Blackmore
Lighting design by Michael Mazzolo
Dancers: Alec Donovan, Patrick Kastoff, Jason Jacobs, Sasha Janes, Uri Sands, Adam Stein, Daniel Wiley, Rebecca Carmazzi, Mia Cunningham, Heather Ferranti-Ferguson, Traci Gilchrest, Kelly Greene, Kati Hanlon Mayo, Nicholle-Rochelle

Nicolo Fonte's Brave - Pictured: Traci Gilchrest and Company
Photo courtesy of Marilyn Frenkel

Shindig was a square dance en pointe performed to the live music of The Greasy Beans. The dancing was ballet, but was also in idiom for the most part. Once again the company demonstrated good, poised holds. They danced with playful and joyous interactions, including one section where a Charlotte look alike (as in Sex and the City) flirted with three guys. The music and the dancing was infectious. The company had the audience joining in with enthusiastic rhythmic clapping during the final, danced, bows. While I liked this work, I thought it could have used a little more of the Country-Western feel and a little less ballet. A little more CW Two-step might have helped. In general, though, I don't have any specific choreographic recommendations except to say that the work needs to take more risks. One way to experiment with taking such risks would be to move the band from where they are now, off to the side, and place them directly on stage with the dancers. This would allow the band and the dancers to interact with each other directly. The Chamber Dance Project does this well and would be a good example for the North Carolina Dance Theatre to study. My feeling is that if Mr. Bonnefoux gave the band and the dancers the opportunity to experiment and improvise, each group would build off of the energy of the other, resulting in a work that would move beyond likable to truly special.

Choreography by Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux
Music by The Greasy Beans
Costumes by Betsy Blackmore
Lighting by Nate McGaha
Dancers: Rebecca Carmazzi, Sasha Janes, Alessandra Ball, Servy Gallardo, Jason Jacobs, Benjamin Kubie, Daniel Wiley, Mia Cunningham, Heather Ferranti-Ferguson, Traci Gilchrest, Kelly Greene, Kati Hanlon Mayo, Ayisha McMillan, Angela Winkeler, Alec Donovan, Patrick Kastoff, Adam Stein

Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux's Shindig - Pictured: Sasha Janes, Rebecca Carmazzi, Patrick Kastoff
Photo courtesy of Van Miller

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