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Late Encounters with the New

Three significant productions offer new evidence of the Triangle's growing dance scene

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Here's news: There's no shortage of new dance on display at present, and more is foreseen on the horizon. Compare that with years when dance was a summer institution and an inconstant guest for the rest. Significant showcases of new dance works have been running at least once a week through February. A glance at the calendar indicates this trend will continue through at least the beginning of May.

Dance, it seems, is here to stay. Brief reports, then, on three late encounters with the new.

Contact took the 2000 Tony awards for Best Musical and Choreography, beating out Carolina Ballet guest choreographer Lynn Taylor-Corbett's work in Swing (which also visits Raleigh, opening May 28). It was touted at the time as a new type of choreo-theater work, in which the dance, not the script, tells the story. Having seen daring attempts to fuse theater with dance in recent years at the American Dance Festival, I was particularly interested to see what Broadway had come up with lately.

The answer: somewhat less than I expected, and almost as good as what we've seen in Durham. Contact is popular entertainment--but with more packaging than substance and certainly more flash than technique, its three "high-concept" vignettes are still likely to leave dance lovers hungry.

After "Swinging," a ribald tableau vivant on an 18th century painting focusing on the sexual possibilities of a wooden swing, the maudlin "Did You Move?" provided a needlessly extended visit to an abusive marriage in a mid-'50s Italian restaurant. While dancer Adam Dannheiser searched for rolls, Meg Howrey played out increasingly elaborate comic revenge fantasies to music first from Grieg, then Puccini.

After intermission, Alan Campbell played a desperate Manhattan ad executive who seeks swing dance salvation in a mythic downtown bar. Holly Cruikshank raised temperatures as the Woman in Yellow, and a tight ensemble featuring Mike Jackson, Danielle Jolie and Julius Sermonia made a dance gauntlet for Campbell to run, with the aid of a comic bartender. Still, we've seen swing dance hypotheses from Trisha Brown and Paul Taylor in recent years that were just as compelling, if not more so.

You could say that the Carolina Ballet wasn't exactly the most gracious of hosts to choreographer Lynn Taylor-Corbett and chanteuse Andrea Marcovicci the first time around. For four nights in April 2000, the company literally forced the pair beyond the gates of hell--or at least Auguste Rodin's version of it: An epic, two-story vision of the final judgment capped choreographer Margo Sappington's deeply moving homage, Rodin, Mis en Vie.

The two were made to top that orgiastic pageant of damnation with "Cabaret at Café Marcovicci" and "December Songs," a pleasing but comparatively lightweight pair of song cycles sung by--and in the latter instance written for--Ms. Marcovicci. Placing Taylor-Corbett's swing dance and art song musings after Sappington's weighty metaphysics and similarly robust choreography was a programming feat roughly comparable to presenting an evening of Mahler, and then topping things off with a little Cole Porter just to, you know, lighten the mood.

Such slam segues have been thankfully removed from Carolina Ballet's Cabaret II. Where the Memorial Auditorium mainstage dwarfed the initial production, its current setting in the A. J. Fletcher Opera House brings needed intimacy and warmth to these works.

A new section, "Play on Words," now opens the evening, in which Taylor-Corbett interprets a spoken-word text--the light verse of Noel Coward--instead of a musical score. Coward's legendary airy wit is something of a dance unto itself. Through careful selections here, pastiches of clueless honeymooners and cocktail party sycophants are leavened with a remembrance of being a child actor and musings on the nature of memory and God.

As Marcovicci narrates, Taylor-Corbett's interpretations veer from near-pantomime (in Christopher Rudd's moving "The Boy Actor") to more free-form work. Some choices seem in deliberate contrast: A passage describing the silence of a newly married couple in "Honeymoon 1905" is set to choreography that seems particularly loud, and, though it's scripted to, a deep chill never leaves Margaret Severin-Hansen's performance as the bride. In the most successful of these adaptations, Daphne Falcone and Alain Molina bring understated comic wit to "Mrs. Mallory," an unhappily married woman's consultation with a psychologist.

In "December Songs," the singer looks on and occasionally interacts with a small company of dancers who interpret selected fragments of a broken heart. As pianist Glenn Mehrbach tastefully explores the darker registers of a concert grand piano, Lilyan Vigo makes a brittle subject for "December Snow," and Mikhail Nikitine revisits the kinetic vertigo of "Where Are You Now?" Severin-Hansen and Pablo Javier Perez recall love's springtime in "When Your Love is New," before a resiliant Daphne Falcone and crew provide comic leavening in "I Had a Dream About You." But Timor Bourtasenkov's deer-in-headlights take made "Please Let's Not Even Say Hello" seem more wooden than it was in 2000, and the closing anthem, "I Am Longing," seemed less the sum of all that preceded it.

"Cabaret at Café Marcovicci" closed the evening in sheer hedonism, as men in tux and tails tripped the light fantastic with graceful women to the accompaniment of a live dance band, in increasingly improbable extensions of ballroom dance. Vigo and Nikitine were suave in "Let's Face the Music and Dance," and Marin Boieru amused as an unsuitable swain in "Easy to Dance With." But once more, Marcovicci and Heather Eberhardt conveyed the fatigue and late-night desperation of mid-century good-time girls in the showstopper, "Ten Cents a Dance."

alban elved dance company first got our attention in a September, 2000 appearance in Raleigh. The trio from North Carolina's School of the Arts represented a dangerously kinetic, all but flyapart aesthetic and technique--and a serious challenge to the best of our regional choreography.

Since then, you could say choreographer Karola Luttringhaus has been acquiring technologies: experimenting with mountain climbing gear, bungee cords, video, film and aerial fabric in festivals in America and Germany. Last fall, her company performed on the walls, ceilings, roofs and floors of the Southeast Center for Contemporary Art, and MiDi, a performance with music triggered by a grid of onstage lasers attached to computers, was featured in this year's North Carolina Dance Festival.

For the past two weeks, they've been playing with radically different toys in a symposium on dance and technology, courtesy of Duke University's new Fitzpatrick Center for Photonics and Communications Systems. According to project leader Steve Feller, since we're all drowning in data these days, it's no longer enough for devices and technologies to simultaneously acquire information from a myriad of sources. The new technology must make coherent sense of challenging and complex events as well, in real time.

Enter modern dance to test the hypotheses. This weekend they're letting Luttringhaus and colleagues take ARGUS out for a spin--a circular battery of 64 cameras hooked to a supercomputer, capable of providing simultaneous information and digital modeling of an object or an event. That, plus a bevy of wireless broadcast video cameras and infrared sensors and projectors, should make for an interesting experiment in simultaneously multiple points of view. We'll see the results this weekend at Duke's Sheafer Theater. EndBlock

Contact Byron Woods at byron@indyweek.com

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