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Reading dance

Choreo Collective's "big tent" party last weekend; Even Exchange's interesting read coming up.

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Choreo Collective's fall fundraisers tend to be a bit of a grab bag: decidedly eclectic affairs whose participants include students and regional newcomers on the same bill with accomplished choreographers and dance groups. Somewhere in their midst, their hosts gives audiences a peek at what's in store for the spring.

Welcoming newcomers and publicly endorsing the student-to-professional dance continuum is, of course, an act of artistic generosity. It's also acknowledging Choreo's roots: after all, five years ago they were the newcomers, the majority still students themselves.

But that was then; Sunday afternoon's capacity crowd bore testimony to both a company and an audience that's quickly growing.

Having watched interest in capoeira grow in recent years, it was refreshing to see artists exploring other Brazilian dance forms. A group called Brazilian Sensation went straight to work Sunday, resurrecting a dance form all but buried by exploitation films in the 1990s. In Rosa and English's hands, lambada showed its sunny side; a light and graceful, twirling, whirling flight of fancy -- and a necessary breakaway from the tawdry representations foisted on pop culture over a decade ago.

If the conventions of classical Indian dance still require some translation for American audiences, the ferocity of Niharika Bansal's concentration at the end of Behag Thiliana was matchless.

The standout among this year's student groups was Durham's Collage Dance Company, an African dance group. In Biza Sompas' "Zebulo," dancers from grade school to high school literally shook the ground beneath our seats, as percussionists Lamar Lewis-Chinfloo, Khayree McKinnon and Nicholas Spivey called the company onto the bantaba, the community space. The young women in grass skirts and dark costumes were exuberant, committed; their enthusiasm contagious. By the end, they had the audience clapping en masse with the beat.

Judging by the excerpt from "At Your Service," the new work by Independent Dancemakers' majordomo Laura Thomasson, all regional restaurant patrons should stay on their best behavior until further notice. Why? Dancers frequently take jobs as waitresses. This sharp-tongued work demonstrates that they remember slights. One waitress manipulates a serving tray like Oddjob's hat in Goldfinger. Others demonstrate restaurant sabotage, boredom--and basically get us to wondering how much further Thomasson will go when the work premieres in toto in March.

The last tantalizing coming attraction was from Choreo Collective itself. Caroline Williford and Bridget Kelly's collaboration, "Call Waiting," provided an amusing object lesson on the electronic dark side of the service sector. In Kelly and Williford's curious world, time slows to a crawl as a disjointed group demonstrates a number of things they could be doing instead of navigating a labyrinth of voicemail menus and waiting on hold. Generally, one stages ennui at the risk of replicating it; the slo-mo world of "Call Waiting" was never less than entertaining.

Raleigh's Even Exchange Dance Ensemble also performed a section from their current full-length work, Bluestocking. The ensemble performs it in full this weekend in Raleigh; we caught Bluestocking during their opening weekend at Arts Together.

A library of sorts awaited the audience on opening night: a wide range of books that were placed beneath their seats. Southern humorist Lewis Grizzard lurked under one chair. Another guarded Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. My own seat? Basketball for Dummies.

Even Exchange, the region's longest-lived dance collaborative and one of its most interesting ones, generally devotes upwards of a year to any given topic. Recently, they've looked at violence and spirituality; broad topics no doubt, but ones immediately accessible to all. They parse out specific sub-themes and devise ways to embody them in communally generated choreography.

At their best, the resulting multi-part works relate an understanding at once fractured and yet of a whole. Humor, energy and respect for the Other funds their examinations. The striking images they find show a different, new perspective on the world.

Indeed, such moments make up the best of Bluestocking. In "Renga," dancers read floor, air and the surfaces of their own and each other's skin in much the same way as Brian Lewis reads a text in Braille. The velocity and implicit fury in "Censored" comes from women in knee and elbow pads, having their experiences literally erased or overwritten on a dry-erase board at center stage. In places, books are yanked from dancers' hands; elsewhere their mouths are gagged. In a similarly kinetic solo, Allison Waddell proves a carnivorous reader, literally sinking her teeth into a book at center stage.

"Da Dum" ingeniously gets at the music and rhythms in language. Dancers dance to the rhythm of a stated phrase or its rhythmic counterpart in nonsense syllables, at one point imaginatively splicing Dr. Seuss on top of Benjamin Franklin. The sparseness of the opening, "Planting," gets at the deceptive simplicity of haiku.

Elsewhere, meanings in Bluestocking aren't always clear. When sections don't communicate, books at times appear as little more than props. Where we can't get the meaning, the calisthenics of such sections remain more visible than the ends to which they're directed. And though "Out of Context's" initial imagery of abduction placed in a game show frame is striking, the scene fizzles when its writing doesn't follow through.

All of which makes Bluestocking, in literary terms, a work of considerable promise, but one still in need of editing. At its many strong points, it's a truly fascinating read--but not to the point we forget those places where we still must search, in vain, for a translating dictionary. EndBlock

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