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Groundhogs Day

The Independent Dancemakers make one of their rare but much-anticipated annual appearances

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How would you choreograph a suicide note in a way that lays bare the impulse that pushes you over the edge? If that challenge does not intrigue you, here's another one: If you had to question the fundamental dynamics of your identity, your social roles and your body, could you do it using only movement?

These and other similarly fraught inquiries return the Durham-based Independent Dancemakers this weekend to that razor's edge that's been the group's raison d'etre since the mid-1990s. In six intriguing concerts in as many years, this loose affiliation of nervy choreographers, dancers and guests has gradually garnered an enviable but puzzling reputation as the proverbial under-groundhogs of local modern dance. Every winter since 1996, the group has surfaced just long enough to cast a formidable shadow on the regional scene, before going subterranean for yet another year.

While there have been rumblings that the frequency may change under choreographer Laura Thomasson's stewardship, this much is clear: If you miss this weekend's shows, you'll be waiting awhile before the next ones come along. And the crew's lack of repertory all but ensures you won't be seeing these particular works again.

Given their quality, this is more than a shame. Last weekend we roved among rehearsal halls in Raleigh and Durham, searching for the early word on the current crop, and here's what we found: This weekend's collection is one of the strongest they've ever presented. Following are some of the works the forewarned will not miss.

New faces first. Melissa Criss has been in the area less than a year, after completing her master's degree at Hollins University, one of the leading modern dance programs in the South. We'll see two solos, the strongest of which is an excerpt from her current Jade Rabbit. This interpretation of a Chinese Moon Festival legend is set to the recombinant Middle Eastern dub rhythms of New York's Badawi. While low strings throb, Megan Marvel uncurls in intricate physical articulations of an earthbound body who cannot help but gaze at--and reach for--the moon. Swift, sharp moves contrast with legato passages throughout, in extended explorations of gravitation and other forces, from a still developing young choreographer worth keeping an eye on.

Lindsey Greene's 3 Solutions to the Moment of Doubt was a highlight of the fall N.C. State Dance Program concert. Three women in separate rooms confront some of their deepest doubts about themselves, their bodies and their social roles in this evocative, enigmatic work. Greene's deft development of character and scene suggests much with enviable economy, a sure legacy of her study under Robin Harris. Her character's "solutions"--and their aftermath--combine potent iconography with desire and ghostly memory.

Laura Thomasson's two original works break new and frequently disturbing ground. In previous years we'd noted that relationship studies like One Way Out suggested the acerbic insights of Anne Sexton. Her new duet furthers that connection, but in a significantly darker vein. Sacrifice puts us at ground zero with characters already well into the process of self-destruction. The two dancers in this harrowing rite of negation could just as easily be splintered aspects of the same self. Though one nods her head while the other slowly shakes hers, we somehow know that actually they're in ghastly agreement: No, her character can't take anymore, and yes, the hurting's going to stop or else. The kinetic Eastern European music propels this unsafe ride toward its final destination while we look for any avenue of escape.

In stark contrast, Thomasson's Fallen Through combines video with live dance in a near-Taoist exploration of the balance between light and dark. Projected images contrast dancer Hiroko Sasaki's internal and exterior worlds, and schism looms. Then two figures approach and intervene, to celestial music by George Crumb, in an intriguing suggestion of what Italian neo-realist choreography might look like.

Finally, local audiences get to see both Gerri Houlihan's infectious, fun 4/4 and Tiffany Rhynard's muscular Running with Scissors a lot more closely than they could at the North Carolina Dance Festival last month. It's a full evening of curated works that challenge and provoke. But like the local bus, if you miss it, there's no telling when their next one'll come along. EndBlock

Contact Byron Woods at byron@indyweek.com.

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