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The next step is in question

Two concerts leave us wondering where local dance goes from here

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The local modern dance year has identifiable rhythms. In the fall, the focus is on questions: Who's back in the game? Who's gone to The City? Who's staying after American Dance Festival, and where is the great work underway? Answers begin mid-winter and run through spring, in academic and independent concerts.

In its visits each January, the N.C. DANCE FESTIVALnotes two curators' visions of professional dance, locally and statewide.

Scheduling demands forced me to miss the second night of works from locals Niki Juralewicz, Gerri Houlihan and Robin Harris as well as Meredith guest artist Katherine Ferrier and Greensboro curator Jan Van Dyke. This is particularly unfortunate: The first night's work on Jan. 27 largely left me wondering where the next steps in modern dance are coming from.

The largest reversal of the evening was ALBAN ELVED's performance of Lena's Bath. Anyone who saw the work in either of its earlier incarnations--at ADF or last year's company concert at Duke--would have found it difficult to recognize. The Jones Auditorium sightlines erased much of the work's visual design and suspense when we couldn't watch dancers tiptoe gingerly across a wooden plank just above a shallow pool of water. Was the work's comparative incoherence due to this alone, or has company co-founder Andrea Lieske's on-stage replacement, Dawn Webster, also necessitated changes in the choreography?

B.J. SULLIVAN's duet, knowing my emptiness, ultimately seemed more diatribe than dance. Though I regularly admire Sullivan's work, this one-sided argument on gender roles not only indulged in melodrama, it gave all the best lines--and moves--to the choreographer, leaving partner Sean Sullivan as little more than punching bag and occasional support.

MARTHA CONNERTON's unfortunately titled If Anyone Asks ... Tell Them I'm Out Standing in the Field began as a mesmerizing solo whose austere, deceptive simplicity in early sequences became diluted during middle and final movements that edged the work toward filibuster. When Doris Humphrey said all dances are too long, this is what she meant.

"Austere, deceptive simplicity" applies as well to the best work of the evening by far--Latitude, which visiting choreographer KATHERINE FERRIER made for MEREDITH DANCE THEATre. At times the work recalled Doug Varone in a minimal, human version of three-card monte, as dancers shuffled--and suspicioned--one another through simple, and simply clear, permutations on stage. Dancer Nikki Pilson's work on stage was particularly sharp. Like Connerton, Ferrier should also interrogate what is truly needed beyond her enviable opening statement.

JOAN NICHOLAS-WALKER's Mental Picture intrigued in its examination of obscured vision in relationships. But its forms and structures grew muddy during unclear interior ensemble sequences, and recurring questions arose about precision in execution.

Now we're wondering what the next step for FOOTNOTES TAP ENSEMBLE is as well. To this point, these adult tap enthusiasts hadn't reached the level of achievement in the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble. At first, Saturday's BanTAPba! concert seemed headed in the same direction, with dancers first seeking refuge in the legato unison of that tap chestnut "Take Five," and embarrassingly brief solo turns in other prerecorded numbers.

Then came act two.Mimi Benjamin's choreography in "Jam" to live music by Taylor Roberts and associates woke things up, and Robert Perera's "Alleppaca" showed a company clearly capable of more than we'd seen before. AFRICAN AMERICAN DANCE ENSEMBLE's work was strong, but the collaboration with Footnotes wasn't as fully developed.

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