Review: Dance Theatre kicks up its heels

By Steven Brown

A couple of years ago, N.C. Dance Theatre's advertising used a slogan along the lines of: “Charlotte's other athletes.” While I don't know much about sports, it seems to me that if anyone should be relegated to the status of “other,” it should be the athletic team that got clobbered in its season opener last weekend. NCDT launched its season Thursday with power and style.

NCDT calls the program “Ballet, Ballroom and Bluegrass.” As we have a look, let's borrow the title – but take things in the order the dancers do.

Ballroom: The sparkle of lights bouncing off a mirrored ball fills the theater at the start of Twyla Tharp's “Nine Sinatra Songs.” But the couples who dance to Sinatra hits quickly appropriate the sparkle and glamor.

In “All the Way,” Kara Wilkes and Dustin Layton are almost impossibly romantic. She floats along as if gravity has given up on her, and he – doing a lot of the work making her look that way – never lets any sign of effort ruffle his gallantry. Rebecca Carmazzi and Sasha Janes sling each other through “That's Life” even more tempestuously than they did when NCDT first performed the “Sinatra Songs” in 2007.

Traci Gilchrest and David Ingram supply a little comedy by wobbling through the tipsy exertions of “One for My Baby.” Alessandra Ball and Justin VanWeest are a dual dynamo in “Forget Domani,” especially when they polish off a flourish exactly in time with the music. Flashiness at its best.

Ballet: There's nothing flashy about Alonzo King's “MAP,” even though the first section includes a pair of nimble women and the second is a gymnastic solo for a man. Arvo Pärt's music, with a violin in its forefront, is austere but passionate. So is King's choreography. There are three scenes of people wrapped up in their thoughts and feelings.

In the first, NCDT's Layton portrays a man who's weighed down by something inside him, pursuing his thoughts oblivious to those slinky women – until the sagging gets the better of him, and he allows them to literally push him offstage. Haunting.

As the man in the next episode, Addul Manzano, hurls himself through his scene, the absence of music lets his effort become audible as well as visible. Yet he's standing resolutely when the lights go out. In the finale, two couples embody anxiety, devotion and resignation, then exit – perhaps toward whatever awaited Layton.

…and bluegrass: During intermission, the Asheville bluegrass band Greasy Beans sets up at the foot of the stage, and its fiddle takes the place of Pärt's violin. After the players warm up with a few numbers, they propel NCDT into Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux's “Shindig.”

Bonnefoux's blend of ballet and kicking-up-heels Americana keeps the dancers as busy as a banjo player's digits. Flirtatious women tease the men. Five men show off their leaping, twirling vitality. Through all of it, the company combines down-home spirit with a precision and airiness that would be right at home in “Swan Lake.” So much for being the “other” athletes.