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Review: Dance Theatre looks at art, life

By Steven Brown
sbrown@charlotteobserver.com

A theme underlies “Glass Houses.” But there's probably no need to know that to feel the pull of the piece – the last of five in N.C. Dance Theatre's Innovative Works program, which opened Thursday.

Choreographer Sasha Janes' new work is an essay on the human connections – or the flimsiness thereof – that Internet users make when they broadcast their lives' details through Facebook and other social media. He sees the dancer at the center as someone who longs for deeper connections than the Web can weave.

When the first glimmers of light strike the Booth Playhouse stage, she's rocking gently on a swing. Brighter light reveals that it hangs from a two-story-high metal framework – a sculpture by Winthrop University teacher Shaun Cassidy. Five more dancers are resting in and on it, not that she notices: As she swings, she's aiming away.

Whether she's frustrated with Facebook or feels some other urge isn't so important. The yearning she embodies is the foundation of the 20-minute “Glass Houses.” Will she ever break free?

As the other dancers come to life – and even after another 10 fill the stage – she never really joins into their world of amours and anxieties. Others pair up, and one man draws her from her swing. But their pas de deux leads to no embrace. When she occasionally joins in with the others' revelries, she moves away again soon.

Thursday, Rebecca Carmazzi showed in those extroverted moments that the pensive woman could be as lively as anyone else when she wanted. Yet Carmazzi's aimed-inward intensity was really what made “Glass Houses” crystallize. When Janes' choreography was at its quietest, she retreated behind a curtain without leaving our sight.

Mark Diamond's “Matisse,” the show's other premiere, is a fantasy about the French painter and the women in a few of his better-known paintings. Even the semi-abstract woman curled into his “Blue Nude” becomes three-dimensional, and five women in terra-cotta-colored tights have a frolic that ends with a freeze-frame re-enactment of “The Dance.”

Dustin Layton plays Matisse. His meditativeness, energy and flashes of romantic desire make an engaging portrait of the artist, whether or not the real one was a young man at the times in question. Traci Gilchrest and Mary Ellen Beaudreau capture the silky allure of two of his feminine inspirations. Kara Wilkes does an exotic turn as the Blue Nude – though Blue Tights would be more exact, since NCDT has costumed her for Charlotte, not Paris.

The rest of the program consists of revivals. In “Moody Booty Blues,” Dwight Rhoden's choreography is as fiery as a blues man's guitar licks and as earthy as a juke joint. Diamond's “There Again, Not Slowly” transplants ballet's leaps and turns into a 1990s club with the help of electronic dance music. The dancers tear into all of it – especially the earthiness of “Moody Booty Blues,” where Carmazzi and Anna Gerberich are a swagger-for-swagger match for Layton, Justin VanWeeest and Addul Manzano.

Uri Sands' “Tearing for a Cure” is another work with a theme: the campaigns that use colored ribbons to symbolize causes. As with “Glass Houses,” though, feeling the impact doesn't demands knowing that.

Sands, a former NCDT dancer, shows us a series of three couples. With each of them, their tenderness or exuberance gives way as one partner in each begins to sink. Though the dancers are very active, the music is slow and passionate. It seems to say: See what they go through, and let your hearts go out to them. The dancers' fervor takes care of the rest.