North Carolina Dance Theatre threw a glittering gala for the grand opening of its new performance home, the handsome Knight Theater, in Charlotte’s evolving high culture zone. The Knight comprises, with the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts and Culture, and the Mint Museum’s craft, design and contemporary wing (to open in October), the Wells Fargo Cultural Campus on South Tryon Street. The gala opening of the Knight celebrated not only the fulfillment of the dance company’s need for an appropriately-sized theater (1,200 seats), but the remarkable civic achievement of the $83 million Campaign for Cultural Facilities that made this complex possible.
The 500 of NCDT’s most ardent admirers who began the party with drinks and dinner were joined by another 200 who came for the dancing. The performance included six short works or excerpts, and two bouts of live auctioneering to raise yet more money for NCDT. Painter Herb Jackson of Davidson had created a painting, “Pas de Deux,” especially for the auction; it sparked the most spirited bidding and brought the highest price — $17,000. Between the raucous auctions, the audience settled down to happy murmuring during the best of the dances.
One aspect of NCDT that makes it such a dynamic company is the obvious joy the dancers take in their work. Outstanding in that regard were Alessandra Ball and Addul Manzano, who gave a lovely, smile-filled performance of Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Both dancers were in fine form, but the sylph-like Ball was almost flying, floating into and out of Manzano’s arms with intoxicating grace. Their turns were crisp, their line fluid, and their timing almost preternaturally perfect.
Timing was equally good and chemistry even better between Sasha Janes and Rebecca Carmazzi in Janes’ beautiful pas de deux, Lascia la Spina, Cogli la Rosa, set to the Handel song. The music was performed live here by members of the Charlotte Symphony and Amy Van Looy, mezzo-soprano from Opera Carolina. The live music gave us a chance to judge the acoustics in the Knight — it sounded good from where I was sitting, not super-crisp, but warm and clear. Janes and Carmazzi were ravishing in this inventive dance of love and roses, with its unexpected shapes and unusual lifts. It is rather erotic, but at the same time, clean and velvety as fresh rose petals.
The segment of Janes’ more recent Glass Houses that opened the evening was less successful. The work’s ideas did not have a chance to come across in such a short fragment. The following piece, At Knight, by Mark Diamond, fell a little short, too. Unlike Glass Houses, it doesn’t struggle under the weight of its own ideas, instead being rather a cream puff made for pure enjoyment. It is impossible not to enjoy David Russell playing Bach violin music on stage, or Anna Gerberich in airy chiffon ruffles, or Justin Van Weest in poet’s shirt, dark red tights and matching soft boots. But the dancers didn’t seem to have their timing tightened up, nor did they seem all that interested in each other.
The final two selections were quite different. I could watch powerful Traci Gilchrist and intense David Ingram dance together all night, especially in something dark and demanding like Alonzo King’s MAP — but we only got a short snack of this great work (set to music by Arvo Part). However, any frustration was swept away by the chords of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Love Struck Baby,” as five dancers ready to party erupted on stage for one song from Dwight Rhoden’s well-loved Moody Booty Blues. After that, it became impossible to separate performers from audience: the stage was overtaken by a live band, and filled with tuxedoes and silk dresses, as the gala-goers continued to Light the Knight.