As befits an adventurous dance company, North Carolina Dance Theatre presents a program each season called Innovative Works, in which the dancers can explore the far reaches and strange cul-de-sacs of contemporary ballet. This year’s program, which will repeat Nov. 8-10 (with cast changes) in the Booth Playhouse of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, features a beautiful pas de deux by company member Sasha Janes, two short works by Dwight Rhoden, one each by Uri Sands and Mark Diamond, and — back by popular demand — opens with Nacho Duato’s glorious "Na Floresta," which formed the centerpiece of last spring’s Natural Beauty program.
Janes set his first professional choreography to an aria from Handel’s Rinaldo, as sung by Cecilia Bartoli, and set it on himself and ballerina Rebecca Carmazzi. "Lascia la Spina, Cogli la Rosa" is a showcase for their considerable talents. Strictly speaking, this is not a new work, having debuted at the Chautauqua Institute in 2006, and Janes and Carmazzi performed it in Manhattan with Configuration Dance this April. (It will be performed next spring at Indiana University’s Opera and Ballet Theater, as part of a program of dances set to songs.) Both Janes and Carmazzi are fascinating dancers combining, as they both do, a crystalline clarity in their line and shape-making with easy fluidity of motion. These physical qualities support an unforced and subtle emotional expressivity that is given full rein here in a dance of love all roses and no thorns. Carmazzi had been particularly notable for her vivid attack in her solo in "Na Floresta" earlier in the evening, and here she was incandescent. You couldn’t ask for better chemistry between the dancers. Janes is particularly good with overhead lifts, and perhaps the most innovative aspect of this pas de deux is his enrichment of the pattern of lifts with some done from a horizontal position, rather than a vertical. These result in interesting spiky shapes to punctuate the velvety flow of the more classical steps. As much as a dance, "Lascia la Spina, Cogli la Rosa" seems a declaration of passionate engagement with life’s beauty. If this is Janes’ manifesto, I think he will find many followers.
Mark Diamond’s view of love in his new work, "Endless Now," is not quite painless. Set to the first movement of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, it twins the joys of love with its trials, many of which come from grasping the thorns of greed and fear. Diamond is amazingly skilled at telling a story without getting too particular, allowing us to insert ourselves into the narrative. Danced by Sasha Janes and Alessandra Ball with Joseph Watson, this is a powerful little parable. Time passes like a dance — but like a dance, love can endure time’s passing if one lets it live always in the mind’s endless now. Diamond also designed the costumes, full unitards with delicate painted designs, and the slender Alessandra Ball was ravishing in hers. There is a moment when she rises on one white satin pointe shoe and raises the other leg, bent between her body and Janes’, then extends it to tap insistently against his shoulder, that is almost impossibly elegant and poignant. There are many other powerful moments, especially those that balance the opposing forces between the two men that make this a memorable dance.
Following this was the Uri Sands piece, "The Neighbors," set to several particularly dark and grim Tom Waits songs. From where I was sitting, the dance didn’t really jell, but that may have been because I couldn’t see a great deal of it — the dancers were often hidden by an enormous and enormously ugly armchair with its back to the audience. The chair had to be there, or somewhere, because it harbored David Ingram, the father figure in a dysfunctional family, who came bursting out of it with explosive motion as Kara Wilkes edged onto the stage working the music’s bass line with a hyper-concentrated drag and stamp sequence. There were a lot of good bits here, but as a whole, it could use more work.
Instead of one slam-bang grand finale of a Dwight Rhoden work, this program offers two short pieces by him. "Choke," for two male dancers, is set to music by Sergey Gordeev, and was danced on the 3rd by Randolph Ward and Addul Manzano in a dazzling display of contrasting styles and lime green bodysuits. Different but equal, they duel to an abrupt standstill. The evening’s final work was "Ave Maria," with the indefatigable Sasha Janes and the powerful Traci Gilchrest in a typically Rhodenesque torquing of a classic theme. He doesn’t disturb you just for the fun of it — I don’t think — but in order to make you think about things from a sharply different angle. Here the two dancers are wearing black cut-velvet loincloths (Gilchrest has a black bra, too) while moving to the lovely music by Caccini. You are still reeling from watching Gilchrest holding a lo-o-o-ng grand plié on pointe when you realize she’s risen, she’s falling back, she’s draped in Janes’ arms like a gender-reversed Pietá. The lights go down, and when they come back up, you find that your mind has just been renovated by these innovative works.