The North Carolina Dance Festival's began its 26th annual tour around the state in Meredith College's Jones Auditorium on September 10. This year's program, which will travel to Boone and Greensboro in October and November, includes seven short works by choreographers working in North Carolina.
At least one of the dances, Renay Aumiller's (on the dance faculty at Elon University) Blood Moon, which closed the evening, was a truncated version of the original. Aumiller first presented Blood Moon in 2015, at (the now defunct) Cordoba Center for the Arts in Durham, where it ran for 45 minutes and included a great deal of aerial work for the five female dancers. (See a review of that premier here.) At Meredith, it was reduced by about two-thirds, and there were no aerial components. Although its power was seriously diminished, it was still a good example of Aumiller's compelling movement language, with which she speaks so strongly of female powers in the tides and cycles of time. Her mesmerizing rhythmic swaying (music by Dave Yarwood) in wide-legged deep pliés is highly effective, and this brief excerpt also included the "elephant" section, in which two of the dancers move on hands and knees, backs as straight and level as tables, each carrying a standing dancer, beautifully balanced. It says a good deal about the increasing strength of the dance scene in North Carolina that Aumiller was able to reprise this work with only two of her original five dancers, with no diminution in the quality of the dancing.
The most pleasing work of the evening came from Lindsey Kelley Brewer of Asheville, who both choreographed and danced that happened, now onward, set to music by Asheville composer Marley Carroll. The work opens with the dancer prone upstage, partially buried by a pile of crumpled detritus, her long curly hair seemingly one with the crushed plastic. Gradually she stirs and pulls herself out and up – and commences a long passage of sensuous, fully committed dancing around and through more piles of trash, destroying them all as her lovely chiffon tunic (Shelia Kelley) floats around her powerful legs. At the end, she lifts and drinks deep from a bowl, before moving purposefully into the wings. The piece was fresh and honest and slightly surprising from beginning to end.
It made an interesting contrast to Ann Ludwig's work, Three Takes, which had been danced in the first half of the program, by Alyson Colwell-Waber (Meredith dance faculty, and longtime artistic associate of the choreographer). Whereas Brewer's piece exhibited the resilience of youth, Ludwig's work was a mature examination of options that might have been chosen. The dancer seemed not regretful, not nostalgic, but curious in a resigned and distanced sort of way, though still spirited. Colwell-Waber danced with a rolling rectangular portal: a window, perhaps onto might-have-been, but ultimately a door. The choreography, set to bits of S. Erlich's Bavarian March, Jazz Me Blues by Tom Delaney, and Bach's Flute Sonata in E-flat, was not spectacular but was quietly expressive, with particularly telling hand gestures.
E.E. Balcos' (dance faculty, UNC-Charlotte) duet with Tai Dorn, Forward/Rewind, also looked to the past. A pretty, romantic piece with a slightly noir tone, it was set to music by Bernard Herrmann. The dancers whirl to the difficult end of their relationship, then the piece resets to show the story of their romance from the beginning to the middle. There was some very nice dancing.
When the Bough Breaks, by Kristi Vincent Johnson (dance faculty, NCCU), for three female dancers, and set to unspecified music by Philip Glass, managed to be both obvious and unclear. The women were dressed in black shorts and tops, with knee-length tunics in front. In frontal view, they looked runic, or like the Three Fates; in back view, they looked like strong bicyclists. There was a great deal of baby-holding mime and rocking movement; eventually the cradle does fall. The piece felt like a fragment of a larger work, perhaps one that has not yet been made.
The evening also included two rather dry pieces. Phasings, by Eric Mullis, and Dislocate, by Sarah Council, were both based in theory and concept, the weight of which seemed to have pressed all the life out of them. Both works were well constructed and included skilled dancing – but neither had any affect. The third and final section of Phasings (created on the Merce Cunningham model, but without the wit) almost took fire: i.e., it became possible to see humans in the dancers, rather than automatons. However, Dislocate was so heavily burdened by its social message on refugees, its lack of choreographic invention, and its terrible hissing audio interview material, that it could barely drag itself to the end of the music (Mike Wall). All artistic explorations are valid – but dance really does do some things better than others.