NCSU's performing arts program does not have the fine new facilities with up-to-date technical capabilities that UNC has, but Center Stage consistently presents an interesting roster of shows in Stewart Theater each academic year, and always includes among the offerings at least two dance concerts by touring companies. The first of these this year was nicholasleichterdance of New York, a now not-so-young company with hip-hop roots that was last seen in the Triangle in 2005.
Nicholas Leichter, like many a choreographer before him, has felt compelled to create his own dance set to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. It has gotten where I quail when I hear this, because the urge to claim this music, and make something fresh, individual, up-to-date, often leads choreographers into some overwrought efforts, and to some distasteful results. Leichter's version, which premiered earlier this year, is not, to put it mildly, his most compelling work. Although a Brooklyn critic called it "mesmerizing," it might more accurately be described as hypnotically boring.
Leichter has tried to hang his dance on a concept involving the struggle of the workers, and he has clothed his dancers in hideous coveralls. These very successfully obscure their bodies, masking all nuance of motion and removing the possibility of the dancers generating clean lines or clear shapes. It is possible that the choreography would have looked better if one could have seen more of it, but it certainly did not do justice to the grand roller-coaster ride of that music. It pretty much stayed at the same emotional level and physical tempo throughout, and lacked the embroidered detailing among the brash notes that makes Stravinsky’s Rite so endlessly intriguing.
Leichter then reprised his "Animal," from 1997. I had remembered this piece as lively and amusing, if somewhat slight. This time it just seemed annoying, and I began to suspect that maybe the company was having an off night. It happens to everyone.
"Undertow," from 2000, was the strongest work on the program. A quartet for men, it is set to music by Bjork. Here we could see sequences that Leichter lifted whole for his Rite, but they were far more compelling in "Undertow," where you could see the bodies much better (men in skirts!). This is Leichter's home emotional territory, I think — a world of intangible forces pulling and pushing, flipping and spinning those in whom they dwell.
The program closed with "Free the Angels," from 2001, set to music by Stevie Wonder. Again, when I'd seen this piece previously, it had elicited a strong response — but this performance didn't have the zing or clarity I'd remembered. And what is this thing people are into now of turning on klieg lights to silhouette the dancers — and blind the audience? That sours me on a piece in a heartbeat.
It must be very hard to tour on the college circuit, dancing in strange halls, mostly for people to whom this is all very new and a little peculiar. It is no wonder that on some nights the magic doesn't happen. That is part of the thrill of live theater — you just never know how it will be. I'll look forward to seeing the good stuff again from Leichter — but I hope he drops those backlights.