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The North Carolina Dance Theatre once again demonstrated its amazing range in the Belk Theater during a matinee performance of the first program of its 2006-2007 season. The company’s dancers are very, very strong physically, and almost preternaturally flexible, both in their bodies and in their minds. They can perform with equal panache in the style of the Paris Opera Ballet, in that of Balanchine, and in that of the hot younger choreographer Dwight Rhoden, who is now resident choreographer for NCDT.
Rhoden’s dances are not pretty. They sometimes find the edge of ugly. But they are powerful, thrilling, and unforgettable. Looking at the program before hand, I thought: This is clever. They are going to dance a new Rhoden work before Cinderella. It will be like having a slightly bitter aperitif preceding a rich blanquette de veau. It was. And the sophisticated combination was probably appreciated as such by the evening audiences. At the matinee, however, the curtain rose on Rhoden’s bare stage and industrial lighting to a sustained chorus of outrage from the under-6 set.
I’ve always enjoyed matinees. One expects, naturally, with children there, more audible responses, more wiggling, and certainly more dancing in the aisles during intermissions. These children, however, clearly felt they had been tricked; they were bored and many of them proceeded to behave as if at home in the TV room, talking incessantly, clambering up and down, crinkling candy wrappers. There wasn’t an usher in sight to keep order. By the time Cinderella began in the second half of the program, the children had already been there too long, and their behavior was not much better during that dance. I can’t really fault them. The blame falls on their adults, who neither took them out nor controlled them. It is shared by NCDT, which promoted the matinee to children. At the very least, the managers could have reversed the program, so that the irate children could have been taken home after Cinderella. As it was, the entire performance was most unsatisfactory for anyone who expected to be able to listen to the music and lose herself in the dancing.
Insofar as I could tell, Rhoden’s new work, Tantrum, was fantastic. Both the choreographer's conception of the work and the dancing itself were excitingly musical. Rhoden combined the Ciaccona from J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Major (BWV 1004, the Hilary Hahn recording) and his Chromatic Fantasy (the Glenn Gould recording), and brought out a muscularity in the music that I hadn’t before perceived. The six women and four men were barelegged and in soft shoes, and they worked the pull-pull-push of the music to its full extent, and the choreography emphasized the rationality of Bach’s structures with its tough matter-of-factness. There was plenty of feeling in the dancing, but as in the music, no easy sentiment.
At times, the dancing provided visual and kinetic translations for the sound structure. Dancers paired, then, walking and trotting briskly, moved on to new combinations. Angular sculptural forms were built in the air, with bodies moving over and under, legs and arms wrapping and twining. Dancers leapt as if magnetized into full contact with others, then split explosively apart as the compelling current reversed. Everyone was dancing very well, but Nicholle Rochelle and Sasha Janes were particularly fine, as were the company’s two dazzling new men, Addul Manzano and Randolph Ward. I hope to be able to see this work again under better circumstances, as it will clearly reward repeated viewings.
Artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux has created a charming version of Cinderella (with additional choreography by Mark Diamond and Michael Vernon) set to Sergei Prokofiev’s grand music (Op. 87). The dancing included a rich mix of movements varying in scale, from grand forms to small steps which are like embroidered details. The sets by Alain Vaes were tremendous—there is a rolling coach!—and the costumes by A. Christina Giannini were glorious and quite inventive. The production also makes very clever use of large puppets. Visually, the entire show is very pleasing.
Rebecca Carmazzi made a lovely Cinderella, playing her as subdued but not downtrodden, gaining our respect rather than our pity with her cleverness and goodness. She was beautifully matched by Vladimir Lut as the Prince. That these two could appear completely fresh in their roles after their exertions in Tantrum is a testament to their strength as dancers. Ayisha McMillan and Traci Gilchrest as the stepsisters, and Mark Diamond as the stepmother, were a hoot! I particularly enjoyed the dance of the fairies, with the appearance of many little woodland animals from the School of the NCDT. Once again, I found the grace and skill of these young dancers very impressive.
Sadly, I was unable to enjoy the glorious final pas de deux for Cinderella and the Prince. There was a little girl bumping her butt against my shoulder as she (back to stage) loudly and repeatedly spoke to her mother. My request for quiet won me about 15 seconds of music—and the astonishment of being chewed out by another woman when the lights went up. Apparently, it was horrible and rude of me to ask children to be quiet, and not only that, it seems that matinees are now known to be the province of unmannered children and no adult should attend who expects to hear the music. I doubt she was correct on either count. Clearly, however, at least in Charlotte, someone needs to bring some clarity to the issue, for the benefit both of the children and of the theater-goers who’ve made considerable effort to attend with the reasonable expectation of being able to fully experience the artwork.