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In addition to the widely known American Dance Festival held in Durham each summer, this state is also home to a peripatetic festival of local and regional dancers. The most recent performances of the North Carolina Dance Festival were held at Meredith College's Jones Auditorium January 28 and 29. The program on the 28th, I regret to say, was mostly mediocre, but boredom was relieved at the end by one splendid work.
The evening opened with Triptych Fleurs, choreographed by Karla Finger Coghill for her Sidelong Dance Company of Winston-Salem. Three female dancers successively perform little solos, working with minimal props. These include a hat-rack with a man's hat – the stand-in, I suppose, for the missing man. The first ("Une") opens with dancer Eleanor Tate slumped at a table in silk pajamas, drinking. For a woman left lonely, she was rather lacking in intensity. In "Trois," Meredith G. West performed a pretty but passionless samba. Best of the group was "Deux." Karla Finger Coghill has an unusual body for a dancer – thick and strong, it's what in former days might have been called a peasant body. She is powerful, subtle, and limber, but even she didn't bring fire to the piece.
Next up was Brenda Daniels in her "Moonlight" Sonata (set to a portion of Beethoven's music). The choreography was maddening, with all the movement trapped in a narrow rectangular box – a very poor use of the stage space. Daniels moves beautifully, but her line was obscured by her loose pants and top. It all was terribly polite and unrevealing.
Worse yet was Kitchen Stories, by Carol Finley and her Meredith student dancers. I don't think I've ever seen a dance with more ugly positions and images. And it was not a purposeful ugliness, with an aesthetic purpose, but the casual, inattentive kind, compounded by harsh lighting and rigid linear relationships with the proscenium. The strange mix of kitchen gear and activities with those of softball games was baffling. One doesn't want to be too hard on the students. But having just seen the equally young dancers of Hubbard Street 2, it was impossible not to feel that everyone here could have been trying a little harder.
Conversations with the Father, choreographed and danced by Robin Gee, had more going on but was not particularly successful, either. First of all, it opened with hugely projected bad video of children in Africa, dancing spontaneously in various situations – charming images, what one could see of them among the pixelation. And I never did understand the video's relationship to any of the dancing. Gee's opening dance sequence, however, was gorgeous. She's on the floor and we see her only from the back for most of the dance, while she moves with mesmerizing slowness through a series of lovely images. Then follows a section with no music during which she flits around and talks, but not loudly enough to be heard clearly. The third section jittered along, arbitrary and interrupted. Although this was billed as one work, it was more like four (including the video), and three of them should have been left out.
Fortunately, the strongest work on the program was saved for last, so one didn't go away completely disgusted. This was Pasajera la lluvia (which translates roughly as Passing Rain), by Nelson Reyes of the Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre. This beautiful work for two males, made by Reyes in 1997, is about the gay life in his home province of Holguín, Cuba. Here he was accompanied by Rudy Candia, from the Carolina Ballet. I've always enjoyed Candia's dancing, but it was a revelation to see how sensuously he moves outside the strictures of the ballet. At once elegant, nostalgic, humorous, poignant, and hopeful, the Pasajera la lluvia presents its range of emotions by the subtlest of means, and through the strikingly original use of two umbrellas – one covered, one whose steel skeleton twirls and winks like a gentle flirt along the promenade. This is the quality of dance one would like to become accustomed to seeing at the North Carolina Dance Festival.