The North Carolina Dance Festival, now celebrating its 20th year of presenting North Carolina choreographers and dancers through the larger North Carolina Dance Project, brought its 2010-2011 tour to Meredith College’s Jones Auditorium January 28-30, offering an interesting selection of dance-makers from around the state. The Friday and Saturday programs varied somewhat in content; the Sunday program was a children’s festival. The tour’s last stop for the season will be Feb. 4-6 in Wilmington, where the program will include some but not all of the dances seen in Raleigh.
The presentation on the 29th did not have the audience it deserved, although it opened with a solo by Ashley Suttlar Martin (4thrightdance) that, due to technical audio problems, was a little more irritating than engrossing. Like the other dancers who spent a lot of time on the floor, Martin’s dancing in “In the Sole” was not well served by the shallow rake of Jones Auditorium - the dancer kept disappearing behind audience heads. Striking in the first half was a sprightly dance for four by Charlotte choreographer E.E. Balcos for his company, E.E. Motion. (Balcos and his male dancer were the only men performing throughout this evening.) The choreography of “Soul Intent” required a charming springiness from the dancers, and there was a continually interesting flow and interchange among them - which, since they were mostly upright, we could see. The partnering was not terribly demanding, but nonetheless graceful.
Carol Finley’s “Funeral Spell” closed the first half. A smart, stage-filling dance for eight women, it was an amusing cross between the parasol scene in Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations,” and the funeral scene in the film Steel Magnolias. It was also touching in its portrayal of the way women make room for mourning, and the way the catch and cradle and contain the mourner before she spins into solitary madness.
After intermission came a lively, sassy work by Autumn Mist Belk for Code f.a.d. Company. “Coiffure” features three women in soft smocks, very obviously in a beauty shop. Belk has successfully translated the everyday actions of this setting into a very funny and sweet dance set to Vivaldi (CRV 425). Like Finley’s work, “Coiffure” reminds us that all of life can be danced.
“Words Apart,” by Cara Hagan for 87 Dance Productions - danced by Hagan and her twin sister, Mackenzie Hagan - takes on real life in a very different way. Instead of music, there are several compelling stories recorded (clearly) by the Storyline Project of Winston-Salem. Cara Hagan has a magnificent body, her movement is at once clean-lined and voluptuous, and her choreography had many striking moments. However, the stories were so powerful that at times they overtook our interest, turning the dance into a kind of background visual.
The evening closed with “Strega Stories Part II - REVOLT,” by Natalie Marrone and the Dance Cure. Set to “Musicntica” with Roberto Catalano and Enzo Fina, this five-woman dance conveys the transfer of southern Italian women’s folk-healing practices into American format. The good witches (the Strege) dance first to the sounds of traditional Sicilian instruments; the sound then morphs into drum-driven hip-hop. The lighting design was strong and spooky (Cailen Waddell did lighting for all the pieces); Angela Porterfield’s costumes are wonderful, and whoever did the dancers’ hair should have gotten a special mention. These strege make you want to get out your grandmother’s home remedies and let your hair run wild while joining in the Dance Cure.