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NCSU Center Stage, the performing arts program at NC State University, once again proved its importance as a presenter of modern dance in the Triangle with its February 2 program by Philadanco (The Philadelphia Dance Company). Center Stage always includes a couple of excellent companies in its Stewart Theatre schedule each year, and there are few other venues in the area so well suited for viewing small-to-medium-sized dance troupes unburdened with complex technical requirements. Stewart is both well-raked and intimate, and it rewards audiences for dance with good sightlines and a sense of connection with the performers.
Philadanco's youthful but seasoned current troupe (the company was founded in 1970 and many dancers have carried its banner) dazzled with four works. Opening with the joyous, elastic, leaping lines of "Labess II," choreographed by David Brown, the dancers quickly communicated that this is a company with open hearts and dazzling physical abilities. There are no small movements in their fascinating amalgam of ballet, modern, jazz, and African styles. All is bold and open — outflung arms, wide-kicked legs — and without apology or subterfuge. Danced by four women and three men in simple burgundy tunics to the music of Zap Mama, an Afro-Euro female a cappella ensemble, the piece reminds us that life is something much better than the daily struggles that often subsume us.
Second on the program was a 2005 work by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, whose most recent work for the Carolina Ballet can be seen in its forthcoming Shakespeare Suite (see our calendar for details). "Everything is Everything" is set to several songs by Lauryn Hill. I found the hip-hop slightly too dilute, and the Broadway show tune style a little too strong in the first sections. But the center piece, a duet danced by Bellamy Eure and Warren B. Griffin, III, to Hill's "Nothing Really Matters," was completely lovely. The sassy moves by Dawn Marie Watson in "Every Ghetto — Every City" were captivating, the final "Everything is Everything" was also strong, and the whole piece had a beautiful sense of structure and balance that slight weaknesses in the first sections do not obviate.
Following intermission came a gorgeous piece of choreography by Ronald K. Brown, set to music by Wunmi Olaiya. This dance is very beautiful, and watching it was like being in a wonderful dream where the past is not lost, the future is not frightening, and the present is as rich with color and texture as an embroidered Kashmir shawl. I experienced a great upwelling of hope, one of the great gifts of great art.
The evening's finale was an astonishing work by former Alvin Ailey dancer Christopher L. Huggins, who is now artist-in-residence with Philadanco. It is unusual in its extreme formal rigor, the severity of which is heightened by the militaresque black costumes by Natasha Guruleva. "Enemy Behind the Gates" is set to driving, pulsing music by Steve Reich that contains elements of both threat and seduction. But it is the sweeping, supercharged motions, the flying leaps and snapping pirouettes, and the extraordinary pattern making that rivet the viewer far more than the putative post-9/11 content about enemies in our midst. Who can care for enemies when there is dancing like this to be seen?