You might have expected the North Carolina Dance Theater to bring its Balanchine program to the Joyce. The company is, after all, directed by former New York City Ballet principal Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, assisted by two other onetime NYCB dancers: his wife, the unforgettable Patricia McBride, and Jerri Kumery. But the Joyce asked for one program, not two, and the 20-member, Charlotte-based troupe easily charmed the audience with its “Red Hot ‘n’ Bluegrass” bill. That a company can dance Alvin Ailey’s lush The River; Nicolo Fonte’s semi-dark “modern” piece, Brave!; and Bonnefoux’s Shindig, a classical take on a hoedown, and still have some Balanchines up its sleeve attests to versatility and openness as well as polished technique and performing verve.
The River, made for American Ballet Theatre in 1970, is as eclectic as Duke Ellington’s rich commissioned score for orchestra. The women are on pointe; men spring up into double air turns; two men pursue a spicy female with chains of pirouettes. But familiar Ailey moves abound. In the opening “Spring,” the elastic reachings of the superb Uri Sands (ex-Ailey) well up from the floor. In “Riba (Mainstream),” a mischievous loner (Jason Jacobs) bops along with Ellington, occasionally attaching himself to one of the two lines of dancers creating horizontal crosscurrents. Among the striking dancers, Nicholle-Rochelle delivers the spins of “Vortex” with aplomb, Mia Cunningham and Daniel Wiley are unaffectedly playful in “Giggling Rapids,” and Rebecca Carmazzi, whose clarity and delicacy fleetingly bring McBride to mind, is lovely with Sasha Janes in “Lake.”
Fonte’s piece starts promisingly. A man (Sands) walks in dim light while off in one far corner, clustering black-clad people seem to be standing on air. But as the lights come up, we see that they’re standing on stools. These figure mightily in all that follows—a display of strong, shifting shapes and flashy explosions. As the props are rearranged, taken away, and brought on again, we see snippets of behavior and emotion. But never does Fonte make it clear what all this movement is about. Nothing leads up to Jacobs’s wonderfully performed solo explosion, danced while delivering a supermarket tabloid speech about listening to his heart and declaring his love.
It’s a pleasure to get to Bonnefoux’s skillfully engineered dance party, with a live performance by the terrific bluegrass band the Greasy Beans. Like Balanchine’s Western Symphony, Bonnefoux’s Shindig delivers classical steps with a vernacular twang, plus bits of clogging and references to square dances. The atmosphere isn’t exactly bluegrass country, but a pleasantly generic balletic Americana. Watching, joining in friendly competitions, slapping their legs and stamping their feet, the dancers would look at home in Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo. But there’s no story—just a lot of smartly choreographed showing off and having fun. Carmazzi charms three hard-dancing men. Nicholle-Rochelle whips off fouettés interlarded with double pirouettes for a couple of appreciative guys, who then vault into a boisterous duet. All that’s missing is a slow section. Where’s that country waltz to sweeten the day as the sun goes down?
In cabaret there are no “musts.” We ask mainly that it be entertaining, and some of us like it offbeat and provocative. Larry Keigwin has his finger on our pulse, and his “Keigwin Kabaret: Channel Surfing” dishes up glamour, sex, music, and dance with kinky élan. In three very brief appearances (Channel 35), Larissa Velez cheerily shimmies and humps pillars, while the World Famous *BOB* offers a curiously poignant reverse strip. A sweet-faced blonde with ample figure and monumental breasts, she enters naked, then soberly and deliberately gets herself into corselet, panties, and heels, and sits there smiling prettily, letting us watch something far more intimate—the smile slowly fading into sadness.
Comedy Central is represented by the very funny Bradford Scobie. As the lumpily antic Dr. Donut, he coaxes us, shouts at us, and sings to us in various plummily British voices about his planned evil takeover of the world, and lures a spectator up on stage for a clandestine smoke. The Love Boat‘s theme music introduces Keigwin and Hilary Clark in tennis whites, quickstepping and tumbling with manic glee to open and close the show.
The stunning evolving video patterns projected in Rendered (by Nicole Wolcott with Bruna de Araujo and Andy Personette) outdo TV as they trap and embellish Naoko Kikuchi’s dancing body. Keigwin presents some pretty serious work. His Female Portrait #4 features Clark, a substantially built woman who dances this portrait of lonely frustration with a soft, abandoned power. Julian Barnett’s Float, performed by the choreographer and Isadora Wolfe, is a stylishly designed and gripping little piece. The two are most often in unison, but there are intimations of collapse and competition in the skewed movement, and wrenching attempts at the end to lip-synch and sing. Keigwin’s wonderful Straight Duet, in which he and Wolcott bounce on and off a large mattress in a sensitive vision of conjugal dysfunction (while, ironically, Cecilia Bartoli sings the delirious “O mio sposo”), has been augmented: a solitary solo for him, one for her with the mattress as a comforting wall, and a fine trio (Three Ways) on the bed for Keigwin, Kevin Scarpin, and Jimmy Everett. Keigwin has a gift for creating subtle interactions—acrobatics of body and heart amid the fun.