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Byron Woods 

Scratch and sniff

You know, folks, sometimes it's just too easy. In assessing regional dance coverage, there's just no topping The News and Observer's own visual metaphor, which graced the front of the Dec. 28 Arts & Entertainment section devoted to the year's best in the arts. The full-page graphic for the story "It's a Wrap" was the paper's own A&E section--wrapped around the body of a dead fish.

Call it truth in advertising: The image would describe that issue's only use for area dancegoers, since there was no coverage of the year in dance, alongside featured critical superlatives in theater, film, music and television.

If some of the best new dance in the United States hadn't premiered here in 2003, the lapse would be merely an embarrassment.

But when Shen Wei's Rite of Spring and Maguy Marin's One Can't Eat Applause made both our year's best list and that very short list at The New York Times, and when regional choreographers remained invisible in Raleigh while winning national honors in 2003, it was obvious that the N&O had missed a series of critical developments last year. Along with its readers, of course.

What's even more embarrassing, the "missing in action" story in the same edition of the N&O discussed significant absences in the arts in 2003--somehow without commenting on the paper's own far-too-absent coverage.

Meanwhile, the Herald-Sun's year's-best lists in tv, film, music and books--all syndicated--shed no light at all on local arts.

But a new year calls for optimism. Maybe this will be the year that regional dance gets regular coverage. Perhaps critics actually knowledgeable in modern dance--and not just grinding axes because it isn't ballet--will be free to see and write about the world-class works we see first and produce. Maybe Carolina Ballet will receive meaningful, critical review.

In some paper other than The Independent, that is.

Just to help the competition out, here are the profiles on upcoming shows too significant to miss. Call it a checklist, for those out there keeping score:

Culture Crawl, Friday, Jan. 16, Wellness Partners in the Arts, Durham:

This exciting new series of performances in an immaculate downtown Durham space escalates affairs this month, with dance samplings from Choreo Collective and a theatrical hors-d'oeuvre from Ghost & Spice Productions--a taste from their upcoming production of Shirley Valentine. 732-1640.

African American Dance Ensemble, Saturday, Jan. 17, Enloe High School, Raleigh:

This free (!) concert caps a three-year residency in eastern Wake County, and features the emergence of Community African Arts Teachers, a group trained by Ensemble members in the dance, art, music and storytelling of the African continent. 839-1498, extension 230.

Choreo Dance Sampler, Sunday, Jan. 18, PSI Theater, Durham Arts Council:

Choreo Collective enjoys pushing down boundaries in its yearly Winter invitationals, exploring more of what unites different dance forms than what separates them. In this year's big tent, Riverside hip-hop shares the program with Scottish dance from Cary, and Footnotes Tap splits the bill with Cai Flamenco. Choreographer Laura Thomasson furthers her summer duet with Maria Laudati-Welsh from the American Dance Festival, while Jodi Obeid restages her docu-dance about Alzheimers' disease, Pieces of Mind.

But fans of the Transactors' brand of instant theater might want to start prepping their adverbs now, to use during the Choreo's own "Weavers" improvisation--a work in which audience suggestions determine the duration, direction and quality of different movements. 260-8043.

Whoever Finds This, I Love You, Anima Dance, Saturday, Jan. 24, PSI Theater, Durham Arts Council, 3 & 8 p.m.: "I got the idea while traveling in London last summer," choreographer Rachel Brooker says. While studying tanzteatre at the Laban Center, she says, "I was really noticing twin sensations. I was feeling lonely and very far away from everyone I knew, but at the same time I felt very connected with strangers and the people around me, everyone I was making dance with." Loneliness, instantaneous connection in transit, and Lowell Siff's enigmatic book, Love, make up the themes in this new work Brooker performs with Jodi Obeid and musician Amelia Burch from the band Roxotica. 560-2787.

Ailey II, Sunday, Jan. 25, Page Auditorium, Duke University:

Second-string--and anything but second-class, particularly if you go by Jennifer Dunning's Dec. 26 profile in The New York Times. Under legends Sylvia Waters and Judith Jamison, the "farm team" to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has regularly produced some of the hungriest and edgiest young dancers in the business in recent years. The company's reputation has been on the ascent as a result: we see them before the company's first season at the Joyce, New York's home church of modern dance. Not too shabby for a buncha dance students. 684-4444 or www.tickets.duke.edu.

North Carolina Dance Festival, Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 29-31, Meredith College:

A dizzying calvalcade from coast to mountains--three full showcase nights featuring some of the best in North Carolina dance. Locals liberally represented, with good reason. More details as this approaches? Oh, I think so. 760-2840.

How he got that gig: Kenny Gannon, who heads the theater program at Peace College, heard that his father was going to a dinner honoring Georgia author Ferrol Sams at Mercer College. "I told him to ask him if I could do a reading of Run with the Horsemen, for a benefit," he recalls. He did. Sams agreed. And that's how Gannon got permission to perform five stories from the novel next Monday, Jan. 12, at Peace College.

"It's the Piedmont of Georgia, which is basically where I'm from," says Gannon, who describes Sams as "more than Huckleberry Finn and not quite Catcher in the Rye. He's sort of there in between Tom Sawyer and Holden Caulfield."

Sams' tales of a bright young boy growing up on a Georgia farm during the Depression mix the biblical with the vulgar, darkness with light. In Gannon's staged reading, Sams' character, Porter Osborne, finds disaster in a recalcitrant mule, gets saved at a revival and rides a horse through the house. Gannon will also recount Osborne's defending his sister from a schoolyard bully and delivering the Patrick Henry speech in a high school declamation contest.

The performance is a benefit for the Peace College Theater Program. One show only, next Monday night.

We close this time with a correction and apology. Alan Criswell's name was inadvertently omitted from the cast of The Price, which took honors in the Best Ensembles category in our "Best of Theater 2003" story last week. Criswell's work as Gregory Solomon, an ancient antiques dealer called in to assesses the value of a roomful of memories, provided memorable moments of comic relief to Arthur Miller's family drama in the February-March production at Deep Dish Theater. EndBlock

OTHER NOTABLE OPENINGS:

Amelia Bedelia 4 Mayor, Kids Stuff, Carolina Theatre, Jan. 7; Lord of the Dance, Broadway Series South, BTI Center, Jan. 8-11; Howard Craft, Mouth Candy, Manbites Dog Theater, Jan. 10

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