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Byron Woods 

The choreography of change

All premieres in one venue, all classics in another. The verifiable best of 20th-century ballet played in one house, while a handful of folks were busy working on the 21st just across town. If you weren't stretched in dance this weekend, it's because you weren't there.

Though the movement was impressive, the painterly tableaus and stage compositions stood out in particular during the Saturday performance of Carolina Ballet's

Balanchine Celebration I .

After Mikhail Nikitine's performance in Apollo on Saturday, a new religion just might be taking root in the Triangle. His stark, singular work in the lead role made believers of us all, as a potent, golden god--but one still beguiled by the evanescence of music.

To solve the riddle of the suggestive lyre he plucks at the work's beginning, he summons the three muses of drama, literature and music. Balanchine's stage imagery with this quartet is striking, from an initial coronation motif where the three confer deity on Apollo, to a shifting, pretzel-like construction of linked hands in mid-work. After solos for each muse, the god naturally selects Calliope, the patron of music, as his partner. After their lyrical pas de deux, the other muses return to stage, to ultimately form a breath-taking tableau at the end, three bellweathers, ever propelling Apollo forward, to the pensive--but unresolving--low strings of Stravinsky.

Though asymmetry dogged the corps at points in an opening Valse Fantasie added at the last minute, Gabor Kapin and Margaret Severin-Hansen proved the centerpiece of a moment seemingly lifted as much from art deco as Russian ballet in the work's closing moments.

We were impressed as well with the economical storytelling in Prodigal Son. When the father of the title character tries to join hands with his three siblings, Christopher Rudd's hand significantly flies out, pointing away and pulling his body from the group. Lara O'Brien later captures the cold, pragmatic sexuality of the temptress, Siren.

Balanchine's choreography here is not so much a sensual seduction as an exercise in raw, nearly mechanical sexuality, one that captures more the aesthetic of porn than erotica. It's clear that a more sophisticated mark might be in a position to refuse. But when the title character's a rube off the farm, he gets caught.

The last work, The Four Temperaments, slowly built from the austere architecture of its opening to a climactic assembling of the troops in the final moments, a closing manifesto, replete with grand jetes going off like fireworks all over stage.

The only major reservation I had with the performance involved the dubbed music, whose slightly muffled quality suggested the early recordings of Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Hindemith. In places, these gave Saturday's performance more of a distanced or aged effect than the choreographer himself might have wished.

Meanwhile, some of the region's most gifted modern dance choreographers invoked the right of return to provide a number of highlights during

Peace College Dance Company's 20th Anniversary Concert . Susan Quinn waited until leaving for New York to stage the strongest work we've ever seen from her, Veil. Light and shadow play a crucial part in this uneasy work, where on-stage couples playing see and speak no evil ultimately turn into a mutual blinding society to music by DJ Shadow. Impressive and chilly, to say the least--even though full commitment eluded the performers toward the kinetic end on Thursday night, robbing the collapses at the end and the final revelation of their dramatic potential.

Tiffany Rhynard's elliptical work "The Spaces Between Us" reminds me of the early films of Jane Campion. Apparently someone else admires it as well. It's part of a larger work, Little Demons, which Bebe Miller has invited Rhynard to perform in New York this spring.

Using admirably economical phrasing, Rhynard defines four different women in different situations. The most intriguing one clutches the edge of a red and black skirt with fists, while sidling forward, hugging the right side curtains on stage. Repeatedly she looks back to the other three, a knowing reference to a shamed or fallen women. If these characters can only see what separates them, the audience can see what joins them together.

Chrissy Pressley's Live from the Laundry Room closed the concert by merging washday demands with demented moves from the films of Esther Williams. Women in yellow latex gloves mocked bathing beauties while enacting improbable swim routines to original music by Jill Austin. Priceless.

Finally, this just in as we go to press: Chuck Davis, founder of the African American Dance Ensemble, will be honored as one of four recipients of the 2004 Dance Magazine Awards in April in New York City. The prestigious awards, which honor significant and continuing achievement in dance, lauded Davis' career since 1967 as a "dancer, teacher and mentor to virtually every black dance company in America." The awards ceremony will be held at Merkin Concert Hall on W. 67th St. at 5:30 p.m., April 26. EndBlock

Reviews & Openings

OTHER NOTABLE OPENINGS:
Kennedy's Children, DADA, Ringside, 308 W. Main St., Durham, Fri-Sat, Mar. 5-6, 401-6645 or rayonnantpductions@ hotmail.com; ZviDance, Center Stage, Stewart Theater, NCSU, Wednesday, Mar. 3, $27-$22, 515-1100.

REVIEWS:

***1/2 The Subject Was Roses, Playmakers Repertory Company--The son is back home from WWII--and the holding pattern in his parents' troubled marriage is quickly losing viability as a result. In Frank Gilroy's domestic drama (which took the Tony and the Pulitzer for best play in 1964), the members of a middle-class Irish Catholic family in the Bronx must assess the changes in one another since the war to find what is left of their family, and to determine what's possible now that wasn't before.

When curmudgeonly father John respects soldier son Timmy in a way he never had before, a tentative rapprochement develops between the two, but wife and mother Nettie's relationships with the two are more problematic. Yes, the permafrost between her and John is cracking open--but what will it be replaced with? How much can she cling to a son searching for his own independence?

As Timmy, Brandon Michael Smith sustains a delicate balance here: a young man coming into his own, forming new attachments with a father and negotiating long-time bonds with his mother, while simultaneously trying to establish his own autonomy in the world. Meanwhile, the chemistry between J. R. Horne and Tandy Cronyn as the estranged John and Nettie rings true as a couple divided by silence and pain.

At this point, Gilroy's script shows some signs of age. The effects of John's earlier alcoholism on the family are arguably invisible until abruptly introduced late in the second act, and the infidelity that torments Nettie ultimately remains little more than a one-line plot device.

But if the mechanics briefly flirt with melodrama, Gilroy's full characters redeem the work. At the end we're still intensely curious about what happens next to everyone on stage--a tribute to this production and script. (Tue-Sun through Mar. 21. $32-$10. 962-7529.)

*** Cold Kill, Playfactory, New World Stage--It just doesn't get much more "black box" than this: A single row of chairs surrounds a small square set on three sides, mere inches from the stage. That's how director Scott Pardue cannily places us inside a cabin in the Wyoming wilderness in the dead of winter and lets us see the relationships unfold, up close and personal. The two fun couples we meet there soon turn out to be anything but, on a wintry vacation that slowly reveals the subterfuge in each person's past and present agendas with each other. Tensions escalate appreciably.

As a Playfactory work, Terry Roueche's suspenseful work-in-progress script seems more accomplished than some recent entries. Though the author employs a predictable endgame at one point, he appears to wisely resist it in what still reads as a false "final" scene.

Torrey Lawrence possibly holds more sinister notes too much in check as Stephen, the group's sole mountaineer and host. Flynt Burton and regional newcomer Gigi DeLizza's casual catfight chemistry was delicious early on, as two women with apparent interests in the same man. Later, DeLizza had us cringing as her girly-girl character, Julie, proved to be as sexually clingy as only the pathologically insecure can be. Matt Bennett gives the production authority as Paul, a stand-up guy in a bad situation.

Those interested in participating in the Playfactory process should attend Saturday, when the playwright will workshop audience responses after the show. (Thu-Sun through Mar. 6. $10-$8. 929-2787.)

**1/2 A School for Scandal, NCSU University Theater--Was Sheridan an 18th-century predecessor to Noel Coward? Director Fred Gorelick made a strong case in a cunningly transposed production that closed Feb. 29--one that effectively transplanted the famous Restoration comedy into an upper-class England two centuries later. On one level, the premise merely gave this region's most gifted costumier, John McIlwee, permission to run amok. Here he imaginatively garbed students and guest artists in black and white variations on Dior's "New Look" of 1947--and put a presumptive lock on the 2004 Best Costume Design award in the process.

But smashing clothes alone do not a theater make. If low-down doings among the British upper-crust made the Sheridan-Coward parallel an easy sell, we weren't so easily convinced by several performances on stage. Guest artist Danny Norris naturally persuaded as Sir Peter Teazle, and Jon Pheloung was fine as his old friend Sir Oliver. Though Jackie Willse admirably kept the boys well in hand as Lady Teazle, her magnolia blossom accent in the stately homes of England seemed forever out of place. Mary Caudle's vocal deficits proved problematic as well as Maria.

Jeramy Blackford remained a bit too innocent the fratboy as a Joseph who should be always on the make, while a too sober Chad Goudy never embraced the dissipation of his brother, Charles. Though one could hardly find a broader gay stereotype than Ryan Miller's Mr. Crabtree, he ably filled out a catty choir of entertaining character assassins with Cory Livengood as Backbite, Susan Huckle as Sneerwell and Josh Parker as Snake.

We respect Gorelick's decision to serve the anti-Semitism in Sheridan's script straight up with no chaser, although the subplot involving a Jewish moneylender seemed particularly disconnected from an England immediately after WWII. Still, contemporary audiences have every right to judge Sheridan's work in toto and Gorelick's work let us.

Now if his characters were only as uniformly well-assembled as they were well-dressed, we'd have a five-star hit on our hands.

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