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The invisible dance?

Byron Woods 

The invisible dance?

This would regularly be the time of year when we'd have commentary on the latest innovations from the Durham-based Independent Dancemaker . In recent years, their annual showcase concerts have done more than most to bridge the gap between regional modern dance and the work we see each summer at the American Dance Festival.

Indeed, the group's roster of dancemakers had increasingly included representatives from each, as notable choreographers and dancers returned to Durham from New York and elsewhere--in February, not June--for the purpose of cross-pollinating with local artists. Last year's concert particularly saw choreographers of national repute finding local dancers to embody their ideas, while dancers at the top of their professional game found local choreographers they felt the need to work with more than once a year.

But if that concert showed promising artistic advances, it also indicated troubling developments closer to home. For the first time since the group's inception in 1996, the Dancemakers were denied use of the venerable Ark on Duke's East Campus.

A subsequent scramble to find performance space landed the group in the Carr dance studio of the Durham School of the Arts. As at the Ark, issues arose when what was clearly a rehearsal space was used for public performance, and problematic light and sound troubled performances the night I saw them.

Choreographers associated with N.C. School of the Arts, Meredith College and N.C. State were represented along with out-of-towners from New York. But where notables including Clay Taliaferro, Rebecca Hutchins and Carol Parker had presented work in recent years, no Duke-affiliated artists were showcased in last year's performance.

Choreographer Laura Thomasson, the only founding member still active with the group, co-produced last year's concert with choreographer Melissa Chris. When Chris, who recently married, was unavailable, Thomasson faced producing the 2004 edition by herself--and decided against it.

"There's a lot of work to putting on a show," Thomasson notes. "It's a lot of hats: dancer, choreographer, producer. With a group of people handling everything it's manageable, but with just two of us it was a lot of work.

"I didn't want to go backwards, and I didn't want to change who we are," she says. "I want Independent Dancemakers to remain professional, with professional choreographers and dancers. There are other experimental groups out there, but I think of Independent Dancemakers as having more established, more experienced people being involved with it."

New York choreographer Jennifer Nugent and Sean and B. J. Sullivan from UNC-Greensboro and the North Carolina School of the Arts had expressed interest in performing this year. "But they'd be guest artists again, and I want a group of local people who are committed to this," says Thomasson.

Presently, Thomasson is completing work on a dance studio at her new home while finishing a commissioned work for Cornelia Lee to take to the VSA Arts Conference at Kennedy Center in April. "I really want to focus on my own work at this point," she says.

The future of the Independent Dancemakers involves regrouping and finding the right people to take the mission forward. She has her eye on several candidates. "This year I'm going to get out, watch more dance and see who I think would fit."

Those interested in advancing what in recent years has been one of the region's most accomplished modern dance organizations can contact Thomasson at lstme@mindspring.com.

If the American Dance Festival still is playing coy about their 2004 summer season, the historic competition at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in western Massachusetts isn't. Those curious how the other half dances will see Brazilian-influenced Grupo Corpo June 23-27, and Paul Taylor and ZviDance (just at N.C. State) June 30-July 4. Spain's Compania Nacional de Danza 2 headlines with the U.S. debut of New Danish Dance Theater July 7-11. July 14-18 sees Lar Lubovitch getting out of New York for a change, and a program by African-American supergroup Paradigm, a trio composed of Carmen DeLavallade, Gus Solomons Jr. and Alvin Ailey star Dudley Williams.

Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal visit with Lakshmi Vishwanathan July 21-25, and Israel's Batsheva Dance Company arrives with Robert Moses' Kin July 28-Aug. 1. New York City Ballet's Peter Boal brings his new company the same week Broadway's Chet Walker presents Jazz on Jazz, Aug. 5-8.

New Zealand's Black Grace fuses Maori dance with contemporary forms the same week Mark Morris appears, Aug. 12-15. Shen Wei repeats last summer's repertoire at ADF--The Rite of Spring and Behind Resonance--and 33 Fainting Spells ' quirky dance theater are due Aug. 18-22. The Boston Ballet and Sean Curran close the festival Aug. 25-29.EndBlock

Reviews & Openings
OTHER NOTABLE OPENINGS: Floating Rhoda & The Glue Man, Raleigh Ensemble Players, Legends Nightclub, Thu-Sat, through March 13, $15-$10, 832-9607 (accessible performance March 12); High Noon at the Rialto: Laying Felt, Burning Coal staged reading series, Mission Valley Cinema, Raleigh, Sat. March 13, 11 am, $5 suggested donation, 388-0066; Holding Talks, Rotimi Foundation, Manbites Dog Theater, Wed-Sun, through March 14, $10-$5, 682-3343; Mamma Mia, Broadway Series South, BTI Center, through Sun, March 14, $75-$21, 831-6950; The Miracle Worker, NC Kids Theater, PSI Theater, Durham Arts Council, Thu-Fri, Mar. 11-12, 10:30 am, March 13, 7 pm, $10-$8, 544-0714; Over the River and Through the Woods, Odyssey Stage, Chapel Hill Service League, 400 S. Elliot Road, Fri-Sun, through March 21, $10-$5, 490-1828; Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Temple Theater, Thur-Sun, through March 28, $18-$10, 774-4155; Romeo & Juliet (Hip-Hop style), Walltown Children's Theater, Carolina Theatre, Durham, Fri. March 12, 9:45 & 11:45 am, $7, 560-3030; Whooping It Up for SWOOP: Benefit Concert with Comedians Vickie Shaw & Lisa Koch, Reynolds Theater, Duke University, Sat. March 13, 684-4444 or tickets.duke.edu.

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.

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 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 March 21. $32-$10. 962-7529.)

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