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Visiting companies break the fast in area dance

I hope you dance fans out there had a nice long holiday. Because one thing's for certain: it's all over now.

At last count, seven (count 'em) different companies come calling between now and the end of the month. Even discounting the endless Riverdance at BTI Center, that still leaves a six-pack of challenging fare by a wide range of artists.

Half of them convene in the last three days of the month. Rennie Harris, who married hip-hop culture with Shakespeare in the audacious, genre-breaking Rome and Jewels, brings his Puremovement company to N.C. State on the 29th, while that ultimate moving feast in statewide dance, the North Carolina Dance Festival, convenes for three days of classes and performances at Meredith College starting Thursday the 30th. A literally just-announced addition to the regional dance card has solo satirist Claire Porter, an early mentor of N.C. State's Robin Harris, performing her latest one-woman show, Namely Muscles, at Duke's venerable Ark, Friday, Jan. 31. More details on all of these as the date approaches.

For a region that thrives on the work of students (at American Dance Festival and area colleges, universities and schools), the new year begins auspiciously enough with Ailey II, the student repertory company associated with the Alvin Ailey School and its American Dance Theater. Originally conceived as a way to help students make the leap from class to stage, in recent years, the company has repeatedly garnered enthusiastic notices from The New York Times and Village Voice, for eloquent dancing and innovative programming. Its repertoire includes some of the most challenging works in modern dance.

The Ailey classic, Revelations, would have to be a centerpiece of their Carolina Theatre performance, but look as well for Troy Powell's The Tyner Project, a collaboration with jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, which premiered in New York last September. The Voice's Elizabeth Zimmer particularly praised a solo set to Tyner's "Desert Cry" and the duet accompanying "Memories," before terming Powell "a master of the house style."

The concert also includes Robert Battle's Takademe and The Hunt -- both repeats for regional audiences, who saw David Parson's company perform the pair four months ago at Duke.

Then comes the week's stealth candidate: Tango Buenos Aires, also at the Carolina Theatre. Details on this company have been sketchy at best. The initial data overnighted last weekend from promoters at Columbia Artists Management had detailed bios for music director Cristian Zarate and bandoneon player Pablo Mainetti. But it failed to mention the name of a single dancer in the company.

Subsequent phone calls revealed that the program information we'd been provided was as out of date as the brace of four-year-old press clips that accompanied it.

Our suspicions were further raised by a dearth of video documentation--for a company in existence since 1986--and a Lexis-Nexis search documenting two dates (but no critical reviews) within the past two years. As the paper went to press, Columbia Artists e-mailed us a document with different--and in places internally conflicting--information on its program next week.

In all, if nothing else, the data provided to date points to a company in flux. It has apparently changed choreographers, artistic directors, musical directors and lead singers in the past two years. The company has replaced choreographer Silvia Toscano with Hector Falcon, while designating musician Cristian Zarate (who succeeded company founder Osvaldo Requena as music director in 1999) and Rosario Bauza as artistic directors, at different points. The most recent company information identifies Bauza as general director, while it lists Fernando Marzan as music director on one page, Zarate on another, and both on a third.

There's no telling what these shakeups mean in terms of the company that shows up in Durham next week. In the past, the company's stylish sensuality has been praised, as has its musicianship. But the departure of famed bandoneon player Pablo Mainetti and singer Karen Rivera (widely praised as a company star in previous reviews) leaves what we'll hear as much a question mark as what we'll see at this point.

Rachel Brooker had been thinking a lot about angels. Not the fluffy, pastel, pop-culture variety: Since the winter of 2000, she'd had in mind their fiercer, biblical antecedents. "I don't know if I believe in them," she says, "but as an imperfect creatures, any human imagining of them would be just so profoundly flawed. Trying to imagine them, God or the cosmos would entail a very human perspective."

The themes of individuality versus obedience and sensuality versus spirituality kept coming up, as did temptation and the question of falling. "What would a creature that's purely good be like, and what would life be like from that creature's perspective?" she asked.

"They don't have physical form, and who they are individually isn't as important as what they are: messengers, warriors," Brooker notes. "In my life, I value my physical form, my individuality and all these other, American things."

"Is that temptation? Is that what's keeping humans from becoming angels, becoming really good creatures, or is it good in its own way?"

Regional audiences discover her current answers to these questions next week when Anima Dance presents Of Angels at Durham Arts Council. EndBlock

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