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Learning to fly 

Air Borne's first show achieves liftoff after Ullom's friends

click to enlarge A program of short works curated by Kathryn Ullom was performed at Bickett Gallery last weekend. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BICKETT GALLERY

Choreographer Karola Luttringhaus' experiences with aerial dance remind us that it's wise to approach a company's first attempts in that field with some caution.

After all, alban elved, her Winston-Salem-based troupe, had already established a formidable reputation in regional modern dance through concerts in the Triangle and the Triad when she revealed in 2000 that her company would shift in focus toward aerial choreography.

In retrospect it's fair to say that in some ways alban elved marked time artistically during the first few concerts after that announcement. In them, the company publicly documented its gradual acquisition, first of aerial technology, followed by technique and then aesthetics over the early years of this decade.

So we greeted word last January of a new aerial troupe in our midst, Air Borne Dance Theater, with enthusiasm—but little in the way of immediate expectations. Unsurprisingly, 11 months elapsed without a peep, before choreographer and dancer Cornelia Kip Lee's company concluded its first year in existence with its first public concert at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro on Sunday, Dec. 17.

It would have been unfair to expect the last word in aerial choreography from this group's initial dispatch. But its first words on the subject, carefully chosen for the most part, were certainly encouraging.

The company's strongest work came during the second half of its well-attended show. By then we'd been warmed by Kelly Colbert's country soul singing in the opening "Fire," and more than momentarily concerned by Lee's not-always-near-misses as she hung, suspended and whirling, just above the head of a seated Caedra Scott-Flaherty, during an otherwise interesting relationship study, "Mind Full."

"Shards," a duet Luttringhaus created for the company as a guest artist, poetically expressed the wish for flight as a deft duet between Lee and a small blue feather at the front left corner of the stage. Lee manipulated the feather by breath alone before it came to rest effortlessly, on the back of her hand, before sequences where Luttringhaus and Lee expended noticeably more effort manipulating each other's bodies through space with similar grace. While pretty, the following "Way to Water" ultimately seemed little more than a display of aerial rudiments to atmospheric spoken word and music by Max Richter.

Luttringhaus' chilly solo, "Cauda," likely was the most accomplished finished work of the evening; a piece in which a bungee cable seemed to permit the dancer to explore the social habits of the desert scorpion.

But the finale, a work in progress called "Whispering Sophia," combined Colbert's stunningly layered, Celtic-tinged vocals with lyrical off-ground work by Scott-Flaherty and Lee in a compelling glimpse of what we hope are things to come.

We call Static but in Motion, an omnibus of short works Kathryn Ullom curated at Bickett Gallery last Saturday night, a reunion for several reasons. The Saturday night concert marked a (brief) regional return for Renay Aumiller, who has clearly grown during her graduate studies in dance at the University of Illinois. The restaging of Choreo Collective's elliptically-named "..." vividly reminded us of what we first valued in the work of choreographer Nancy Simpson Carter, while ushering dancer/choreographer Caroline Williford back on stage after her long sabbatical. And "No, I Agree," in some ways the evening's strongest work, returned Triad-based dancer Ashlee Ramsey to our region in a telling dance theater work about verbal and physical miscommunication.

It was also good to see "A Part" signal further development in Carson Efird's choreography. This duet featured particularly sinuous work by Ullom, paired with Campbell McMillan, in a dance of cautionary approaches—and careful checks for injuries after betrayals and falls.

Aumiller's embodiment of a "A Lone Noodle in a Pot of Boiling Water" explored the possible intersections of hip hop and, well, pasta, as the title character trembled before stasis gave way to a series of planar shifts. Before that, in "...," the always compelling Jess Shell worked with Ullom, Williford and Carter in two contrasting, postmodern duets where the clock is always running out, and both speed and death are ultimately self-administered. A welcome return to probing choreography and performance on all fronts.

We close with word of a year-end event of more than usual interest: the fifth annual Carolina Friends School Alumni Concert, a benefit for the Kaia Parker Fund, the regional philanthropy that supports developing dancer/choreographers. It's a most joyful way to spend the afternoon of Dec. 31. Show starts at 4 p.m., at the school, 4809 Friends School Road. Call 383-6602 for details.

E-mail Byron at bwoods@indyweek.com.

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