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Transformation at the Roots 

Changes in local artists, organizations and programs bode well for the future

On the face of it, there's not a lot that's out of the ordinary at the start of this season in regional dance. We've grown accustomed by now to prestigious tours, notable residencies, strong local works and an enviably steady growth rate that anticipates the addition of one to two new dance companies to the area each year.

Imports? Check. Exports? Ditto: Duke Institute of the Arts will bring master dancers here from other cultures, and our best dancers and choreographers will be taking their work across the state and across the country. All business as usual, in short.

But don't be too quick to think so, for there are potentially significant changes underfoot. Call them changes in community--and in attitudes and plans. Almost all of them are well off-stage right now--a couple are easily several years from fruition.

And you can't tell just by looking: not yet, at any rate. It's not about spray painting the leaves, after all; it's about transformation at the roots. Just one or two of these contemplated changes could change the face of dance as this region knows it--for the better.

And none of them have anything at all to do with the American Dance Festival.

Now are you intrigued? Well, so are we. All in all, there's reason enough for anyone interested in dance around here to dig just a little deeper than usual this fall.

Choreographer and performance artist Julee Snyder wants everyone in dance out in the field. Make that thefield.org, to be precise. The Web site is linked to a New York-based nonprofit organization devoted to teaching artists what by now should be basic survival skills: seminars in how to write grant proposals, and how to publicize, market and independently produce themselves. They also teach artists how to generate a community of support.

The foundation has established satellite programs in 14 cities across the country, part of what it calls a "Field Forward Network." Snyder's convinced one belongs here--and that it could be established with less than $1,000.

At the end of July, Snyder met with four other regional choreographers--Carol Kyles Finley, Tiffany Rhynard, Courtney Greer and Beth Wright--for a conversation. The five wondered what a Center for New Dance would look like. What would it do for regional practitioners? How would it change things?

Their original drafts envision a facility for rehearsal, performance and research--a place devoted to new research and initiatives in dance. They cheerfully admit that they're two years away from programming, and at least five away from a facility. At this point they're ready to add new people to the conversation. Sounds fascinating. Should you care to join it, call 821-5411.

Debra Sayles Senchak has started a new conservatory with Carolina Ballet stars Timour and Lori Bourtasenkov. Infinity Ballet Conservatory is on the Web at www.infinityballet.com; its studios on the Earth are at 3462 Apex Peakway in Apex. The new company will teach ballet, modern, jazz--and tap, Irish dance and hip hop. Wow. Talk about potent mental images: Having seen Timour any number of times on the regional stage, I can only begin to imagine what it would be like to watch him bust a move to some old-school beats. The curious should call 303-1105.

Which brings to mind another name we don't usually associate with ballet: Bland Simpson, of the Red Clay Ramblers. But there he is--or will be, at any rate--when the group collaborates on Ramblin' Suite, a new work by choreographer Diane Coburn Bruning for the Atlanta Ballet. The equally curious should head for Waynesville's Haywood Community Center Sept. 21 & 22, or the venerable Fox Theater in Atlanta on Halloween weekend (Oct. 31-Nov. 3) to see the work in person.

It's a schedule only a tow truck could love. I refer to the five-car pile-up of company concerts slated for Nov. 21-24. Meredith Dance Theatre presents the results of guest choreographer Bebe Miller's residency when they unveil her Prey and Carol Finley's Settling--Part Two, Nov. 21-23. Those are also the same nights Peace College Dance Company presents its collaborations with N.C. State's Dance Visions group at Leggett Theater.

Car number four: Even Exchange Dance Company (Kennedy Theater, BTI Center, Nov. 23 & 24), a group feeling its oats with the recent additions of Allison Waddell, Lee Posey and wheelchair choreographer and dancer Julia Leggett to the group. The company is looking at literature this year--not only literary forms and their dance equivalent, but censorship and related topics as well. If the past's any indication, the group will have a lot of things to talk about. (The wise may well want to catch the group's earlier performance at Arts Together, Nov. 2 & 3.)

Meanwhile--literally--Duke Dance presents M'Liss Dorrance's meditation on the recent bombing of an Afghan wedding party and Tyler Walters premieres a new commissioned work to Rachmaninoff's Vespers in Reynolds Theater, Nov. 22 & 23. In the same show, the Duke African Repertory Ensemble will present work developed in dual residencies with Senegalese griot Djimo Kouyate and the Haitian pecussionist-dance duo of John and Mona Amira, and Clay Taliaferro will present a section of his current work-in-progress: a reconstruction of Jose Limon's Choreographic Offering. After seeing this incandescent work in Washington this spring, I can't wait to see what he comes up with.

Other changes: After a half-year in Italy where she was invited to work with ADF choreographer Sabine Dahrendorf's company, fledgling choreographer Rachel Brooker has returned--and renamed her company Anima Dance. Our first chance to see other changes comes Sept. 13 at Carrboro's Sizl Gallery.

And Raleigh Dance Theatre continues to play with new ballet when it presents Storybook Tales--including an adaptation of the

French children's book, Madeline--in its concert Nov. 9 & 10. Experiments continue into the spring, when they feature another new work by Tyler Walters: String Theory, set to music by John Hanks, May 3.

And could this be the year that Durham's Independent Choreographers change their groundhog ways? Rumor has it that the company has a fall fundraiser in the works, and is eyeing potential venues for a second yearly show in Raleigh. Heavens! If this keeps up, word's just bound to get out.

Similar dangers await Choreo Collective, that unassuming little dance collective that finally popped the cork in a major way this spring in Chapel Hill. It's official: They can't be ignored anymore. Not with Caroline Williford's Via Negativa selected to tour the state with the North Carolina Dance Festival, and the group's increasing public appearances, at the Carrboro Music Festival (Sept. 29) before their Fall Showcase at Durham Arts Council (Nov. 17).

The world approaches. David Parsons appears at Duke on Sept. 24, and the Master Dancers of Bali perform on the grounds of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens Sept. 29. Mallarmé Chamber Players present an evening of Indian music and dance Oct. 25 at Carrboro's ArtsCenter, the same place the African-American Dance Ensemble invests with African story, song and dance Nov. 6. Between two replays--Carmen, from 2000, and last year's Nutcracker--our own Carolina Ballet presents Stravinsky's Clowns Nov. 7-10.

To the which we sincerely say, "Dance on." EndBlock

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