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When choreographers trip 

Choreo Shorts and Rene Aumiller contemplate dance synesthesia, as N.C. Dance Festival disembarks

When Choreographers Trip Choreo Shorts and Rene Aumiller contemplate dance synesthesia, as N.C. Dance Festival disembarks by byron woods O n first hearing, the news may cheer the moralists while dismaying the 50-somethings who were 20-somethings in the '60s: Some of the kids these days aren't using chemicals to cross-wire the senses and blow the locks on the subconscious. They've turned to ... choreography.

And multi-media.

Shocking; yes, I know. We caught a few of them in various acts of digital synesthesia--visualizing music (in abstract and concrete moving images, and--whoa--vivid colors) and dancing pictures--last Saturday night at Choreo Shorts at Chapel Hill's Carolina Theatre. (We've also learned a similar interdisciplinary crew headed by Renay Aumiller hits Raleigh in two weeks. More on that below.)

Though film, video and live musicians can extend the boundaries of performance, improvised high tech in temporary surroundings is always a dicey proposition. As a result, several performances Saturday veered between the art of the possible and the nearly possible.

I'm not certain whether to blame cinematographer Joseph Weinfield or a string of bad electrons in uncalibrated equipment for the far too murky visuals of Glacier Knocks, Erik Martin's film with Winston-Salem's alban elved dance company. In this viewing, little more could be discerned than the fact that parts--and possibly all--of the film appeared to show extremely low-lit movement footage of various company members in reverse.

By contrast, the parallel moves of Choreo Collective's live performers interacting with Laura Thomasson's video Falling Through clarified the attraction--and the irreducible distance--between what we know of life and how it appears reflected back to us in mirrors. Still, the work always seemed to struggle against the poor sightlines, strange contours and other limitations of the performance space. Poor marquee illumination also shed insufficient light on the emotional states in Thomasson's other work, a solo to live violin music by Elizabeth Weinzierl.

Tiffany Rhynard's "video translation" of The Memory of Tomorrow proved a surreal, goth indulgence, set to dissonant music by the edgy string quartet Ethel, and costumed in black Victoriana by Graham McMonagle (with more than just a nod to the illustrations of Edward Gorey).

By far, the most striking performance of the evening was the closer by The Wandering Star Project. Though the extensive pre-show stage assembly by a phalanx of colorful, earthy technicians with power tools faintly suggested the amusing chaos of Grupo Krapp, once the work itself began a different--and more psychedelic--trip was on.

Powered by Lisa Ray's keyboard, rhythm tracks and ethereal vocals, imagists Carlo Caruso and Todd Jenkins fused a bank of slide projections and video footage into a subversive, trippy, visual stream of consciousness, one that at times threatened to all but drown dancer and visual artist Jenifer Padilla. Amber images of single-celled creatures morphed into far more complex forms, as themes segued from the organic to the technological. If Godfrey Reggio (of the famed "Qatsi" trilogy of motion pictures) had been on the scene at the Fillmore while Sigur Ros stood in for the Grateful Dead, the result would probably have been like what we heard and saw on Saturday night.

Though they're clearly still developing their technology, aesthetics and moves--in some ways, the choreography was the most minimal aspect of Saturday's show--these people must be seen and heard to be believed. I'll definitely be in the room for their next show. So should you. I hope it won't be long.

Those who enjoyed dancing through the doorways of perception, take note: Renay Aumiller (who closed Steve Clarke's curated evening of new dance, Focused Fluidity, in December in Carrboro) convenes a second night of not entirely dissimilar experiments with friends in two weeks, on Feb. 12, in a late-night show at Raleigh's Bickett Art Gallery at 10 p.m.

Once more, the synesthetic agenda is up front. Just check the title: Hearing the Silence, Seeing the Sound. The night's five works will feature text, film, dance, video--and threshold stimuli: images that can barely be seen and noises "just on the edge of the recognizable."

This evening of altered states comes courtesy of writer Jennifer George, filmmaker James Hill, the imagists at Tether Group, dancer Kathryn Ullom and choreographers Aumiller, Campbell McMillan, Cory Stevenson and Janna Blum (who also impressed the audience in her regional debut in Carrboro in December). Bring your imagination.

Of course, there is that other form of tripping--the kind that involves vehicles, maps and gasoline. That's what it takes to get dancemakers to Raleigh from all corners of the state for the N. C. Dance Festival, three different showcases over three nights at Jones Auditorium at Meredith College.

Veteran dancegoers (and parents) take note: This is the year we'll say the festival came for our children.

Thursday night's opening showcase marks the first Children's Festival, an evening specifically devoted to younger dancers, younger dance companies and a younger audience (with parents in tow). Inspired by Leonard Bernstein's "Young People's Concerts" of long ago, renowned regional dancer and teacher Glenda Mackie will not only host the performance, she'll also engage the audience in conversation throughout the night, explaining and exploring the ballet of Raleigh Dance Theatre, African dance by Durham's Collage Dance Company, work from the N.C. Youth Tap Ensemble, modern dance from Raleigh's Rainbow Dance Company and a showing by Cary's School of Scottish Dance. "We've made the show as diverse as possible," local curator Carol Kyles Finley says of the concert. "It gives local youth companies another venue to perform, and a chance for people to see them together: a cross-section of our youth in a performance that's not recital-based. A number of these companies are explicitly pre-professional; their students go on to dance professionally on a regular basis."

Friday night, the adults take the house. Those who checked out Betsy Ward Hutchinson's Cary invitational last spring should remember the amusing--and technically astute--Nelson Reyes from Asheville, a choreographer and dancer who documented a clueless male's predicaments in dating in X Motivo Para Ser Asi (X Number of Motives To Be the Way He Is). Friday, he brings a comic solo, Largo Tempo, in which an orchestra conductor gets a little overwhelmed by his own music.

Festival founder Jan Van Dyke describes Brenda Daniels as "a leggy, Cunningham-like dancer who gets herself into these marvelous shapes" in response to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Robin Gee from Greensboro combines video, text from Sonia Sanchez, music and dance in her pensive Conversations with the Father. Karla Finger Coghill's Sidelong Dance Company brings three solos for Kim Ashby, Nicole LaLiberte and Meredith Gerhard in Triptych Fleures, before Meredith Dance Theatre revives Kitchen Dances from their concert last fall.

Saturday night sees Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance present two solos by Heather Maloy. Table for One explores the comic possibilities of a woman eating alone, before The Phone Call explores a woman's indecision about a relationship--at a telephonically crucial moment. Hey, sometimes a relationship is a hard call to make, in more than one sense of the term.

Postcards Project remounts Julee Snyder's In Transit from 2003, and Valerie Midgett restructures X-Factor's duet Skin Deep--on a sextet of dancers. That should be worth seeing. Jan Van Dyke Dance Company stages the choreographer's "commentary on the present" Unnamed Elegy to music by Arvo Part, and newcomer Joan Nicholas-Walker expands on her solo from the N.C. Dance Alliance's showcase when she presents Not Quite All Of Me.

But after being amazed--and, in one instance, appalled--by Hubbard Street Dance Company last summer at the American Dance Festival, we couldn't let the one-nighter by Hubbard Street 2 at N.C. State Center Stage in Stewart Theatre on Jan. 26 go unmentioned.

Though Hubbard Street 2 is the second company of the venerable Chicago troupe, as critic Hedy Weiss aptly puts it, "there is absolutely nothing second-class about it." In eight years it's grown from a community outreach company to a major launching ground for young professional dancers--and choreographers as well. An annual competition awards emerging choreographers with a residency in which they create new works for the troupe--works that are then added to the company's repertoire.

Indeed, four of the five works on tap are winners from the annual competitions. Ron De Jesus' Lucid Dreams combines the romantic lyricism of Chopin with more modern sensibilities in a series of duets on love. Ayman Aaron Harper's poignant trio, 3349281, which the company debuted last year in their first season at the Joyce SoHo, contrasts natural order with a more mathematical variant. Steve Rooks' Brasileirinho navigates the rhythms of classical Brazilian dance, after Kristofer Storey plays fast and loose with I Wantchu Kool, Cuz U Blow My Mind, a work set to two Beatles songs sung by Bobby McFerrin. We'll also see Harrison McEldowney's Call The Whole Thing Off, a comic fantasia on a "problem couple" set to the music of Gershwin and Sammy Kahn.

Sounds like a fascinating show.

Before we close, a calendar check for the weeks ahead. Those who missed Contact when Broadway Series South presented it the season before last get another shot Feb. 7 at Duke. Having already seen the centerpiece of the works they're bringing, I'll guarantee that alban elved dance company will intrigue us in Lena's Bath and Other Dances at Sheafer Theater Feb. 17-20, the week before Carolina Ballet presents its speculative new down-home ballet hybrid Carolina Jamboree starting Feb. 24. Insiders might want to mark down Feb. 4-6 as well, for master classes with body percussionist Keith Terry at N.C. Youth Tap Ensemble. More details? Call 967-9624.

And as we go to press, Duke University informs us that Savion Glover's show, Classical Savion, has been rescheduled from Jan. 25 to Tuesday, March 1. All previously issued tickets will be honored for the new date. For more info, call 684-4444.

  • Choreo Shorts and Rene Aumiller contemplate dance synesthesia, as N.C. Dance Festival disembarks

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