Friday, January 17, 2014

N.C. Dance Theatre: Innovation that counts

These days, "innovative" has been cheapened to serve as a synonym for "new." On that score, N.C. Dance Theatre's upcoming Innovative Works concert qualifies: The pieces by Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Mark Diamond, Sasha Janes and Dwight Rhoden have never been seen before.

But they're also innovative in the old-fashioned sense: They break new ground through collaboration, a noun you don't hear often enough in the Charlotte arts community.

For a brief time in the '90s, collaboration became a buzzword here. NCDT, Opera Carolina, the Oratorio Singers and the Charlotte Symphony came together for a monumental "Carmina Burana." The orchestra teamed with Charlotte Repertory Theatre for a dazzling and funny "A Midsummer Night's Dream," with musicians playing Mendelssohn behind and among the actors.

But economy and desire for autonomy and plain old inertia reasserted themselves, and those partnerships soon stopped. The symphony still plays for Dance Theatre once a year and Opera Carolina at each production, including the current Il Trittico, but only as hired hands. So this program, which runs through Feb. 15, becomes rarer and more valuable.

Rhoden’s "Sit In Stand Out" takes its inspiration from the Civil Rights Movement and incorporates photographs from the Levine Museum of the New South’s “Focus on Justice” exhibit; Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches will be mixed in with music by Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach, Nina Simone and others.

Guitarist Troy Conn will perform during Diamond's "Contrast," which will reflect the sounds of blues, classical, metal and jazz guitar through contemporary dance. Bonnefoux and Quentin Talley of On Q Productions have worked up "Transformation," a piece combining ballet and monologues written and performed by Talley. And Janes' "Chaconne" may pair a live violinist with seven dancers.

This idea works on a marketing level: People who aren't necessarily fans of modern dance may take more of a risk on it when other elements come into play.

More importantly, this kind of collaboration stimulates artists to see their own work in a different way. Audience members will come away from the concert smarter and with a more open mind -- but the choreographers probably will, too.