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NCDT brings it down to Earth

Steven Brown
The Charlotte Observer

Being a potpourri has always suited N.C. Dance Theatre's "Innovative Works." The annual spotlight of new choreography has supplied audiences with eye-opening dance and given the company a dependable box-office success.

This year, NCDT is giving "Innovative Works" itself an innovation: a theme tying the show together.

"Innovative Works," which opens Thursday, is going green. The seven brief pieces on the program will look at how we humans relate to the environment we live in - from tree hugging to recycling to having calamitous accidents.

One of the choreographers, NCDT dancer Sasha Janes, says in a statement that he at first had a reservation about the green program. How, he wondered, could someone create a work about the environment without getting tripped up by political implications?

"The answer was simple," Janes says. "Choreograph a beautiful ballet that transcends political overtones and makes the audience think about the world around them."

The green program for "Innovative Works" grew out of a show NCDT did in 2009 at its summer home, the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York. Audiences liked it, says Mark Diamond, director of the NCDT 2 training company, so the company is expanding it for Charlotte.

'Higher Consciousness'

Mark Diamond

The show's opener harks back to the beatnik era, he says, when art as a form of social activism took off. "Higher Consciousness" starts with a man who plays the bongos and periodically speaks up with key words about the environment. Others join in with dancing and recitations - "putting out topics that we should all be contemplating," Diamond says. Dancer David Morse, a first-year member of the company, will do yeoman service by playing a piano improvisation that takes over for the bongos.

'Time is of the Essence'

Mark Diamond

Built on a tempestuous piano piece by Frederic Chopin, "Time is of the Essence" looks at an activist couple on overdrive. The woman is "obsessed with the feeling that she single-handedly has to save the world," Diamond says. The two struggle to balance their lives with their mission. "If we could all be a little like them - maybe 1 percent - then I'm sure we'd all be fine," and so would the Earth, Diamond says.

'Runway'

Mark Diamond

With "Runway," which will close the program, "I'm trying to lighten things up a bit," Diamond says. Subtitled "Recycling," it's a combination of ballet and fashion show, culminating in a runway parade of dancers sporting costumes made from things we're all supposed to recycle. One woman will wear a tutu made from shredded water bottles; another, a dress woven from newsprint. One man will show off pants consisting of hundreds of bottle caps.

"Each costume," designer Erika Diamond says, "has a character that comes to life with the movement and personality of the dancers."

'The Spill'

Dwight Rhoden

As you'd expect from the title, NCDT's resident choreographer, Dwight Rhoden, takes his cue from accidents that have dirtied the environment. His abstract ballet focuses not just on mishaps, NCDT says, but on how the earth and people regenerate afterward. Rhoden says in a statement that his choreography is "grounded, sweeping and gooey."

'Arson'

David Ingram

NCDT dancer David Ingram is choreographing for the company for the first time. His highly charged title, "Arson," spotlights the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of forests, he says. When the curtain goes up, the audience will see dancers surrounded by ashes. The dancers - especially a central couple - will face the challenge of moving on from there.

"I wanted to show a possible outcome of what could happen," Ingram says, "if we're not responsible with the environment."

'Kinetic Energy'

Sasha Janes

"Kinetic Energy" is propelled by Janes' version of an alternative energy source: a man who runs on a treadmill, setting the pace for the dancers and music. It's "just a fun, high-energy piece," Janes says.

'Tree Hugger'

Sasha Janes

NCDT audiences probably will remember a rhapsodic, romantic duet that Janes choreographed a few years ago to an aria by Handel. Viewers loved it. That bodes well for "Tree Hugger."

The newer work, unfolding to peaceful music by Maurice Ravel, is a trio for two men, who symbolize the tree, and one woman, who does the hugging. "I always wanted to choreograph a dance where a woman wouldn't touch the ground at all," Janes says. Here it is.