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Women take command at NCDT

Steven Brown
The Charlotte Observer
Posted: Friday, Apr. 29, 2011

Female choreographers have punctured the glass ceiling more thoroughly than women in any number of other fields. But you don't often see them take the spotlight as completely as they do this weekend: N.C. Dance Theatre is devoting its last performances of the season entirely to works by women.

That doesn't mean long-established gender roles have vanished from the picture. In the program's first work, combative men show they're still from Mars. But for the women in the next work, being put on a pedestal isn't as simple as just looking pretty.

A boom of thunder opens "Outflow Boundary" by Emery LeCrone, a former member of the NCDT 2 training company who's now based in New York. The lights come up on men - four, then another four - wearing orange parkas.

Despite the rainwear, as the churning music for strings propels them into action, they hardly look like they're being buffeted by the elements. Instead, they move with sharpness and force that says the real storm is inside them. When they temporarily toss away the parkas, their khaki clothes give them a military - maybe guerrilla - aura.

Soon there's dissension within the ranks, and Dance Theatre's eight men live up to both words from the company's name. When Max Levy and Pete Walker have a dustup, they go at it with an eagerness that embodies real aggression, not just dancers performing choreography. When Levy is singled out - maybe ostracized - he does more than just throw himself into his solos. Yes, he's energetic. But when he slows down, he can express weariness, frustration or fatalism just in the way his body slackens.

Jacqulyn Buglisi's "Requiem 9.11" could hardly be more of a contrast. It features five women in capacious, many-layered skirts. Where LeCrone's men are dynamic, Buglisi's women are sculptures. They move slowly, but dramatically, complementing the spaciousness of the music that accompanies them, Gabriel Faure's "Requiem."

Much of the time, the women - Traci Gilchrest, Kara Wilkes, Rebecca Carmazzi, Jamie Dee and Anna Gerberich - are on pedestals. But they're up there bearing weight, not collecting admiration. Their bare backs flex. Their arms stretch and bend - sometimes aimed beseechingly upward, sometimes reaching toward the world around them. When they step off their platforms, they don't touch one another - they find their strength in themselves. It's all quiet. But thanks to NCDT's women, it's compelling.

Then Twyla Tharp's "The Golden Section" ends the program with an explosion of smiles and energy. The dancers, driven by David Byrne's music, fling themselves into Tharp's leaps, lifts and twirls. The earlier works' cares are overcome.