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Dance Theatre's 'Fusion' Concert Sets Funny Bones Tingling

T. Ortega Gaines
Charlotte Observer

  Was it a happy accident that N.C. Dance Theatre’s “Contemporary Fusion” concert premiered Thursday, on the night of the full moon? All three pieces had a touch of lunacy, from the giddy ecstasy of Sasha Janes’ “Rhapsodic Dances” to the mad humor of Jiri Bubenicek’s “L’heure bleue” to the wild hijinks of Twyla Tharp’s “The Golden Section,” which looked like the coolest aerobics class there never was.

We don’t often see silliness in a dance concert. High spirits, yes. A sense of fun, sure. But a night given over to the flowery foppishness of courtiers or the zany shadowboxing of men in gold tights and toe shoes? That’s rare, and NCDT’s season-ending concert supplied it.

"Contemporary Fusion" N.C. Dance Theatre performs works by Jiri Bubenicek, Twyla Tharp and Sasha Janes. WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday. WHERE: Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St. RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes. TICKETS: $25-79. DETAILS: 704-372-1000, carolinatix.org.

  Janes opened the show with a piece that wasn’t the night’s most serious – none of these merited that adjective – but the most grounded in a traditional structure. He used “Variations on a Theme by Paganini” as the score and stayed mindful of its source: A caprice by the flamboyant violinist orchestrated with bravura by Rachmaninov.

You could find symbolism, if you wanted it: One of five women in tiaras and tutus liberated herself from that traditional garment, had it handed back by her partner, then returned without it and inspired the others to do the same. But Janes’ choreography was more about unalloyed happiness: The romantic 18th variation brought a moment of passion and heat, and the rest – even the Dies Irae section, referring to the divine Day of Judgment – led to flirtation and frivolity.

Tharp’s piece seemed at first more like temporary confusion than contemporary fusion: Gold-clad dancers sprinted and leaped, wriggled and walked flat-footed in a burst of non-stop motion that included women lifting men, men lifting men and men lifting women – once so the lady could walk along the backs of gentlemen who were bent double.

But if a physical pattern never emerged, a psychological one did: This was about taking a childlike, rapid-fire pleasure in all the things the body can do at its most limber, uninhibited and relaxed. What these movements had to do with the pulsing, propulsive score by David Byrne I can’t say, though I recommend the latter to instructors of exercise classes.

In between came the world premiere choreographed by Bubenicek and designed by Otto, his twin brother. I spent an hour with them last week listening to interesting anecdotes about the piece from the Czech siblings, who told me everything except…that it was funny.

And it is. The curtain rises on picture frames containing a cavalier in black, a red rose, and a saber. Those get entangled (sometimes literally) with another male popinjay, ladies in 18th-century frock coats and no trousers (very sexy after a Baroque fashion) and a guy in a half-toga from another era.

Jiri Bubenicek – really both of them, I think – used steps that are contemporary yet refer to the 18th-century score. Many moments are set for pairs: two men and two women, two men battling over one woman, two paintings at either side of a large panel that separates them. (This design leads to clever sight gags involving visual misdirection.)

Was it an in-joke that these twins chose music from Bach’s Double Concerto for Violins, his Violin Concerto No. 2, his Partita No. 2 and the second movement of his F minor keyboard concerto? Or was that also a strange, happy accident?

Go to the Charlotte Observer.