Guest review: Dancers sidestep unusual obstacles to produce ‘emotionally charged’ evening

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Guest Review by Jane Vranish

North Carolina Dance Theatre faced a limited rehearsal window on Monday, and it was moved back due to a conflicting rehearsal for this weekend’s upcoming Romeo & Juliet Project. Yet despite that, and a subsequent 20-degree temperature drop that changed the stage conditions, NDCT overcame all obstacles to deliver an emotionally charged “Evening of Pas de Deux” in the Amphitheater.

The duet format may be part and parcel of the performing arts, from a theatrical dialogue to a concerto for two violins. But the duet occupies a special place in dance, where it is known as the pas de deux. In the classical vein, it is most often the pinnacle of a full-length ballet, as the leading dancers convey the culmination of a romance through movement.

Wednesday night’s performance only had one example, and those were excerpts from Paquita, which the company performed two weeks ago. Often the pas de deux is easily plucked from a production, mostly to offer a spectacular display of technical skills. Think of the “Don Quixote Pas de Deux,” a favorite in competitions, or the popular “Black Swan Pas de Deux.”

They are usually arranged with an Entrée, Adagio, female solo, male solo and Coda configuration, but this Paquita only featured a pair of solos followed by the Grand Adagio. The re-arrangement felt awkward without the Coda, a section that always provides a brisk and brilliant finish. However, it turned out that the inclusion of this Coda would have meant bringing in the corps de ballet, not in keeping with the theme of the night.

But Anna Gerberich and Pete Walker made the most of the opportunity. Surprisingly, the pair had grown since we last saw them, he with more confident jumps and a supportive ardor. Gerberich looked like a true ballerina, filling the Amphitheater for the first time with an adroit presence. So she drifted like a feather in a series of attitude and arabesque turns and looked larger-than-life in the supported poses of the Adagio.

On the other hand, a contemporary pas deux may be difficult in its own right, but the emotion is a greater component in the fabric of the dance. And so it was as NCDT presented two excerpts from its repertoire.

“Ophelia’s Lament” was one of two pieces that unflinchingly stretched the idea of a pas de deux, the other being Jean Pierre Bonnefoux’s bright trio from “Blue Danube” that opened the program.

Mark Diamond’s “Ophelia” had to be regarded as a dramatic solo for Jamie Dee, with a surreal sense of support from Hamlet, Laertes and an unnamed King and Queen. It could have been a look at Ophelia’s flight into madness, because there were many elements from Shakespeare’s play all rolled into one scenario. So Ophelia flailed at the air in Grahamesque fashion. She looked aghast at her hands, as if she had killed someone, and at one point she seemed to cradle a baby. After she apparently “drowned” in a river of blue fabric, Ophelia appeared to wake up. Hamlet began to dance with her and subsequently killed her himself.

It was an oddly feminist recreation of the classic masculine tale. But, by only presenting excerpts, this “Ophelia” worked best as a tour de force for the acting talents of Dee.

“Dirty Truth, Pretty Lies” is Dwight Rhoden’s retelling of another drama, Tennessee Williams’ Cat On a Hot Tin Roof. This segment pared the set down to a bench, a chair and a bottle, all the more room for Maggie (Melissa Anduiza) and Brick (Naseeb Culpepper) to heat up the stage.

And that they did in this steamy condensation of the play, in which Brick rejected his wife’s advances. Although Culpepper still needed to capture completely the unbridled feral quality of the former quarterback, the supple Anduiza unleashed her considerable passions. In a wonderful stroke, she was still left with her dignity as she walked off the stage, although the music awkwardly faded out with her.

Sometimes the contemporary duet can be designed as a stand-alone piece. At this performance, the final three duets were more complete and ultimately the most compelling of the night.

The ever-more prolific Sasha Janes produced a pair of contrasting works. “At First Sight” was commissioned by North Carolinean Michael Tarwater for his wife, Ann, and channeled their real-life instant connection and continuing love.

Performed by a radiant Sarah Hayes-Watson and a smitten David Morse, “At First Sight” was an instant charmer. It all began with a free-spirited solo for Hayes-Watson, as Morse watched. Her dance ended when she literally touched his heart. Then the beat quickened, much like their pulse and the fresh-faced movement that followed, meltingly beautiful and rapturous with love. Inspired by a Tuck & Patti song, it took away the audience’s breath as well, as they included cheers for the Tarwaters, who were in attendance.

“Dominant Curves,” on the other hand, had an abstract tensile strength, in which Gerberich and Walker carved the air like ice skaters and where she would change positions in a lift while he circled the stage. Very modern, very effective and also very appreciated.

George Balanchine’s always-likable Tarantella provided the “razzle-dazzle” to finish the night. Armed with tambourines and scads of turns, a piquant Emily Ramirez and an especially robust Jordan Leeper provided a real exclamation point to the festivities.

Jane Vranish is a former dance critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and continues there as a contributing writer. Her stories can be read on the dance blog “Cross Currents” at

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