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Spin City

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On most weeks, provocative dance programs are a scarce commodity in Charlotte. Last week's trio of events was a veritable deluge -- Carolinas Concert Association wound up its season with the Moscow Grigorovich Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre completed its spring collection of new and contemporary works, and CP's Dance Central capped their 19th season with a roundup that included three pieces by their artistic directors.

Carolinas Concert subscribers skew a bit older, many of them bussed in from nursing homes. Russian ballet seems to perfectly fulfill their preconceptions of what the dance art form is. Folks who attend NCDT's Innovative Works are younger, less formally attired, more open-minded -- and dramatically fewer. Dance Central, which will be entering its 20th season without ever having been reviewed by our daily newspaper, seems to be patronized largely by friends, classmates, and relatives of the dancers onstage. Additional PR and audience development efforts are needed over yonder.

What unites spectators at all of these dance events is their universal worship of the spin. Breathtaking leaps and lifts, on rare occasions, got a rise from Charlotte dance gourmands. Execute an on-point spin of, say, 1080 degrees or more, and they grew orgasmic. Every time.

The most spectacular performance at Series B of NCDT's Innovative Works was unquestionably from Kati Hanlon Mayo in the world premiere of Kamtarie -- a devilishly difficult piece by the company's resident genius, Mark Diamond. Deftly partnered by Sarkis Kaltakchian, Mayo immersed herself seductively into a hot pair of musical selections from Turkey and Egypt, contorting herself in ways that scream out for extra vertebrae.

But alas, no spins, so applause was discreetly withheld until the end. Similarly, Mayo's brilliance went unrewarded when she dazzled once again in "There Will Never Be Another You," the climactic pas de deux of Paul Taylor's WW2-tinted tribute to the Andrews Sisters, Company B. Instead, the applause rained on Jason Jacobs, gaily spinning through the obligatory "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."

Jacobs was agreeable enough, but hardly as magical as the Benjamin Kubie and Mayo pairing. On the rousing uptempo selections, Jacobs was also upstaged by the saucy vitality of Amy Price-Robinson on "Rum and Coca-Cola" and the leaping brio of Alexei Khimenko on "Tico-Tico." Neither of these worthies executed any spins, however, so their deserved ovation was deferred.

Company B gained added impact in its reprise. The silhouetted men marching slowly across the stage, striking subtly soldierly postures behind the main action, were more resonant than they were a season ago, pre-9/11. So was Mia Cunningham's stint as the suffering sweetheart left behind in "I Can Dream, Can't I?"

More of the richness and resourceful cleverness of Mark Godden's Charlotte's Web emerged in my second viewing. I'd noted the nifty connection between the crafty spider's tartan miniskirt and the McDonald's junk food craved by our hero, the delightfully befuddled Edgar Vardanian.

Sad to say, I was so beguiled by Traci Gilchrest's predatory bravura that I'd never noticed the same fabric among the tatters spelling out "NICE TIE" in her colossal web. Nor had I connected the web's message sufficiently with the dervish antics of Servy Gallardo preceding the spider's arrival. His costume was a whirling Tie City and the noose he dangled in front of Vardanian -- accepted by our hero -- was also a necktie.

But perhaps the most obvious tie-in that I missed was when the two buttoned-down execs (who had enchanted Vardanian with Big Macs, fries, and condiments) were consumed in the web. Somehow I overlooked the inference that the message spelled out above them was comprised of the remains of previous victims.

Need I spell it out? Charlotte's Web is a masterpiece, and we can all take pride that it was commissioned and premiered here.

Comparisons between the Grigorovich Ballet and NCDT were inevitable from the moment they decided to bring Spartacus to town. After all, our resident company had done a slimmer version of the same story -- set to the same grandiose Aram Khachaturian score -- in February 1999. In an exclusive CL interview, choreographer John Clifford had declared that he considered the Grigorovich version, originally presented by the Bolshoi Ballet, "absolutely one of the worst examples of that Soviet classicism."

Actually, there was much to admire in the Muscovite import, still directed by the 75-year-old choreographer. A phalanx of leaden shields beneath the malevolent despot Crassus splits up memorably to reveal a Roman mini-legion behind it. The cavalcade of increasingly impressive lifts throughout the ballet culminates with a rising crucified Spartacus that is a veritable apotheosis.

The four principals didn't disappoint, especially the villains. Sergei Barannikov sneered menacingly as the arrogant Roman chieftain and nearly touched the back of his neck with his toes during a succession of amazing leaps. His lifts, partnered with Alexandra Sivtsova as Aegina, were equally impressive.

Sivtsova was icy and imperious in her scenes with Crassus, sly and sensuous in her orgiastic seduction dance, sowing dissension among Spartacus' band of gladiators. Always welcome to see what are described in the program as "courtesan cronies" plying their trade.

Although Nikolai Morschtschakov and Irini Katkassova, as Spartacus and Phrygia, met the challenge of their tormentors with a more prodigious lift of their own, they hardly possessed the skills -- or the charisma -- of the frontliners we routinely see at NCDT. Katkassova's on-point exploits were certainly praiseworthy, but in this monochromatic portrayal, Phrygia's joy was barely distinguishable from her sorrow.

Bearded though he was, Morschtschakov rarely evinced the ferocity we'd expect from a formidable gladiator or the air of command we expect from a military leader. But lordy, the man can spin! An extended display of this dubious skill drew wave upon wave of applause.

Arraigned on Clifford's indictment that it fails miserably at telling the story, the Grigorovich Spartacus is guilty as charged. The gladiatorial combat is bland. The moments when Spartacus incites his gladiators to revolt and they break loose from captivity are about as distinguished from the overall balletic prancing as milk on vanilla ice cream. You look at your program notes at intermission to make sure it has happened. Nor does the silly plotting of Spartacus' undoing betray even a childish grasp of what a tragic hero is.

Clifford's rehab of the choreography is clearer, sharper, and genuinely tragic. The quartet of principals who brought it to life -- Lance Hardin, Anita Sun Pacylowski, Hernan Justo, and the peerless Mayo -- were at least the equal of their Muscovite counterparts. In the matchup with Mr. G's signature work... advantage: NCDT.

Paul Taylor and the joyous spirit of Matisse's groundbreaking Danse came vividly to mind almost as soon as CP's Contemporary Rites burst onto the panoramic Pease stage. MaryAnn Mee's choreography in For Lo, The Winter Is Past nicely meshed with the unflagging rhythms of her Bach selections and the capabilities of her five principals.

Kathryn Horne's less abstract piece, The Sound of Bells, was clearly designed to involve more of the Dance Central troupers, with very mixed success. Clearly the standout here was Carrie Pasquarelli in her queenly solo.

Steering delightfully free of the normal ballet idiom, Mee's The Secret Life demonstrated that modern stylings might be better suited to Dance Central than any other. Clay Daniel and Mary Beth Cole, the most satisfying performers in Mee's Bach, were nearly equaled by the two other holdovers, Bryan Quan and Shannon Ferrell.

Anthony Knighten as the headmistress and Matt Frye as the drummer boy made nice showings in Graduation Ball, a shrewdly chosen finale. While everyone in the company had a role in this lightly humorous piece, created by David Lichine for the Ballets Russes back in the 40s, it was clearly intended as a showcase for Georgia Tucker, shining forth in two solos and braving a duet with Prakash Madhavaiya. Really, I'd rather see Tucker in a more contemporary piece that challenged her more.

Of course, it was the spinner, Marti Clark in the "Fouette Competition" segment, who drew the most intense shower of applause during the performance. But beware: her rival strayed from the fixed center of her spin and drew no applause whatsoever.

Do we know spins in Charlotte or what? *

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