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The eye candy of Innovative Works



Except for the topmost rows in the balcony, Booth Playhouse was sold out for this year's edition of Innovative Works. It may be more difficult to snag a ticket for this week's NC Dance Theatre performances. Electricity and eye candy onstage were enough to spark a word-of-mouth wildfire.

Most of the choreographies -- and nearly all the dancers -- have been seen before. But so many new dancers have joined the troupe since 2004, when Mark Diamond's There Again, Not Slowly premiered in Charlotte, or even 2006, when Dwight Rhoden's sizzling Moody Booty Blues had its world premiere at the Booth. Two of the five dancers shakin' major booty last Thursday, Justin Van Weest and Dustin Layton, were new to the piece. This week, three of the five bodies will be newbies.

Van Weest spewed energy and athleticism in the Booty Blues suite, starting red-hot to the sounds of Roy Buchanan's "When a Guitar Plays the Blues," and not cooling down significantly on the Muddy Waters, Son House, and Stevie Ray Vaughan cuts that followed. But he had enough left in the tank to really tear it up on Diamond's Not Slowly, a piece that shuttles between punkish and robotic moves to music by Chemical Brothers and Aphex Twin.

There's more of a balance between energy, grace and ensemble intricacies in Uri Sands' Tearing for a Cure. The title and narrative thread will remain obscure for those who haven't read up on the piece beforehand -- or consulted a press release. But the purposefulness of the action is never in doubt from the moment Kara Wilkes begins running circles around the stage, deflected in her orbital course by another dancer. Music by Arvo Part and others makes for a New Age oasis between the mayhems of the Rhoden and Diamond choreographies.

While the new works by Diamond and Sasha Janes also groove to contemporary sounds, both take their inspiration from the world of the visual arts. Diamond's new piece, Matisse, has a keen "pictures at an exhibition" thrust, taking us on a journey that examines a half dozen famous canvasses and -- to those already familiar with the vast oeuvre of Henri Matisse (1869-1954) -- will evoke many more. Diamond's costume designs, particularly for Wilkes as "The Blue Nude," are striking -- but compared with the choreographer's finest work, the musical mix, story line and dancer movement are all lackluster.

Matisse was an artistic rebel in his youth, a leader of the notorious Fauvist movement, but none of that early period -- or rebellious spirit -- is on display. The great French painter was heroic in his latter days. Old, ill and no longer able to wield a brush, Matisse still managed to produce great art with colored paper and scissors, including the "Icarus" that Diamond celebrates near the end of his piece.

While Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition might sound out of place depicting the full triumph of this artist, Ralph Towner's folk-jazz classic, "Icarus," would simulate more of the artist's soaring jubilation than the current Plaid and Music Fission soundtrack. Layton delivers a fine dancing portrait of the artist with what he's given, but Diamond needs to squeeze more character and biography onto his palette -- and more dynamic, sensual interaction between the painter and his sexy subjects.

Glass Houses, taking its cue from sculptor Shaun Cassidy's skeletal set, is nearly as embryonic as the fresh-cut Diamond. To his credit, Janes began with a subject and a message: networking on Facebook and MySpace, the good and the bad. While I can tentatively approve of Jennifer Symes's geometric, one-pattern-fits-all costume design, pertinent props and actions seem to be on back order. Nobody's obsessively tweeting or boorishly ogling, and although there are 16 dancers onstage -- maybe an all-time record for Innovative Works -- there's never a truly viral massing of them all. The contemporary classical sounds of the Kronos Quartet, mutely instrumental, don't help define the action, and the languid, pacific pulse of the music never jolts the dance to anywhere close to warp or Twitter speed.

I'm throwing a pebble at this one, calling for new specificity, new edge, new action and new music. But if you haven't seen Glass Houses or Matisse for yourself -- or the trio of NCDT's golden oldies -- you're still square. And if they haven't already sold out the second week, you need to be there.

The mighty Oratorio Singers of Charlotte and their intrepid leader, Scott Allen Jarrett, joined the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra at Belk Theater last weekend and proved that Bach's Mass in B Minor was pomp worth waiting for. Four guest vocalists added to the Oratorio's artillery, and a battery of CSO principals had numerous opportunities to declaim majestic fanfares and solos.

Bach may be too serious and rarefied for many of the CSO's most eminent subscribers. Fewer vacant seats were visible in the front rows of the orchestra than in the loftier region of the grand tier. Johann Sebastian and the great monuments of baroque are not for everyone: cathedrals of fugal sound in the B Minor are often built on the mere foundation of two endlessly repeated Latin words.

Jo's showmanship improves drastically when we cross over into the frontiers of the Gloria section of the Mass, announced -- and concluded -- by a trinity of trumpets led by the superb Karin Bliznik. Along the way, there were delicious solos for concertmaster Calin Lupanu and English horn principal Terry Maskin. The two best vocal soloists, soprano Kendra Colton and tenor Michael Slattery, teamed up memorably on "Domine Deus," charmingly accompanied by flutists Elizabeth Landon and Amy Orsinger Whitehead.

A similar build occurred after intermission, toward the end of the Credo, when the trumpet corps announced the resurrection behind the Oreos and Leonardo Soto pounded the "Amen." All orchestra hands were on deck for the "Osanna in excelsis," righteously rocking in 3/4 time, and the Oreos' last salvo, the "Dona nobis" at the end of the Agnus Dei, was gleaming with the last trumpets.

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