The NC Dance Festival
The Rickhouse, Durham
October 12, 2017

PSI Theatre, Durham Arts Council
October 14, 2017

In its first ever self-produced showcase in Durham, the NC Dance Festival took several legitimate steps toward embracing a growing community of independent, professional dance artists from across the state, a population it hasn’t always known what to do with. But with only sixty people in attendance—a fraction of the audiences Durham Independent Dance Artists and others have summoned in recent years—few witnesses observed these needed innovations on a drizzly Thursday night.

Terpsichorean in-jokes rippled through Welcome, Rachel Barker’s sharp-toothed tribute to presence and vulnerability in modern dance. After Barker’s trio spiraled through an absurd competition to somehow be the artist most present on stage, Sarah Ingel voiced what countless dancers have never had the agency to say to an audience: “No … you’re the strange ones, sitting this close. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I have a degree in this.”

The setting—a spacious, open area in the Rickhouse, a stylish warehouse building—offered a more intimate, less obstructed atmosphere than other nontraditional modern-dance venues like 21c Museum Hotel’s ballroom. Still, the festival’s decision to employ parquet-over-concrete flooring rather than preferred surfaces, such as portable marley or sprung flooring, forced dancers to dial back their leaps and percussive steps—a production gaffe that must be addressed before their next showing.

In a rare bow to regional Indian dance on a contemporary dance stage, Ramya Kapadia and Kasi Aysola’s mimetic banquet in Krishna: The Blue-Hued Cowherd brought crystalline clarity to classical Bharatanatyam dance. After Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs’s furtive, minimal, nearly Hitchcockian duet, Rendezvous, Emmanuel Malette and Milanda McGinnis’s solos to audio vérité of whitesplaining and the music of Sonny Terry were emotionally and technically compelling, overcoming comparatively unfocused ensemble sequences in Joyemovement’s For Love Of Country.

Though the emerging artists in the externally adjudicated fourth iteration of Kristi Vincent Taylor’s annual Emergence showcase generally had further to go than the more seasoned artists in NCDF, individual works still shone. In Arlynn Zachary’s revelatory Jouska, Jacob Brown’s precise, brisk, incandescent solo was some of the strongest work of the evening—and the week. Hallee Bernstein and Lucas Melfi gave a wry guided tour of a dysfunctional dancing partnership in Renay Aumiller’s knowing The Biggest Fan, although Melfi’s own overwrought solo, Septa, remained too internalized to be communicative.

Ashley Jeanette McCullough probed brutal sexism and intraracial abuse in the workplace in In.human.e. But advanced techniques we wished we’d seen more of in other works outstripped the artistry in Courtney Owen-Muir’s The EVOL//you//TION inPART. Performers also danced too gingerly around problematic basins of water during Lindsay Winthrop’s unclear, amorphous Protection, at the conclusion of a week that clearly placed a series of needed next steps for artists, curators, and audiences on display.