It’s the one thing dance-goers always love about January: Congress is back in session, at long last.

No, not the deliberative bodies some 300 miles north by northeast of here. We refer instead to the contemplative, performative–and, above all, kinetic–bodies which convene this weekend in Raleigh at Meredith College. It’s the North Carolina Dance Festival, that hardy twelve-year traveling road show which covers the state, stirring things up and sharing the latest dance developments with regional audiences from the mountains to the coast.

It takes three nights–and three entirely different programs–to do it. All told, 15 different dance groups and artists–seven locals, eight touring–will converge on Raleigh to show their current wares this Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Since the crew touched down last weekend in Asheville’s incredibly funky downtown district, we caught a preview of the acts that will take the stand this weekend in Raleigh.

Thursday night goes in large part to the home teams, with works by Durham choreographer and master teacher Geri Houlihan and host Carol Kyles Finley’s Meredith Dance Theater. Houlihan’s lovely, pensive “In Your Dreams,” set on expert dancers BJ Sullivan and Sean Sullivan, carefully explores the element of manipulation in an intimate relationship to music by Schumann. Regional audiences also get to see, on the same stage and same night, both sections of Finley’s “Settling” suite, a work that explores, through humor and drama, where (and with whom) people settle, and what they settle for.

Scheduling conflicts prevented me from seeing Raleigh native Amy Chavasse‘s intriguingly titled “Fruit Axiom” when she decanted it at the Enloe Dance Company benefit two months ago, and I was similarly absent for the recent return of Durham’s 2 Near the Edge, a full-length collaboration with poet Jaki Shelton Green, after a year’s hiatus. I’m looking forward to seeing two new works, “Zoots” and “Common Law.”

Friday‘s show I’ve seen, and it’s a strong one. Choreo Collective comes into its own with two affiliated works. They reprise their fascinating experiment with Kathy Colville, a middle school art instructor with no previous choreographic experience, in “The Firm Believer,” one of the strongest works I saw anywhere last year. The group also repeats choreographer Caroline Williford‘s “Via Negativa: elegy for the living,” an episodic, foreign film of a dance in which characters extricate themselves from dead-end relationships and jobs–sometimes for better, sometimes worse.

Recent transplant Allison Waddell‘s psychological solo, “Residue,” challenges our notions about transformation, escape and flight. We’ll also see “I often imagine myself,” a comic–and intense–work about our complex relationships with food.

NCDF founder Jan Van Dyke‘s innovates well beyond her signature symmetries in the thoughtful meditation on leave-taking, “Watching as I go,” a metaphoric play between two dancer “selves” in gray and two “spirits” in white, to music by Schubert.

We’ll also see two works by Charlotte’s ‘North Carolina Dance Theater. Mary Hudetz’s “Subtle Perspective” may have been too subtle when we viewed it in Asheville. On first viewing it seemed little more than a showcase for dancer Waylon Anderson’s dramatic physique. “Widow,” Mark Diamond’s duet for Anderson and Victoria Gates, was a chilly tribute from the insect world and a technical tour de force for Ms. Gates–but one in which judicious editing might ameliorate the melodramatics toward the end.

Saturday night sees brand new work from local Monique Newton, whose “Butt at What Cost” takes off from the spoken word stylings of Shannadora “Munchie” Hollis and a soundscore including Rokia Trore and King Britt. Prior to that, New Bern’s Paige Whitley-Baugess goes intensely old-school with a baroque dance solo, “Guardian Angel,” to live violin music of Heinrich Biber.

After that, technical ninja Marcia Connerton‘s nervy, showcase spoken-word solo, “Basically,” defines the two types of people there are in this world–and then two more, the other two, the two after that and then some. Later, we also see her “Duet for Four” an imaginative, amusing work exploring the possibilities between two dancers and two black wooden chairs.

Jennifer Clagett-Sommers crosses from ballet to modern dance in an encore of “Dash,” her fish-out-of-water at the track-and-field tale, which Meredith Dance Company staged in November, before John Gamble Dance Theater performs sections from its recent reflection on technology and the human body, “Virtual Lies.”

And that’s only a prelude for dance this week in our neighborhood. Enloe Dance Company stages their rescheduled winter concert on Thursday and Saturday nights at Enloe High School, while Anima Dance gets an extra snow date for their current production, “Of Angels,” Saturday at the Durham Arts Center. Anima also makes a cameo appearance Thursday night at Café DADA, at the DAC this time out as well.

Enloe, it should be noted, will also be in the house at First Friday at Raleigh’s Artspace, for choreographer Jodi Aleen Staub’s first regional public solo showing, in conjunction with the formal opening of Henryk Fantasos’ surreal painting exhibit, Confusalem.

Finally, the night before the NCDF gets underway, Philadelphia choreographer Rennie Harris brings his Puremovement company to N.C. State’s Center Stage. Regional audiences may have caught his performance in Raleigh a couple of years ago, or the staging of his controversial hip-hop culture/Shakespeare fusion, Rome and Jewels, at ADF in 2001.

From what we’ve seen so far, the new repertory looks sharp. “P-Funk,” a jazz tribute interlaced with potent quotes from George Clinton’s old crew, veers between anarchic individual celebrations and tight ensemble work. To keening, hypnotic a capella moans, a phalanx of African-American men is blown back and forth by the winds of violence, until one is blown away in the funereal “March of the Antmen.” Following the winds of change, are the extended break-dance acrobatics and calisthenics of an apparent urban-survival-final-exam, called Students of the Asphalt Jungle. EndBlock