I can almost see the docent now, in some hypothetical museum of art, as one looks for direction in a new exhibition of works by Carolina Ballet:

“Bourtasenkov? With O’Keeffe and Maxfield Parrish, down the hall to your right.”

“Walters?” She stiffens, slightly, gazing at the inquisitor. Glacially, one eyebrow lifts. “With the Surrealists.” Then, almost as an afterthought: “Downstairs.” As you walk away, you notice her gaze following you.

These latest images are on display in Durham this weekend when the Carolina Ballet brings its third iteration of Premieres to Duke’s Reynolds Theater. The touring version varies in content from both the first and second weeks of its Raleigh performances that ran for two weekends in April at the BTI Center.

Inscape, a new work by the New York City Ballet’s Damien Woetzel, joins two “in-house” works by the Carolina Ballet’s Tyler Walters and Timour Bourtasenkov. Walters’ experiments in ballet and modern dance fusion have distinguished themselves both regionally and nationally, and audiences have come to look for them in programs with the ballet and at Duke University. But while area dance lovers have long since identified Timour Bourtasenkov as one of the ballet’s principal dancers, they’re nowhere nearly as familiar with his choreography.

This should change all that. Bourtasenkov’s Light and Dark, whose three movements are subtitled “Iris,” “Dark Clouds” and “Rain Drops,” is a near-Taoist, near-animist nature study that explores the relationship between color, light and dark. Accompanied by a quartet of black-clad women, striking dancer Christopher Rudd’s well-sculpted moves and amazing aerial gestures animate what might be termed the dark impulse in this suite. It’s an impulse that, while vested in gravitas, is never cheapened into sinister cliché or easy menace.

We are spared again the saccharine of glib characterization when Margot Martin ably answers here as the opposing light impulse, in “Rain Drops.” As the suite proceeds, Rudd’s and Martin’s minions first interact with seven couples representing the differing hues that appear in various versions of the iris. The dark quintet literally shroud designer Jeff A.R. Jones’ chromatic costumes in black gauze, before the opposing faction releases them, as light and dark negotiate balance. Bourtasenkov’s choreography veers towards melodrama once, and on several occasions he has difficulty managing the movement of large groups on stage. The strength of his images elsewhere, particularly in the closing visions of the first movement, and his meditations on light in darkness and darkness in light that close the work, still clearly make this a dance, and a choreographer, well worth watching.

By comparison, Tyler Walters’ Off-White is, from the start, an unsettling, and at times indecipherable, series of surreal images dealing with unrequited desire. The initial sound of the work–the ensemble audibly breathes in air at the same time–is ironically juxtaposed with the extended opening image of Daphne Falcone’s motionless body on the floor, completely ignored by a group of eight men in white pants. Eventually, she reanimates to chase–but never catch–Christopher Rudd, instead being tangled in a web of men onstage.

A group of inscrutable images follow: Falcone, Lori Christman, and others roll across the floor, reaching out to the audience at the same time. Christman steps out of the frame and off-stage onto a special platform suspended above the orchestra pit, where she gazes back on the action that takes place there. Walters enlists designer Ross Kolman for two light show sequences more at home at a rock concert than in ballet. But such tricks and gimcracks don’t ultimately cohere into a work that communicates all that much. Occasionally Off-White suggests and alludes, but for the most, this homage to ballet blanc stays too subconscious, too subliminal. EndBlock

Contact Byron Woods at byron@indyweek.com.