- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A broad spectrum of dance sweeps into town this weekend, with something for everyone. From breathless young wannabe ballerinas dressed up to see “Swan Lake” to city types attracted to the gritty, street-smart moves of Urban Bush Women to folks who hanker to kick back and watch a group celebrate bluegrass, all have choices aplenty.

It’s also a good weekend to try something new, for many of the groups seldom perform — or have never performed — in the D.C. area.

Here from Charlotte, N.C., is North Carolina Dance Theatre, making its local debut Sunday evening at Strathmore Music Center with “Under Southern Skies.” The program obviously celebrates the South. One work is set to a recording by John Coltrane, while two others have the added fillip of live music performed onstage by two Asheville-based groups. Artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s “I’m With You” is accompanied by folk singer Christine Kane, and his “Shindig” winds up the evening with the rollicking acoustic band Greasy Beans.

The North Carolina troupe is on a two-month tour that emphasizes its country roots, but it has another side we won’t see here that accounts for its dancers’ fine-tuned technique. Mr. Bonnefoux was a distinguished member of the New York City Ballet in the 1970s and, before that, a star of the Paris Opera Ballet. His wife, Patricia McBride, was a leading Balanchine ballerina and is an associate artistic director of the company. So the ensemble has honed its skills on distinguished works by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Alvin Ailey.

Another company making its Washington debut is the Giovanni Luquini Performance Troupe from Florida, appearing at Dance Place Saturday and Sunday. Mr. Luquini, a Brazilian-born choreographer, crafts athletic multimedia works that are dramatic and forceful, drawing on the talents of dancers, actors and musicians.

His engagement is typical of the fare offered weekly at Dance Place, which has introduced dozens of promising choreographers and performers who have gone on to impressive careers.

After that, Mr. Luquini will spend the next two weeks working with the local company CityDance at Strathmore. You can spend a busy — make that frantic — Sunday evening first listening to Mr. Bonnefoux giving a pre-performance talk at 5:30, then scooting over to CityDance’s Strathmore studios at 6 to watch the company’s open rehearsal for a European summer tour. (Call 202/347-3909 for additional details.) Reservations for the rehearsal are free but essential and entitle you to a 30 percent discount on the North Carolina Dance Theatre’s performance, which begins at 7.

The other two major groups on view this weekend already have a following from previous appearances here.

The Russian National Ballet, appearing at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts in “Sleeping Beauty” on Saturday and in “Swan Lake” on Sunday afternoon, is one of at least five dance organizations with “Russian” in their names that travel to this country for successful tours. The two ballets are inextricably linked to “Russian” in the public mind. Both works were born there and are set to scores by the country’s most famous composer, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky. The staging is traditional, and the modest prices make it a further draw.

A stark contrast to the regal trapping and sense of hierarchy imbedded in these Russian classics is the gritty, often fierce performance of Urban Bush Women. The company has appeared here before, most recently as part of the Kennedy Center’s Masters of African American Choreography last spring. On that occasion, it presented “Walking With Pearl … African Diaries,” a stunning work based on the writing of the legendary dancer-anthropologist Pearl Primus and created by company founder Jawole Willa Jo Zollar.

The piece, spun from Miss Zollar’s interest in the African diaspora and the work of Miss Primus, makes evocative use of the sounds of nature in its score.

The performances tomorrow and Saturday at the Terrace Theater offer a second look at that eminently repeatable dance and couples it with a companion piece on Miss Primus and her experiences. “Dances With Pearl … Southern Diaries,” a brand-new work that will have its first showing in New York next month, depicts the life of sharecroppers, their work, struggles and religious fervor — an affirmation of the black experience that is at the heart of Urban Bush Women.

WHAT: North Carolina Dance Theatre at Strathmore Arts Center, the Giovanni Luquini Performance Troupe at Dance Place, the Russian National Ballet at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts, and the Urban Bush Women at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater.

INFORMATION:Showtimes, programs and ticket prices vary and are available on each venue’s Web site — Strathmore Music Center (www.strathmore.org), Dance Place (www.danceplace.org), George Mason University’s Center for the Arts (www.gmu.edu/cfa) and the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater (www.kennedy-center.org).

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