A regional company that seems to specialize in lyrical ballets, North Carolina Dance Theater attacked mostly second-rate material with dedication and spirit Monday night at McKinney Theatre on the Saddleback College campus in Mission Viejo.
The chief attractions were Mel Tomlinson, formerly a New York City Ballet soloist, and Traci Owens. In “By Lamplight,” Rick McCullough’s lovers’ dalliance, set to four Rachmaninoff preludes, the couple seemed two halves of a wonderfully elastic whole.
Tomlinson, an arresting sculptural presence at rest, is a dancer who so carefully husbands his movements that each one leaps out with startling clarity. When he sent Owens traveling away from him with one large motion of his arm, the gesture seemed etched in air.
The strawberry-blond Owens was a delicious foil for him: an endlessly pliant creature, gradually melting to the floor or into Tomlinson’s arms, responding with a slow, breathing rhythm to his touch and falling backward with luxurious trust.
Company artistic director Salvatore Aiello’s “Notturno,” to the music of Schubert, was a meandering affair. Lumbering floor work (all four unitard-clad dancers do a split in unison, then three, two and just one follow suit) seasoned the usual quota of lifts and turns, with a fillip of semi-acrobatic posing for the two couples.
In “La Mer,” Vicente Nebrada reacted to the Debussy music with numbing predictability: lots of whirling, lots of rushing about with lifted chests and arms pulled backward, and big lifts at the big climaxes. The eight men leave; the eight women mourn: Sad are the ways of love. One of the six principals, Owens had a curious angular jump vaguely reminiscent of a step from Nijinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps.” Everything else looked like second-rate Arpino.
As a curtain-raiser, the company performed the Act III dances from “Napoli” with great charm. The men seemed particularly at home with the lightness and neatness of Bournonville technique and their overall stylishness made one ready to overlook such occasional company problems as lack of synchronization, mushy beats and stiff arms. A fleet and sprightly performance of the Tarantella constituted the company’s finest moments.