Review: ‘NOC-tURNE’ by NFT Dance & Company at Atlas Performing Arts Center

The airy-fairy world of contemporary ballet takes a turn toward the macabre in Nancy Flores-Tirado’s darkly romantic NOC-tURNE, performed by NFT Dance & Company in follow-up to Atlas’ INTERSECTIONS 10th-year celebration. Three dance works–“Black Rose,” “Nevar-More,” and “Xenomorphia II”– all choreographed by Flores, eloquently speak in the poetic narrative of Gothic artistic expression and the avant-garde.

'NOC-tURNE' by NFT Dance & Company performed one night only on May 19 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Photo courtesy of Atlas Performing Arts Center.
‘NOC-tURNE’ by NFT Dance & Company performed one night only on May 19 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Photo courtesy of Atlas Performing Arts Center.

Exploring the artistic genius of Edgar Allan Poe, Federico Garcia Lorca, and Hans Ruedi Giger, the program dives deeply into the mysterious realm of the supernatural as it explores death and rebirth, the organic and the inorganic through dance. NOC-tURNE lurks around the edges of mortality and immortality and fantasizes outside the lines to create a work of unique choreographic artistry. It plays the light against the shadows of man’s collective unconscious to arrestingly interesting effect.  Who would have thought that death could be so becoming? But NOC-tURNE pulls it off with aplomb.

A native Baltimorean, Nancy Flores-Tirado is a former Latin-American Ballroom Champion with US titles, and a recipient of the Mark Ryder Original Choreography Award. Flores is a multi-talented dancer, choreographer, and actress who has performed nationally, internationally and locally, among others, for the Washington National Opera, the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, the Gala Hispanic Theatre, and the Maryland Youth Ballet.

In NOC-tURNE, Flores completely indulges her passion for psychology, nature, literature and the human quest for life, love and hope and goes further to create the costumes, the projections, lighting design, sound editing, and music editing in addition to the choreography. Flores was a powerhouse in this production.

In “Black Rose,” a dance narrative depicts a story written by Flores herself of a mysterious curse that has fallen upon a mythical village. The curse can only be lifted by a duel in a bullfight in which death is the only redemption. Flores’ choreography is neo-Gothic contemporary ballet with the eclectic imagery of Middle Eastern movement, Indian Kuchipudi, classical Hip Hop Snake, and the proud upper body postures of a Flamenco matador.

The entire dance ensemble including Oscar Sanchez, Diego Sosa, Nicole Graniero, Jamie Doughty, Max Maisey, Sara Bradna, and Nancy Flores-Tirado perform in “Black Rose.”  The dancing is filled with grand gestures, long, sweeping arms, elegantly executed extensions, beautiful lifts that are balletic but complemented by distinctly Arab overtones and ethnically diverse musical accompaniment by Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerrard, John Debney, Dead Can Dance, Estudios Talkback, Abel Korzeniowski, and Mozart.

Gauzy black full-body hijab coverings and shocking red, pink and white sylph-like costuming in “Black Rose” combine with video projections from the devastation of Chernobyl, the dry bones of an arid Arabian desert, and spooky black forests that add to the mysticism of this alluring piece. “Black Rose” captures one’s imagination and holds it in rapt attention by its darkly captivating imagery and fine dancing, particularly the exquisite pas de deux by Oscar Sanchez and Nicole Graniero.

'NOC-tURNE' by NFT Dance & Company performed one night only on May 19 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Photo courtesy of Atlas Performing Arts Center.
‘NOC-tURNE’ by NFT Dance & Company performed one night only on May 19 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Photo courtesy of Atlas Performing Arts Center.

Sanchez and Graniero of the Washington Ballet repeat their seductive dance sequence in a short film of “Black Rose,” a dance film project that was shot last year. The textured black and white videography by Luba Gershenzon was an added surprise and a delightful treat on the NOC-tURNE program.

Voiceover narration by Michael A. Leicht of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” sets the haunting atmospherics for “Nevar-More,” principally danced by Max Maisey with Sara Bradna in a supporting role. Maisey is the tormented Poe who slowly goes insane after being visited by a raven. Flores’s scary projections of misty fog and the head of a huge black raven gradually morph into the skull-like visage of Edgar Allan Poe himself.

Max Maisey is a passionate and technically skilled dancer who obviously relishes the role of Poe and throws his whole body weight into dancing into life Edgar Allan Poe’s famous narrative poem. He moves his hands in menacing gestures that mimic the raven’s piercing beak and looks like a mad Goth Drosselmeyer from The Nutcracker in a black leather maxi-waistcoat that he flings in fits and starts.

“Nevar-More” is a spectacle to behold of a solo male dancer filling the stage with palpable mental anguish which uncannily delights as it shocks the senses with horror-story suspense made flesh by the human body and voice.

The avant-garde “Xenomorphia II,” danced by the entire ensemble, deploys shocking projections of mummified cadavers, the human skeletal spine, death masks, the markings of a fetus in utero, and bones intertwined with widgets.

Visuals of Swiss painter and genius extraordinaire, H.R. Giger, who was on the creative team for “The Alien” motion picture, overlay this piece with a science fiction tone that links the biochemical connection between the human body and the moving parts of a machine.  The program describes “Xenomorphia II” as a reflection on the human involvement with technology and how it has transformed and victimized our humanity.

The choreography is both balletic and acrobatic. Although the choreography is unremarkable in terms of dazzling, eye-catching movements, the edgy projections of the cosmic universe, death-like images from the times of Egyptian pharaohs, skeletal unitard costuming, the haunting stringed music by Waterfall, Score Studio and Arvo Part combine a variety of theatrical effects to make “Xenomorphia II” a different experience for contemporary ballet and an emotionally touching work.

In a talk-back after the performance, Nancy Flores-Tirado told the audience that NOC-tURNE is scheduled to be presented in upcoming dance showcases in the area. NOC-tURNE is a uniquely creative production danced by the equally outstanding NFT Dance & Company and hopefully more audiences will be able to see and to appreciate it.

Running Time: 75 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

NOCtURNE played on May 19, 2019, for one night at the Atlas Performing Arts Center’s  Lang Theatre – 1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC. For tickets to upcoming events, call the box office at (202) 399-7993 x 2, or purchase them online.