It is, alas, an oft-told tale -- splendid dancing undercut by measly choreography. Such was the shortcoming of North Carolina Dance Theatre in its appearance at the Weinberg Center in Frederic, Md., Saturday night, an event that made one long to see these 15 fine dancers in a program more becoming to their talent and proficiency.
The troupe, directed by Robert Lindgren and founded in 1970 as a "professional affiliate" of the North Carolina School of the Arts, has performed twice previously in the Washington area -- at Wolf Trap and the National Gallery's East Building -- but never before in a full evening of it own.
The opening of the program was deceptively promising. George Balanchine's "Valse Fantaisie" to wonderfully lilting music by Glinka is a miniature, to be sure, but it has the mark of genius in its svelte, exuberant lyricism. Deborah Dawn and Richard Prewitt danced with appealing panache as the lead couple, and the four assisting ballerinas displayed the well-groomed classical bearing that is a hallmark of the troupe's training.
As far as repertoire was concerned, however, it was all downhill from there. Charles Czarny's "Dreamscapes" used motifs from a tai-chi and other Eastern sources in a four-square ritual that emphasized the monotony of the scores by Philip Glass and Steve Reich instead of the music's sense of transport and mystery.
Alvin Ailey's "Myth," to wind music by Stravinsky, was a tasteful but bland and dramatically obscure pas de quatre. Intolerably banal, saccharine routines of a folksy sort formed the basis of Norber Besak's "Meadow Dances," set to songs from the Auvergne.
Finally, there was Czarny's "Bach: Brandenburg Three," trying desperately hard to be an adorable little ballet with a sporty flavor but ending up a collection of vapid gimmicks involving cartwheels, balloons and a row of doors popping open and shut.
Such a program suggests a fear that audiences will be frightened off by anything more challenging than tiddlywinks, but it's obvious that both dancers and spectators would be better served by less condescension and more substance.