Saturday, August 3, 2013

Dance Kaleidoscope brings back three strong pieces for its northern fan base

Perhaps it should  take longer than a couple of years for anything to be dubbed "classic," but we live in a fast-paced world in which our electronic devices become great-grandfathers to the latest gizmo before we can get the hang of them.

In any case, the three pieces David Hochoy created for Dance Kaleidoscope in 2011 and 2012 that make up the "Classic Hits" program deserve some special designation. They were certainly accorded a special reception by the enraptured audience that nearly filled the Tarkington Theater Friday night. (There will be a repeat performance at 7 p.m. today in the Center for the Performing Arts hall.)

Three different aspects of Hochoy as a choreographer — and thus three aspects of the company he has directed for 23 years — constitute the program. The centerpiece is "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy," the most substantial of the three works. Hochoy often seems to be at his best focusing on relationships — working from the emotion out through its physical expression. And what he has done with Tchaikovsky's "fantasy-overture" strikes to the heart of the evergreen story of tragic love doomed by kinship prejudice.

True to the fantasy element, though the narrative aspect of the work is strong, the pivotal couple is seen in three guises, its story told by six dancers: happy in the first bloom of their forbidden love, more  passionate than ever as they experience how deeply they are menaced by the feud, and as the doomed lovers submitting on impulse to double suicide.

Idealized zenith of young love in DK's "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy" 
A fourth couple (Liberty Harris and Justin David Sears-Watson) represents an anti-Romeo-and-Juliet "shadow" fronting  the fierce opposition to their match. Caitlin Negron and Brandon Comer enchantingly  displayed the glow of initial attraction and the energy of youthful abandon while keeping the exclusive mutual focus characteristic of burgeoning romance. At the end of the story, Jillian Godwin and Zach Young tore at the heartstrings as they embodied disbelief that the beloved other is forever gone.

But best of all was the love-death intensity in the duo of Mariel Greenlee and Timothy June. Everything in their picture of Romeo and Juliet's narrowing space of marital bliss before the walls close in on them carried the import of the piece, bridging successfully the fresh passion of Negron and  Comer and the premature encounter with death the lovers endure in the tomb, ending in the image of Godwin's clinging jumps onto the statuesque figure of the rear-facing Young before Juliet stabs herself.

The evening began with the lightly allusive, classically inspired "Ancient Airs and Dances,"  using selections from three suites of that title concocted by Ottorino Respighi from 16th- and 17th-century pieces by his Italian forebears. Nothing but feet touched the floor in this lofty tribute. Perhaps the heartiness of the recording chosen inspired Hochoy at times to a little more grandeur than seemed proper to these unpretentious pieces. In any case, the one that moved me most was his setting of a subdued movement from the Suite No. 3 for string orchestra: chaste, lyrical and unconventionally carried out in choreography for four men and one woman.

The vertical style — the shoulder-to-fingertip flair of the arms poised up and out, elegantly cocked wrists and footwork seeming to blend folk and courtly influences —  was consistently charming. I'm tempted to think Botticelli's painting "La Primavera" directly inspired Hochoy, but the association could be affected by the fact that that work is used as cover art on the LP I own of "Ancient Airs and Dances." 

Darker and more ambiguous in expression (stage fog underlining both) was "Electric Counterpoint," a  guarded look into complementary and competitive elements of interaction. Formal and emotional aspects were nicely counterpointed, while the "electric" part of the title seemed a matter of energy arcing between the dancers, set typically in pairs. The male pair (Young and Noah Trulock) kept an edge going between competition and cooperation; the female couple (Greenlee and Negron) brought forth a subtler kind of rivalry; hints of mutual flattery were set against the self-assertion portrayed.

High-wattage duo in "Electric Counterpoint"
It was as if Hochoy were saying: "Here are some givens of how two people interact, followed by an indication of how easily that gets complicated." In the second section an asymmetrical group of three men and two women  allowed for firmer, more abstract patterns. Individuality became muted as a group dynamic was emphasized. When Godwin entered late to this group, it set up a peppy, angular
solo, reminiscent of, but not as vaunting as, her recent signature piece to a Frank Sinatra recording of "That's Life."

Here, her brief solo introduced a spectacular duo conclusion testing her and June. Daring leaps and lifts were components of precisely timed, impactful movements apart and together.  The fervor hinted at in earlier parts of the work seemed to ascend to the highest form of interaction, shot through with risk, caution thrown to the winds, its nervous energy attuned to the repetitive jangle of Steve Reich's music.

(Photo credit: Crowe's Eye Photography)