Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lang Lang in recital: A super deal for students

The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel announces student tickets at $15 each to "select Palladium seating areas" for Lang Lang's solo piano recital Sept. 19.

Lang Lang, the Chinese-born pianist who has become a world citizen of classical music within the past decade, has been heard as soloist with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.  But the Palladium event marks his first solo recital in the area.

On the 7:30 p.m. program: the four Ballades by Frederic Chopin and W.A. Mozart's Piano Sonatas No. 4 in E-flat, K. 282; No. 5 in G, K. 283, and No. 8 in C, K. 309.

Students wishing to purchase tickets can go online or contact the box office, (317) 843-3800.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Something conclusive this way comes: The Sunday report, IndyFringe's final day

Part of the IndyFringe excitement is that no one has come between you and any show you're seeing.  That is to say, no jury made the selection. That's why you will encounter duds from time to time.  When you do,  you have no shadowy,  judgmental figure behind the scenes to be annoyed at. If you don't like a show, you have faced the source of your annoyance right there in front of you, within the allotted hour, as you took in the performance.

I faced mine in the middle of Sunday afternoon. The University tWits, its self-deprecating name not quite disarming all criticism, is a six-person troupe from Bloomington specializing in sketch comedy on contemporary subjects. Its final show at the Phoenix Theatre's Russell Stage was not well attended, with the audience just twice the size of the company. Word of mouth works both ways in guiding patrons' choices, apparently.

An initial scene purporting to be full of disagreements about how to begin did not lead one to expect great things. It proved to be an omen for the show, in which even the well-done bits were on the verge of being heavy-handed, and were sure to have worn out their welcome if only so many of them had not been so short. So quick was the succession of blackouts that what seemed a half-formed idea for a sketch often turned out to be the whole thing. I suspect some of these fledglings were destined never to take wing; the ground around the home tree would be littered with tiny bird carcasses.

I got the feeling that university sketch-comedy troupes must work something like the staffs of college literary magazines. The staff sits around to decide which of the submissions will go into the next issue. Most of the submissions are the work of the staff, every member of which is anxious not to hurt anyone else's feelings. So, within the group very little is rejected and thus, literary hobby work gets passed on to a tiny public.

The University tWits had repeated sketches involving two meddlesome older women who practically attack young people they erroneously feel are in need of caring advice. Apart from illustrating the intergenerational warfare that has existed from time immemorial, none of these sketches had two sticks of wit to rub together so as to strike sparks.

I found some clever observation of college-roommate problems illuminated in one sketch, in which one kid tries to deal with his personal shortcomings by bringing in a nebbish as a replacement for a scapegoat roommate and treating him for a time like the answer to all his problems. It turns out not to be the solution in this case; for this troupe, however, replacement writers might be the way to go, plus a strict director.

Amy Hayes in "Miss Havisham's Wedding Night"
Intimate Opera of Indianapolis has put together a program called "The Witch of the Place,"  which may suggest a voyage into the supernatural, but in fact focuses on one of literature's most haunting images of wronged womanhood: Charles Dickens' Miss Havisham, the long-ago jilted bride in "Great Expectatios," who madly retains a state of nuptial readiness decades after receiving her betrothed's note breaking everything off.

Dominick Argento's 1979 one-act monodrama, "Miss Havisham's Wedding Night," is the centerpiece of the production, featuring Amy Elaine Hayes in a powerhouse performance. Her performance Sunday was emotionally gripping and musically nuanced, paced perfectly with Amanda Hopson's accompaniment at an electronic keyboard. Phrasing and diction were exemplary, and the soprano (and Intimate Opera's guiding force) sang securely throughout the wide vocal range required. Such a well-prepared show upholds the relevance of "high art" in the wonderful mixture characteristic of Fringe offerings.

The presentation was supplemented by soprano Julie Strauser singing a coloratura showcase, Saint-Saens' "The Nightingale and the Rose," and Amy Beach's setting of "Take, O Take Those Lips Away." Strauser later plays the adoptive daughter Estella, groomed (a role only hinted at as the opera ends) to exact revenge upon all men. Rachel Konchinsky-Pate had speaking roles as the Narrator and the Maid.

Ending my #Fringe13 experience, as music from the beer tent discordantly bled through the western wall of the IndyFringe Basile Theater, was "Something Wicked This Way Comes, " a well-knit anthology of Shakespeare excerpts focusing on villainous or abused women, knit together by a male narrator and framed by the famous witches in "Macbeth," played by three women.  The actresses took on a host of other female roles, ranging from Ophelia and Joan of Arc (primarily victims) through the calculating Lady Macbeth, one-half of what one critic has aptly called the happiest marriage in Shakespeare, and Tamora, the fearsome Queen of the Goths in "Titus Andronicus."

The narration placed just enough context around the women's magnetic performances to be useful, though it's pretty clear that significant acquaintance with the plays could only increase the pleasure of those who attended. The witches' cauldron was the show's glowing centerpiece, the focal point and symbolic representation of all human temptations to work harm upon others, by natural or supernatural means and irrespective of gender identity.

 "Unsex me here!" — the Lady Macbeth line delivered with a ferocious shout in Sunday's performance — sums up the show's emphasis on the neutering power of evil and the desperate energy released when women are moved or forced to contend in arenas ruled by men at their worst.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ancient, age-old, modern and silly problems at IndyFringe: The Saturday report

If you don't find something at IndyFringe to move you, then you have just scratched the surface. Sure, there's nothing wrong with staying on the fun side of the annual festival, but there's so much more.

Susan's haul from successful bidding at "Going, Going, Gone(r)"
To while away an hour watching the long-running "live auction comedy" contrived for the 2012 Fringe by Lou Harry and John Thomas always returns positive benefits.  Running out of play money to bid with is the closest thing to a worry you're likely to have at "Going... Going... Gone(r)." (Before she ran out of faux dough, my wife, Susan Raccoli, had acquired the treasures pictured here.)

The show, a monthly staple on the IndyFringe Basile Theatre schedule since its premiere, takes donated castoffs and garage-sale rejects, then repurposes them as valuable forgotten items from the estate of a deceased auctioneer named Ed. His relatives and friends just want to move on (for the most part) after having unloaded everything on eager bidders.

The production team's supply of actors willing to rummage in Ed's world appears to be endless. On Saturday, most of the ShadowApe Theatre Company cast whose main gig at the 2013 Fringe is "Welcome to the Monkey House" became Ed's near and dear and ad hoc auctioneer.

ShadowApe was resourceful improvising off a scenario  that called for the late proprietor's sister (Jen Johansen) to come in late, reluctantly bringing along a convulsively sobbing longtime employee (Constance Macy) after family members played by Charles Goad, Jolene Mentink Moffatt and Rob Johansen had launched the auction. The blueprint was inspired, though I had the feeling the items pulled out for sale were not quite abundant or provocative enough to inspire the best spontaneous interactions.  But the set-up had imagination to burn, especially in the consistency and wit of one-eyed brother Rob's original, hard-to-untangle speech impediment.

For a connection with the more serious side of Fringe, a visit to Ben Abbott's "Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity" was likely to leave a mark on your understanding of the festival's more profound possibilities.

Raised in a large Mormon family and now happy in a conventional approved marriage, Abbott has turned his personal exploration of the conundrum of gay identity within his church into a moving, well-crafted play. He bases his riveting monologue on interviews with co-religionists whose homosexuality has no place within orthodox Mormon identity. But he wisely links it to testimony on his own transformation within Mormonism toward seeing the need for a more inclusive definition of faith.

Partly through acting out portions of the interviews and partly through recorded excerpts, Abbott dovetails into his narrative accounts of rejection,  creative ways of working through official rejection, and bursts of compassion and insight that echo the revelations accorded the church's prophet, Joseph Smith. Along the way, he shares many aspects of Mormon belief and practice with the audience in an unacademic manner. The staging is imaginative and theatrically resourceful.

Most important, he represents through his openness and enthusiasm the way strong religious convictions present the paradox of being both a springboard to greater faith and a temptation to harden the shell that separates the faithful from others. Abbott boldly chooses the former course, spurred by stories he's gathered from people he refuses to turn his back on. "Questions of the Heart" has the potential to work immense good as he prepares to take the show to Utah and California.

One-performer shows bulk large in the festival schedule, and their range is wide. A world away from "Questions of the Heart" is Gail Payne's cabaret show, "La Vie, L'Amour," smoothly put together under the direction of Mark Goetzinger, with the peerless collaboration of David Duncan at the piano.

Different questions of the heart are engaged here. Around the scenario of an impressionable young woman's romantic sojourn in Paris, Payne has assembled a group of French and American evergreen songs. Her stylish singing and her conscientious bridging of the spoken and sung parts of the show were commendable in the acoustically friendly Cook Theater at Indiana Landmarks Center.

Nonetheless, though no one should expect a cabaret program to convey deep dramatic content, the naivete of the intelligent, attractive American whom Payne portrayed was astonishing. The lover who swept her off her feet and took her to Paris seemed — if I can mix imagery a bit here — a transparent straw man, as Payne's monologue describes him.

Ostensibly inspired by the hackneyed example of Ernest Hemingway's residency there, "Richard" doesn't distance himself from his girlfriend because he's working so hard on his writing, as the young Hemingway did. No, indeed: he's lazy and convivial and ready to let his roving eye settle on some other beauty, a development that ushers in a variety of torch songs. In sum: a neat concept to hang such a show on, but not worth examining too closely.

A serious take on an ancient classic is a rare thing in IndyFringe history. Shakespeare send-ups are almost fashionable, but to adapt Euripides' tragedy "Medea" without snickering is the laudable achievement of Amber Bastards, a troupe from Minneapolis. 

On a bare stage, with no more than a thronelike chair on one side and a small platform on the other, the five-member company provided rare exposure to the fountainhead of Western theater. Masks were not used, but the language employed put personal expression on an elevated plane. Raw emotion is conveyed not as a series of ephemeral moods (as our realistic heritage has trained us to see), but as something fundamental to each character's existential stance and moral relationship to the other characters and to society.

The heart-piercing theme of a foreigner linked by marriage to a ruler far away from home, then spurned for political and dynastic reasons and eager for retribution, is one of the strongest legacies in European literature. In Saturday's performance on the Phoenix Theatre's Basile Stage, the company's acting was flawless and intense, the Greek-chorus commentary smoothly integrated to character interaction.

The portrayal of Medea — whether eerily moved to laughter as she hears an account of her murderous plot unfolding or struggling with her decision to kill her daughter rather than leave her behind or require her to share the shame of exile —  evoked compassion and repugnance in almost equal measure. This is the stance that gives Greek drama its staying power: Offenses to the moral order are vividly portrayed and provided with justification,  but just as clearly used as examples of why that order must be upheld to keep a society's fundamental values pertinent.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A miscellany of one-performer Fringe shows (plus an ISO tidbit): The Friday report

Not having binged on Fringe this year like some hardy souls, by Friday night I'd still become a little unhinged by Fringe.

My choice of three one-person shows in a row may have had something to do with it.  It's hard for one person, even for one hour, to hold the stage well.  An exception can be made for a good actor's thorough command of a wonderful script, such as what Paul Hansen offers in "The High-Impact Infidelity Diet" and Pat O'Brien in "Underneath the Lintel."

But original material in the hands of a single performer challenges an audience member to lock in instantly and stay hooked.  I will concede that, for most of the audience, Kevin Burke had that knack  at his evening show at ComedySportz, but not for me.

"Sin City Stories" purports to be "true tales of Sin City" (Las Vegas) from a Zionsville resident who had a remarkable run there for six years, chiefly in the hit show "Defending the Caveman." But there were just a few colorful anecdotes buried in a lot of interaction with the audience as Burke laboriously re-created a comedian-psychic shtick.

The link to Las Vegas got pretty thin at times, except for a resemblance to the boisterous atmosphere characteristic of the well-lubricated crowds that the entertainment mecca is famous for.  I hesitate to comment on the condition of the ComedySportz audience in whose company I saw the show, but let's  credit Burke for knowing how to build rapport, even if it seemed he often took the line of least resistance. Furthermore, letting audience members select sketches/topics simply hides an unwillingness or inability to structure a performance from stem to stern.

There was one anecdote each about Redd Foxx, Barry Manilow and a red-carpet encounter with Joe Jackson, but "Sin City Stories"  needed more to paint a complete picture of an environment that must have seemed exotic for a Midwesterner to work in. I wasn't expecting sociology, but perhaps a well-shaped comic monologue lies somewhere within Burke's six years of high-profile exposure to the Strip.

A related show in subject matter occupied the slot just before Burke's Friday:  Katherine Glover delivered a detailed monologue titled "Burning Brothels: Sex and Death in Nevada."  It was an anthology of prostitution lore centered on Nevada's checkered history. Glover appeared to be steeped in the facts and legend of the profession as practiced legally and illegally across that state since the mid-19th century. The showmanship was at a minimal level, however, and — despite the obvious appeal of the topic — a lecture-like vibe hung over her performance.

No such complaint can be leveled against the other one-person show I saw Friday, Kevin Thornton's "Stairway to Kevin" at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre. An autobiographical account of a gay man entering middle age and still bedeviled by the ambition to hit it big in Nashville, Tenn., the show was well-written and well-delivered. Interspersed with some of his songs (self-accompanied on guitar and harmonica), the monologue returns again and again to the nature of forging an identity as an adult. How much should dreams be pursued, and for how long? How keyed should your daily activities be to your ambitions? What kind of experience can clarify the difference between fantasies and realistic goals?

Kevin Thornton reaches at Fringe.

Keen insights couldn't quite hide the danger in such Fringe shows, which can become so self-referential that they depend on eliciting the audience's sympathy, even pity. For the most part, the balance was tipped toward entertainment, but the ghost of ongoing, self-administered therapy hovered over "Stairway to Kevin."

It was just before  Thornton came onstage that I found myself sitting next to Steve Hamilton, new vice president of finance for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra,  From him I learned that the ISO had placed its musicians in nomination for the Artful Impact Award to be presented at the Arts Council of Indianapolis's annual "Start With Art" luncheon on Friday. But Hamilton acknowledged that in a gesture of magnanimity,  the council expanded the honor to include the staff and boards as well, and so the entire organization received it. The orchestra will need such community recognition and support as it faces a financially perilous future and resists the temptation to dilute its artistic product.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A superhero with flashy fleet and a putative savior in the nick of time: The Thursday report

Even casually made choices at IndyFringe can yield an entertainment package of the festival's variety in microcosm. My Thursday evening sampling indicated some of the contrasts that even a brief visit can set before you.

In "Tapman: Origin" at the Cook Theater, Chicagoan Tristan Bruns has the wit to take his virtuosity as a tap dancer and link it to a story line. Instead of a recital showcasing in separate numbers his pinpoint balance, endless verve and supple feet, he plays the superhero Tapman, whose goodness has to be judged mainly by the nastiness of his enemies, chiefly the Mad Tapper (played with sinuous elan by a Bruns colleague).

The dance display focusing on Bruns is hung on this story line, which is a little thin and deliberately derivative, to be sure. It's a flexible enough device  to be anchored (through narration) to sites in and around the home of IndyFringe, the Mass Ave Cultural District.  Of course, one of them has to be  (drum roll and cymbal crash) Chatham Tap.

Bruns also sings in a mostly acceptable crooning voice, with pitch occasionally straying but remarkably secure, considering his singing comes in the midst of strenuous displays of his main craft.
What was stranger and harder to take was his choice of speaking voice: raspy, almost croaking, thus  at times unintelligible.

Interludes in the story provide the opportunity for a local troupe of young women, Circle City Tap, to entertain. One of them is given a small but crucial role to play in the main story.

Bruns' stunning abilities, with poise maintained in all manner of intricate steps and a deft variation in technique displayed in a soft-shoe sand dance, should be harnessed to a more theatrically sophisticated presentation.  But "Tapman: Origin" at least acknowledges the show-biz verity that extraordinary skill needs to find a vehicle to showcase it in an entertaining manner. The vehicle in this case just needs an upgrade.

"The Dealer Smiles," a trim, charming comedy by Larry Adams at Theatre on the Square's Stage Two, takes on issues of faith that have been around for centuries.  In a program note, he admits there isn't a single original idea in his script. But he's written a serviceable defense of the Christian outlook, presented through the confrontation of two characters and larded with humor.

Matt (Larry Adams) is weighed down.
The playwright is a Zionsville physician with a couple of decades of community-theater experience under his belt. In "The Dealer Smiles," he plays Matt, a middle-aged man browsing the self-help section of a bookstore when he's interrupted by a brash stranger who uses his need for 50 cents to buy hot chocolate as a conversational ice-breaker.

The ice to be broken is thicker than the polar ice-cap, even before climate change. Matt has recently been through a bitter divorce prompted by his infidelity and is having trouble dealing with the aftermath.  But the stranger, Josh, is more than equal to the challenge.  Played with hearty enthusiasm and salt-of-the-earth naturalness by Jaime Johnson, Josh soon signals he's more than an incredibly detailed hallucination. (He's the origin of the phrase "salt of the earth," among other things.)

Yes, he's a Jesus-figure of implicit authority that suggests you might as well drop the hyphen and the "figure." His talk is slangy, his rhetorical style dogged but friendly, and it's worlds away from the august cadences of the King James Version. Josh engages Matt in a long dialogue about faith. It's fun to follow the interplay between the two. And just at the point when the theological banter threatens to become bogged down in a thicket of pronouns for the deity and what they might mean, the play returns to the matter of Matt's divorce, linking it to his unresolved bitterness about his parents' premature death many years before. Near the end, a whole new challenge for Matt emerges as the trigger of Josh's visit.

The playwright indicated in an interview his intention to make Josh's reality an ambiguous matter. Is he perhaps a figment of Matt's tortured imagination?  Is he just an eccentric drifter who likes to play head games with strangers? (Wait a minute: That's probably what the Pharisees thought Jesus was, isn't it?)

Matt suggests these possibilities as he confronts Josh, but as the piece moves forward, its equipoise tilts toward getting both Matt and the audience to accept Josh as the genuine article. The play thus has a definite bias, but it's a bias that's not a common feature of Fringe shows, many of which declare
biases of a far different kind. That's why I found "The Dealer Smiles" refreshing, and — though Josh is clearly given the upper hand by virtue of his close relationship with the entity who dealt this mess — invitingly balanced and funny.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

More IndyFringe gems on the Phoenix Theatre's Russell Stage: The Wednesday report

Constant behind the wry, sad smile with which Kurt Vonnegut greeted the world — his face wreathed in smoke and wrinkles as he aged, crowned with tousled curly hair, an ageless look that made it seem he might be carrying a slingshot in his back pocket — was an abiding concern for resisting dehumanization.

The spirit of mischief raised in his writing always pointed in the direction of something better for what his literary hero, Mark Twain, called "the damned human race." Humor might be the lingua franca of hope, but don't bet on it, Twain and Vonnegut would probably agree.

"Welcome  to  the Monkey House," an adaptation of several Vonnegut stories by ShadowApe Theatre Company, is a performance as unswerving from this outlook as any you'll see at Fringe. It has the special virtue of turning some of Vonnegut's fable-like short fiction into vibrant action. That helps mute hints of whimsical sermonizing from such stories as "The Euphio Question," placing them squarely in the realm of plausible behavior.

Not that we can take comfort in the behavior that's most natural to us as our scientific and technical knowledge advances. In the frame provided this show by "The Euphio Question," the upshot is: If we had the capability, we would wish a disarming happiness (triggered by amplifying and broadcasting radio waves from outer space) to settle over our enemies so that our side could remain free of the disorientation that imposed euphoria entails. The damned human race can be counted on to prefer power to happiness every time.

A dismal conclusion, surely — especially when we can't be sure of mastering that power.  Even the room-filling computers of the late 20th century, if enlisted to ease brainiac courtship, would be difficult to control in that cause, another ShadowApe adaptation suggests. How much more treacherous are the pocket powerhouses we now carry daily, along with our keys and credit cards!

"Monkey House" mostly as you'll see it this week at Fringe.
The high-spirited ingenuity of the ShadowApe show can hardly be overstated. This production bears the fruits of ensemble creation from the fertile ground of the printed page right through the harvest offered on the Phoenix Theatre's Russell Stage. The coordinated energy and tense, artfully maintained balance of pathos and farce never let down Wednesday in the performances of Charles Goad, Scot Greenwell, Jen Johansen, Rob Johansen, Constance Macy, Jolene Moffatt and Robert Neal.

I once heard Vonnegut lecture on modern fiction at the University of Michigan, using low-tech visual aids — a whiteboard and a black marker.  With mock-scholarly wit, he graphed the emotional trajectory typical of works by several 20th-century authors. The vertical coordinate represented happiness; the horizontal, the progress of the story through time. Ending with Franz Kafka, Vonnegut began his line from where x and y coordinates meet at zero and curved it downward off the graph.

The audience laughed heartily —  another momentary triumph of humor. Always a provisional victory, of course, since I'm guessing Vonnegut was habitually desperate as both writer and man to avoid overlapping the Kafka line. That he largely succeeded gets honest, entertaining confirmation in this production, presented in cooperation with the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.

EclecticPond Theatre Company's "Shakespeare Wrote What?"  opens with a zesty curtain speech by director-creator Thomas Cardwell, as if Prospero had not drowned his book at the end of "The Tempest" but repurposed it in order to tour as a stand-up comic.

Cardwell notes the public perception of the Shakespeare canon as embracing merely five or six plays. Then he tweaks authorship controversies by correcting this notion to inform the Phoenix's Russell Stage audience that the Bard of Avon surely penned "between 10 and 40 plays." He promises a survey of relatively obscure ones, whose common ground (it turns out) is complicated plotting and odd, rarely brilliant, digressions. Such works readily invite spoofing.

Thus, the procedure of "Shakespeare Wrote What?" is to summarize boisterously some less-performed plays among the Collected Works: "Troilus and Cressida," "Titus Andronicus," "King John," "Cymbeline" and "The Two Gentlemen of Verona."

Set in motion by Cardwell's irreverent wit and anarchic sense of fun, the EclecticPond company (Jeremy Grimmer, Kate Homan, Michael Hosp, Zack Joyce, Meagan Matlock and Scott Russell) throws itself into its daunting assignment. While it would be absurd to say anything dragged, on Wednesday night there were signs of exhaustion that dimmed the comic glow momentarily. On the whole, however, the actors' success in projecting rampant confusion without getting confused was unalloyed. They were loud, funny and never mealy-mouthed.

The script sets erudition and slapstick cheek by jowl, like the bad dreams of a graduate student in English. The stylistic heritage of the wacky side of entertainment in Cardwell's native England lies amiably upon the production: The Goon Show, Beyond the Fringe, Monty Python.

Some of the elements: Breaking character to utter stage directions and snide commentary. Hastily applied disguises readily accepted by clueless, self-involved characters. Intensification of the near universal practice in Shakespeare productions of deploying actors in multiple roles. Pointing up the impulsive behavior — every nurtured suspicion grows to full bloom like time-lapse photography of flowers — that drives the plots.

My ear didn't catch much of an attempt to parody Shakespeare's verse technique. But Cardwell cleverly includes some Shakespeare lines that sound strikingly modern: From "Titus Andronicus," Aaron's sexual boast "I've done your mother," for example. The critic Harold Bloom may have overreached in crediting Shakespeare with "the invention of the human," but he did invent a lot of what we are, including much of our language.

Still, it's best to take this show in a light, unacademic spirit, shrugging it off when you're ready to.  I recall dimly the Beyond the Fringe Shakespeare sketch that had fun with the rhyming couplets concluding many a Shakespearean scene: After a long and tangled speech, one character announces his intention to "go home to bed / And sleep off all the nonsense I've just said." Pleasant dreams!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

At IndyFringe, social life fizzles, Earth stewardship is shaky, but melodramatic love thrives: The Tuesday report

Talk is plentiful at a Fringe Festival, so a show that mimics silent films has an immediate chance of standing out.

Fortunately, there is a lot more that "The Beast, the Lady, & the Sanguine Man" has going for it besides a paucity of chatter. And it isn't a mime act, either.

It's the creation of NoExit Performance, ensemble-directed, from a script by Bennett Ayres. We are in the  world of silent films — not the comedies that have endured as an influential style, but the melodramas that seem too dated  to have made a long-lasting impact on popular culture.

"The Beast, the Lady, & the Sanguine Man" changes all that: An elaborate, classically effective style of acting has been reclaimed to suit post-modernist sensibilities.  Subtitled "a live-action silent film," the show is also a technical marvel, even as it replicates and amplifies the flickering titles, streaky film, cheesy soundtracks and projector whir from technology long since superseded.

The smattering of eroticism  marbled through the show's texture is beautifully handled, as the story unfolds of wide-eyed ingenue Alma, shedding her old circumscribed life in search of an undefined freedom, only to meet a host of exotic perils. They can be triangulated in the persons of a drunken father (Michael Burke) with a volcanic temper (a descendant of Huck Finn's Pap), a woodsy wolfman (Matthew Goodrich) and a citified vampire (Lukas Schooler).

Only the dad makes manifest his hostility to the heroine from the start, though weepy remorse overtakes him at times. The other two come to Alma's aid through infatuation and inner conflict, rescuing her from the demonic Rowena (Audrey Stauffer) as well as releasing her from the insipid attentions of the androgynous Dickie (Amelia Smith).

As the dialogue, a farrago of '20s slang and florid late-Victorian prose, flashes on a screen above the Phoenix Theatre Russell Stage, the characters mouth the words. Makeup accentuates their eyes and mouths — focal points of the outsize expressiveness typical of the genre. The cliches of movie acting before the triumph of talkies are so robustly evoked that they transcend the hackneyed to become a fresh way of rendering even flat characters. This is stage acting from a parallel universe, and it is marvelously well brought off.

I've saved for last an appreciation of the portrayal of Alma by Georgeanna Smith. Channeling the likes of  Mary Pickford and the Gish sisters, Smith stands the quaintness of the "silents" style on its head.  There was an underlying dignity and consistency to her every gesture, to every head tilt and flash of anguish, joy and curiosity communicated by the kaleidoscopic movement of her eyes and mouth.

Her performance recalled for me a Stratford Festival production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" many years ago. Festival star William Hutt was cross-dressingly magnificent as Lady Bracknell. During the severe aristocrat's attempt to vet Jack Worthing as a suitable match for her daughter, at the point when she discovers Jack's parentage is murky and that he was found as an infant in a hand-bag left in a cloak-room at Victoria Station (the Brighton line), Hutt did a wonderful thing: Upon saying the line "A hand-bag?," Lady Bracknell's face went all stunned and colorless, and her head drooped slowly into four distinct declining positions till chin touched chest. Each droop drew a fresh peal of laughter from the audience, with cheers at the stopping-point. Sure, the gesture milked applause like crazy, but it was the greatest bit of physical acting from the neck up I'd ever seen.

Smith's performance had a comparable degree of nuance, but spread out over an hourlong show and without the benefit of spoken lines to support each expression. And though her face did most of the work, this was a superb top-to-toe performance, especially memorable for the repeated wracking sobs the role calls for.

NoExit Performance in this  piece confirms a key value of Fringe:  Make it as weird as you want, but lay solid artistic groundwork underneath, inviting the audience to feel honored by the theatrical experience as well as entertained.

Other shows seen Tuesday evening:

Jim Poyser's "Saving the World thru Bumper Stickers" is a slide show with informal commentary from the Indiana Living Green editor and new Earth Charter Indiana honcho. He uses audience interaction to illustrate some points about climate change, but mainly threads his information on a string of specially designed bumper stickers flashed upon the screen behind him, from "Want Less"  to "Plan Ahea" (no room for the "d").

Explicitly "political" shows ought to be part of every Fringe Festival, and when they offer a modicum of entertainment as well, the spirit of the event is well-served.

Earlier, I went to the Babeca Theatre (the festival's newest venue) for "Invitations," a play by DivaFest winner Sharla Steiman. The play centers on a newcomer young couple's attempt to ingratiate themselves with their mountainside neighbors by throwing a party. With invitations hand-delivered by the nervous hostess, the careful planning has little chance of increasing the event's chances for success, in part because of something the hostess saw while going house to house.

Sure enough, the gathering is a disaster, with clashing values (lesbian couple vs. conservative Christian couple, mainly) creating a toxic salsa of awkwardness. Ty Stover's direction yields the result of maximum awkwardness, all right, but the dialogue charges along at an unrelentingly rapid pace, except for those awkward pauses. Too little attention is paid to plausible reaction time, on top of which the dialogue sometimes sinks into near inaudibility.

The only performance worth singling out for its high level of insight and detail was Lauren Briggeman's as Annie, a painfully shy, almost reclusive children's-book illustrator. I knew as soon as I saw her anxious pre-party primping in front of the mirror (the fourth wall, so the audience sees it all) that we were in for a performance we wouldn't be able to take our eyes off of.

"Invitations" shows Steiman's burgeoning gift for coming up with characters who have reasons for responding the way they do, but, as seen Tuesday, this production seemed disconcertingly rushed and raw.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Workaday Fringe takes us to new places: The Monday report

The annual IndyFringe Festival is a reminder that Indianapolis' cultural life needn't be reserved for weekends. You can cap every workday this week with an evening of provocative theater and performance art in and around the Massachusetts Avenue Cultural District.

Monday, Monday... I had the pleasure of seeing those artistic triathletes — Fourth Wall Ensemble — in 'Fruit Flies Like a Banana." It's a fast-moving show keyed to a running clock, recalling the unused first half of the show's punning title: "Time flies like an arrow."

The Fourth Wall blends contortions and counterpoint.
Hilary Abigana (flute), Greg Jukes (percussion and accordion) and C. Neil Parsons (bass trombone) cram as much of their 20-item repertoire into the maximum allowable Fringe running time of one hour.  In that sense alone, every patron gets his money's worth. With luck, at least several times in the course of each show, everybody will be wowed by the trio's skill and ingenuity as well: They dance, they play, they recite, they ham it up a little.

Fourth Wallers handle each sketch with utmost dispatch. Then one of the three leaps from the Cook Theater stage with a fistful of large cards, face down and thrust invitingly at one attendee or another. Each audience member thus approached determines by a chance draw what Fourth Wall will do next.

 "Fruit Flies Like a Banana" presents the widest possible spectrum of Fourth Wall material.  I was soothed and inspired by several arrangements of Ralph Vaughan Williams pieces, tickled by a virtuoso rendering of the Russian Dance (Trepak) from Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker," amazed by how they did the opening measures of "Also Sprach Zarathustra," and made to feel like an insider with a sketch that mocked the orchestra auditions that almost every classical musician uses to gain entry to the professional world.

On the other hand, I could have done without two trombone solos nearly obscured by readings from newspaper headlines and comics. Randomness in the selections took a toll on the expressiveness and apparent commitment of Abigana and Jukes. These two sketches seemed as sparse as the average edition of the local daily.

And I was actively annoyed by "Profanity Popcorn," a group exercise in shouted expletives paced according to the sound-texture of popcorn popping: thin to thick to thin again. Many patrons will not feel adequately "covered" by mass participation in an exercise probably best suited to middle-school boys:  I managed only to mutter the name of one of the two major American political parties — an admittedly paltry (and arguably off-topic) contribution to the spirited tastelessness.

Then, eastward ho!  to the IndyFringe Basile Theatre, there to enjoy the versatile Paul Hansen, one of the local scene's most humane actors  (a hard quality to project consistently), in the protean Lou Harry's one-character comedy, "The High-Impact Infidelity Diet."  Anyone who has struggled with weight loss — and, with age, that includes almost all of us — will have heartstrings plucked or vibrated sympathetically in the course of attending this show. Even the perpetually slender should find much to admire here.

Directed by John Thomas, Hansen traces a beautiful arc in portraying Martin, a twice-married man whose private life, as well as the self he presents to the world, bears the indelible impact of obesity. Martin's successful achievement of his weight-loss goal (a process marked by prerecorded, silky-voiced poundage reports) is more moving than such a simple happy ending might suggest. It comes with new insight into Martin's sex life and feelings of self-worth. As Martin sheds pounds, he adds moral heft — a lovely paradox celebrated by "The High-Impact Infidelity Diet."

Body image is never merely about numbers or any other objective measure of how we look: It goes soul-deep, and so does this play.

For a full Fringe schedule covering these two shows and the rest of the festival cornucopia, go here:

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival takes another bow in the temperate paradise of an Indianapolis August.

Two shows to start off my encounter with this year's Fringe Festival presented at least one of the polarities the festival offers: a local ensemble musical made from scratch out of deliberately offensive material contrasted with an out-of-town veteran of stage and screen in a one-actor play confronting mysteries of myth and history.

Both "de Sade" (Q Artistry) and '"Underneath the Lintel" (Pat O'Brien's Vanity Theatrics) are being presented at the Phoenix Theatre, on the Russell and Basile stages, respectively.

Pat O'Brien is spellbinding in Glen Berger's wide-ranging play recounting a cashiered librarian's quest to find the borrower of a book returned 123 years overdue. The librarian quickly draws us into his obsession; O'Brien made even the sadly heroic figure's muttered digressions fascinating. His voice ranging from a whisper to a roar, the actor darted about the stage, pulling one piece of evidence after another from a box, showing slides and playing bits of recorded music.

The all-consuming mystery has taken him around the world. He is simultaneously near-exhaustion and freshly energized — a parallel to the mythic figure he is certain must have borrowed the Baedeker now carrying an astronomical, irretrievable fine.

As trails that peter out accumulate, the librarian becomes all the more determined to extract lessons from the minutiae he sets before us. It's  impossible not to become nearly as wound up as he is by the search. His pettiness and near-madness become heart-wrenching and oddly endearing, because the more he looks into the vagaries of time and oblivion, the more he feels caught up in the same pathos of evanescence as all living creatures. Humans carry the  burden of being most aware of this state of affairs, which only quests like the librarian's seem to ennoble.

At the ignoble end of the spectrum of human questing is the Marquis de Sade, the dissolute connoisseur of sexual license and pain. He is presented in a series of tableaux, covering a multitude of styles from drawing-room comedy to obscene flip-books, larded with songs that put genitalia on the brain's level as organs governing human behavior.

As far as the body parts in charge are concerned, I will offer comment here only on Ben Asaykwee's brain. "De Sade" is his brainchild, delivered with multiple spankings and other physical abuse by a hardworking troupe representing Q Artistry. The Asaykwee brain has come to grips with the licentious de Sade's turgid and appalling fiction, decking out the French nobleman's flamboyant depravity in songs and dialogue that are too overstuffed for their own good (as well as sometimes buried under the recorded accompaniments).

The opening performance certainly showed signs of needing more polish, but even allowing for a show free of any stumbles, there may be too much wit and verbal frippery packed into "de Sade" to give more than sporadic insight into the Sadean world. Attention lavished on costumes and choreography pays off in terms of style, but can't compensate enough for the text's density.

Much of the show is preoccupied with  explicit, lewd fun; the pain at the heart of the title figure's values takes a while to come into focus. Near the end, when footlights come up spectrally on the cast as they gather at the front of the stage and delineate the torture intended for a proper aristocratic mother, we are finally immersed in what makes de Sade permanently beyond the pale.

Freedom is the "philosophical" message, of course. And though the evidence of "de Sade" is mixed, it's likely Asaykwee is shrewd enough to see the Sadean revolution as the sham most revolutions turn out to be.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Oregon Shakespeare Festival finds the essence of 'A Streetcar Named Desire'

The most remarkable thing about "A Streetcar Named Desire" may well be its demonstration of how much sexuality saturates Americans' attempts to master social and class relations. Too often, the behavior of people in the bedroom is seen as reflecting their individual psychological makeup. Not in this play, however: The personal dynamics connect with troubled self-consciousness about social standing at every significant point in the action.

Tennessee Williams' New Orleans, as portrayed in this 1947 play, shows a Southern society with its pretensions to gentility in tatters. Traditional relationships must have been especially threatened in the Big Easy, where so much social mixing across barriers took place historically. And Americans adjusting to peacetime have always had to confront upheaval in values.

This context is exploited to the full in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production, which I saw last week. As directed by Christopher Liam Moore, the play had an abundance of visceral energy, centered where it should be: in the portrayals of Stanley Kowalski (Danforth Comins) and Blanche DuBois (Kate Mulligan).

What was most winning in Comins' performance was his canny blend of brutishness and intelligence.  Stanley is a shrewd participant in the urban rat race, with keen insight into the many ways people wield power over each other.  He exerts such power over Stella, his wife, given girlish intensity in  Nell Geisslinger's performance. They are madly in love, with conflict woven into their reciprocal magnetism.

Violence and impulsiveness are part of the deal; Stella lives without  illusions and is happy to do so.
As a result, the wounded Blanche, her sister, is never far from  lashing out at her for leaving Laurel, Miss., where the family grounded its identity in an old plantation called Belle Reve, now vaguely "lost." The baggage Blanche brings with her for an indefinite stay in the Kowalskis' crowded apartment, while conspicuously heavy on expensive clothing and accessories, is mostly metaphorical.

Mitch's attention is diverted from Stanley's poker game by Blanche.
The secret of her brief marriage, with its hauntingly violent conclusion, has released demons she must take considerable pains to subdue. Mulligan's performance as Blanche was relentless in projecting the anxiety, garrulous self-regard and snobbish spin that characterize her behavior. Her delicacy was more a transparent facade than the quality Vivien Leigh embodied in the 1951 movie with Marlon Brando. The virile movie star was mesmerizing in the way the camera made love to him, but, compared to OSF's Comins, more mannered and monochromatic dramatically.

The loose informality of life in New Orleans carries over into the staging of the men's habitual card game, the outbursts that frequently ruffle life's surfaces and the fluid movement on and off the evocative French Quarter set in this production. The lighting echoes Blanche's preference for artificiality tempered by a twilight glow.

I remain puzzled by what drives the poignant, doomed attraction of the most well-defined of Stanley's card-playing pals, Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, to Blanche DuBois. Jeffrey King's performance, while fascinating in its studied awkwardness, made it more difficult to explain his persistence as a suitor.

Blanche's appeal is perpetually an elusive quality, to say the least. Not much can stimulate the upright Mitch's interest, it seems, except his ailing mother's desire for him to get married.

But then, the routes followed by desire — whether the so-named streetcar or the larger generator of the play's action — are mysterious and subject to change.

And, in the latter case, the fare is always steep.

Music director candidate Abrams impresses in two concerts at Britt Festival

With a marketing campaign quite sensibly titled "Passing the Baton," the 2013 Britt Classical Festival in Jacksonville, Ore., is gathering audience and musician impressions of three candidates to succeed Peter Bay as music director of the annual series, which ends Sunday. That's in addition to the usual search committee of prominent supporters of the festival;  the decision process is obviously structured to allow for maximum buy-in to the eventual choice.

Teddy Abrams
Britt couldn't do better, I feel certain, than tap the candidate who was on the podium Aug. 9 and 10. Attending last weekend to hear our son Theodore Harvey, a member of the cello section for the current season as well as last year's, Susan and I were moved and excited by the manner in which Teddy Abrams, the 26-year-old assistant conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, led the orchestra and soloists through two challenging programs. [He conducted a concert in Indianapolis last month that was much less revealing of his capabilities: Time for Three takes the ISO and special guest Ben...]

Just a hint of the breadth of Abrams' wide musical range was offered by an encore he played with guest soloist Yuja Wang on Aug. 9:  Schubert's "Marche Militaire"  for piano four-hands.  Abrams also plays clarinet and composes, but of course the flagship of his fleet of musical skills is conducting.

Taking the most substantial works first: Bartok's "Concerto for Orchestra" showed Abrams to be a master of tempo and textural detail. The two movements that flank the central "Elegia"  were showcase displays of his high degree of comfort with flexible pacing and mercurial orchestration.  The droll "Intermezzo interrotto" contrasted deliberate schmaltz and uproarious nose-thumbing well, just as smoothly as the more schematic "game of pairs" had unfolded two movements earlier. And the gathering and subsiding of forces at three points in the finale had every sign of being well-prepared in addition to sounding spontaneous.

In the Aug. 10 concert, the masterpiece was Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 in D minor, notable in this performance for the high spirits of the Allegretto and the triumphalism of the finale.  In both cases, however, those dominant moods were sensibly undercut with a level of questioning and irony that has always been part of this composition's legacy. What Soviet apparatchiks heard as victory "because of" the system can also be read as victory "in spite of" the system — and Abrams was properly having it both ways.

As for the guest soloists, keen rapport with Augustin Hadelich in Stravinsky's Violin Concerto made for a gratifying performance throughout. The oddly deployed orchestra (lots of wind instruments sparingly, but pointedly, used) was in fine fettle, and Hadelich exploited without reserve both the 18th-century-inspired virtuosity and the cool, patrician lyricism of the score. [Hadelich won the gold medal at the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis.]

In Gershwin's Concerto in F, on the other hand, Abrams demonstrated his understanding of the governing idiom (especially in the long tutti introduction to the second movement) in ways that weren't within pianist Yuja Wang's grasp. Her initial solo statement had an Old World cast that didn't come close to capturing the peculiarly American sort of yearning — the restless rumination — that Gershwin was a master of. Later on, her rhythmic elan was incisive enough to get near the Gershwin spirit, though it remained somewhat sober-sided and unyielding.

A brisk curtain-raiser opened each concert: John Adams' "Lollapalooza" spilled forth like a host of circus clowns from a tiny car, ending with Haydnesque wit (brief, unexpected silences taken in tempo). On Aug. 10, Glinka's Overture to "Ruslan and Ludmila" had the virtue of being judiciously paced while not missing anything in the way of its usual bustle.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Indy Jazz Fest gets a new stage to herald its return next month

Jazz fans can feel well-served by the efforts that have gone into keeping Indy Jazz Fest alive over nearly a decade-and-a-half.

There is plenty to be grateful for, despite the likelihood that most of us feel there's nothing like a club setting for hearing the music. As it turns out, smaller indoor venues are the primary focus of the 2013 festival, scheduled for next month (Sept. 12-21). Thus, another reason for gratitude.

Still, jazz festivals tend to become viable in the long term by reaching out to welcome musicians of related genres.  This is more than shrewd marketing, because however you define "jazz,"  you can't revise history so as to suggest the music has developed without imbibing at a variety of artistic wells.

Even so, there was something a little too miscellaneous about the program, with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra as host (but not playing), presented Aug. 2 and 3 at Conner Prairie under the rubric "Symphony on the Prairie."

Particularly as it developed after intermission on Saturday night, the focus on Hoosier composers let several camels' noses poke under the big tent we call jazz. Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter lent themselves to jazz, and that has been true for decades. And the blues, as represented in this program by the team of Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell, is a chief source of and continuing influence on jazz of all styles.

But early signs of the dangers of a widely cast net occurred early in the show, though the deftness of co-leader-pianist Steve Allee's arrangements muted them. "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away" and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" are difficult to wrest from their eras and firmly pre-jazz styles into suitability for jazz; their inclusion at least helped establish the Hoosier theme early in the concert's first half.

Steve Allee heads toward piano to begin a recent set at the Jazz Kitchen.
Bluesman Tad Robinson showed his versatility by going beyond representing the Carr-Blackwell duo when he sang a serviceable version of "I Get a Kick Out of You." Cole Porter also got a showcase in the first half with Cynthia Layne's hearty rendition of "Night and Day," nestled in an Allee arrangement featuring adept band "fills" between phrases of the song.

And Carmichael, though his jazz side is muted in such standards as "Georgia On My Mind"  and "Stardust," inarguably owes much of his reputation as a classic to the advocacy of jazzmen: Louis Armstrong's "Stardust" is one of the early milestones in jazz's assimilation of popular music. Everett Greene was on hand to put his inimitable stamp on these standards, though age has thinned out his upper register.

The first great "ahhh" moment for this jazz fan came during an extended version of Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay." It had that genuine jazz-festival feeling, with solos all around: saxophonist-co-leader Rob Dixon, trumpeter Scott Belck, keyboardist Kevin Anker, guitarist Sandy Williams, bassist Brandon Meeks and Allee. The ensemble balance was a little off, biased in favor of the rhythm section (though hearing drummer Kenny Phelps is always welcome). Yet this was nonetheless a performance indicative of the jazz talent to be savored in our region.

I suppose I could be pegged with that eyebrow-raising term "purist." But this is how I would put a jazz festival's chief obligations to the music: Sustain the legacy, and advance the cause.

Including the music of Babyface,  John Mellencamp and Michael Jackson doesn't fulfill those obligations. What was especially annoying in the second half was the relative abandonment of jazz after a performance of Wes Montgomery's "Road Song." The great exception was a wonderful duo performance of Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love" by Allee and Dixon.

The creativity and fresh perspective these two local treasures brought to the song couldn't have been more reassuring about the promise of jazz in the 21st century. Approaching the tune from the outside and only gradually working into its core, Dixon's soprano sax and Allee's piano were remarkably responsive to each other. The performance was on a plane comparable to Wayne Shorter's and Herbie Hancock's outings on those instruments.

Yet radio jock and emcee Tom Griswold, dubbed in the program notes a "huge jazz fan," came back onstage to disparage what we'd just heard, saying something about waking the kids up, there would be something coming up for them to enjoy, and muttering that "I don't know what that was all about."

And then, with the slyly deployed transition of Carr-Blackwell's "Midnight Hour Blues" (which featured an idiomatic tenor-sax solo from Dixon, underlining his versatility), we were off into the vast wasteland of a Michael Jackson medley, spotlighting several vocalists and doing little more than draping the whole evening in a party vibe of the kind purveyed by countless pop concerts.

For the finale, everyone gathered onstage to try pumping some life into the dated 1980s anthem "We Are the World."

We were far away from the stimulation  of jazz by this point, immersed in a lukewarm bath of feel-good sentiments. I can only wish Indy Jazz Fest well, but this marketing tool went awry artistically, despite moments of excellent music-making.

To measure jazz-festival success, I'll stick with my two-part formula, which I believe allows for plenty of artistic freedom:

Sustain the legacy.

Advance the cause.

What are you doing if you aren't doing that?

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)