If the appetite for good contemporary dance can suppress appetites that were perhaps overindulged during the holiday season, that's all to the good. The proof is in the pudding, of course: "Classical Greats" at Indiana Repertory Theatre Friday night was a satisfying three-course repast that ought to keep more basic thirsts and hungers in the background for a while. The master chef was DK's resourceful, indefatigable artistic director, David Hochoy.
The entree was his "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy," a 2012 piece set to Tchaikovsky's "fantasy-overture" after Shakespeare's romantic tragedy. Hochoy here finds a way to make a true ensemble work out of a drama that, despite other vivid characters and exciting crowd scenes, has elevated its title characters to symbols of young love the world over for four centuries.
|Mariel Greenlee (left) and several couples foretell the tragedy's end|
Where Tchaikovsky's score kicks up ferocious energy, the ensemble (including three dancers not paired) portrays the conflict between the two houses the dying Mercutio wishes a plague upon. The death of Tybalt is clearly presented; the balcony scene is introduced by Juliet's descent from a "balcony" formed by the dancers. Crucial narrative points were well covered, but never placed uppermost.
Most striking was the opening, with a solo dancer foreshadowing the tragedy, miming the ingestion of poison, next to a wonderful episode in which embraces between couples rise and fall, coalesce and slip apart. Hochoy has captured the universality of Rome and Juliet's plight at the very start.
The Balcony Scene pas de deux also plumbed the play's meaning. The projection of a huge full moon on the backdrop brought to mind Juliet's admonition to Romeo not to swear his love by the inconstant moon. The repeated gesture of touching upraised palms underscores promises of fidelity summed up in Juliet's line (in the lovers' first meeting at the Capulets' party) "And palm to palm is holy palmer's kiss."
The entire pas de deux (Mariel Greenlee and Timothy June) was nicely poised between the lovers' erotic attraction and their mature caution and thoughtfulness (I've often thought Juliet is the brains of the pair, frankly). Hochoy has successfully recast Shakespeare's poetry in dance terms. The transfiguration of the couple in their star-crossed death (Jillian Godwin and Zach Young) avoids protracted gestures of extinction in favor of Juliet's sudden clinging leap onto the standing, immobile Romeo's back. It's an inspired complement to Tchaikovsky's forceful final measures.
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In "Frank's Way" 10 of Frank Sinatra's recordings are the basis for some deceptively offhand choreography as well as movement that gets to the heart of the musical performance. I want to focus on "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," with its fitting transition from the verse to the chorus. The tension of the former relaxes into the arm-in-arm gait of three dancers as Sinatra sings, "I'm wild again, beguiled again...." Richard Rodgers' tune captures the tension behind the bemusement of a new relationship, as wonder veils anxiety; and, as so often in their collaboration, Lorenz Hart's mordant lyrics make for a piquant partner.
Hochoy's good taste shows again at the end of the song, where the arrangement for Sinatra rises to grandiloquence. The choreography follows it only part way, but without undercutting the arguable overproduction. It's a tribute to Hochoy's imagination and the excellence of his troupe that from now on, whenever this version of "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" plays in my head, it will be accompanied by visions of June, Mariel Greenlee, and Caitlin Negron dancing it.
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When the cheeky E-flat clarinet solo enters, Hochoy allows some humor into his piece. There's an almost hoedown sort of buoyancy that's smoothly introduced, never entirely displacing the formality. Even after the humor recedes its effect is evident: there's more fluidity and roundedness in the dancing. Something exuberant in the culture — both pre-contact and since colonization — emerges in combination with ritual sobriety.
Only two more sittings of "Classic Greats" remain. You're likely to come away feeling content, not stuffed. Bon appetit!
[Production photos: Crowe's Eye Photography]