Saturday, January 9, 2016

Dance Kaleidoscope ushers in the New Year with "Classic Greats," a three-part program inspired by musical classics

Dance Kaleidoscope's publicity for the program "Classic Greats" includes a subtitle that will surely remind patrons of one of the perpetual challenges of New Year's resolutions: "A Perfect Meal of Dance."

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
Hochoy spreads the focus out over three couples: one to represent the first blush of true love, a second to stand for the couple in trouble, and a third for the tomb scene. A fourth couple represents the parental duos opposed in the Montague-Capulet feud.

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.

It's the worst ear worm ever, but "New York, New York" can't miss as a finale.
"Frank's Way" provides confirmation of Hochoy's innate good taste as well as his imagination. For one thing, there's a refusal to hammer home an obvious point: Godwin's marvelous solo in "That's Life" has her artfully falling on her face the first time the lyrics indicate that's what happens in life; when the line returns, Hochoy avoids recycling that movement. He is above implicitly saying to an audience: "Wasn't that great? Watch and I'll do it again!"

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.

Revived from 2000, "El Salon Mesico" is both forceful and ingratiating.
The program's appetizer was a tasty setting of Aaron Copland's "El Salon Mexico," a spirited evocation of Mexico from a visitor's viewpoint. Hochoy's version eschews routine application of local color. There are no sombreros or ponchos in Cheryl Sparks' timeless costumes. The choreography for eight dancers is often geometric, with erect, frontal postures. Arms are typically raised, bent at right angles, palms open. Such gestures, and the abstract forms evident in pre-Columbian nonfigurative artwork, evoke Aztec culture. Hochoy alludes in his program note to the largely subconscious way this visual art was grafted onto his personal roots in the art of Martha Graham.

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]