Friday, April 7, 2017

David Hochoy welcomes Virginia colleagues to share program with Dance Kaleidoscope

Todd Rosenlieb's "Heavy Like Waits" opens this weekend's program.
Dance that uses music I don't know and immediately dislike is fine with me. A case in point hit the Indiana Repertory Theatre stage Thursday at the start of "DK & Friends," Dance Kaleidoscope's latest attempt to share the stage successfully with other artists.

The impact came from Todd Rosenlieb Dance's "Heavy Like Waits," a piece using the songs of the sui generis rocker Tom Waits. There's a whole swath of pop music I'm just not familiar with, and a lot that I know somewhat but don't like well enough to download or slip into the CD player. Waits is way on the fringes for me.

Regardless, what I really want to see in contemporary dance is what a choreographer (via the dancers) does with music he/she has chosen to filter through a personal sensibility in dance terms. The music used can even fit under John Rockwell's useful bare-minimum definition of music as "organized sound." I want to go along with its transfiguration into dance.

A touch of grace in the Rosenlieb program through Melendez's "Voiced."
So, bring on choreographed Tom Waits, whose voice can be succinctly described as that of a man who has just downed a bottle of whiskey — not just the contents, but the bottle, too. About half the Virginia company's personnel were involved in "Heavy Like Waits." Former DK member Ricardo Melendez did the costumes, which are redolent of the street and the eccentricity one often finds on society's margins.

Rosenlieb dares to meet Waits' grit and studied sloppiness on their own terms. The half-dozen overcoated Rosenlieb dancers swirl about and strut and slouch. The general vibe is quite robust, with lots of reaching out and grappling movement as Waits' mordant take on life thunders along. Essential to the movement are the overcoats, helping to underscore the freedom and lack of crispness embodied by the dancers. There's a hint that these people are not much concerned with hiding anything (the coats remain unbuttoned), but the meaning of the coat pretty much stops and starts with its value as an extra moving thing. The coats are sometimes taken off and waved or dragged. True, there are hardly unavoidable "flasher" gestures, but the choreography keeps the menace and assault on the senses thoroughly in line with the music. Again, it's pointless to grit your teeth against such music when such creative use is made of it.

This arresting piece was one of three Todd Rosenlieb Dance introduced to DK's patrons. Melendez as a choreographer, in addition to being a costume designer full of fresh ideas, was evident in a trio for women, "Voiced," to music by Meredith Monk, a pioneer in new concepts for the singing voice. The women's movement was sensitive to the occasional overlapping of the recorded a cappella vocals, without any mickey-mousing. Counterpoint seemed as fully within the Melendez purview as phrasing and rhythm. The dancer's arms often made hoops and "covering" motions in a way that reinforced the comforting intimacy of Monk's music.

"Suite Sammy" saluted Sammy Davis Jr. to conclude the Rosenlieb portion of the show.
For the conclusion of the program's first half, Rosenlieb has two women and a man move with stunning versatility around four plain chairs to three songs performed by Sammy Davis Jr. "Suite Sammy," with some glitter in the women's costumes (again by Melendez) suggesting the entertainer's contribution to Las Vegas in its heyday, made for a thoroughly fitting finale. It showed off another aspect of a troupe probably few Hoosiers knew before. The sense of delight and ceaseless pizazz captured the multifaceted charms of Davis. An emphasis on the rhythmic snap of his singing was particularly apropos — Davis was himself a dancer, and though he puts a lot of feeling in "Here's That Rainy Day," the middle song of the suite, Rosenslieb stresses the swing more than the sentiment, which seems just the right choice.

In the second half, other DK friends supplemented the program. To recorded accompaniment, Doug Dilling sang feelingly a love duet for Stuart Coleman and Timothy June. "End of the World" is a song emphasizing the durability of a relationship that masters its tensions, and Hochoy's choreography in this new piece incorporates those tensions smoothly while underscoring a hard-won fidelity. The performance carried out the scenario elegantly.

A 1999 tour de force, "Skin Walkers," has been revived this weekend, bringing back electric violinist Cathy Morris to ornament a score by T.H. Gillespie and L.E. McCullough. With the experienced DK team of Laura E. Glover (lighting) and Cheryl Sparks (costumes) contributing immeasurably to the work, Hochoy's piece is a masterly celebration of community energy and mutual responsiveness. The music often relies on the Celtic idiom, turned blazingly electronic as it spotlights several of DK's best dancers in solos while continually allowing the troupe to command the space exuberantly. An episode bathed in glowing amber light was particularly breathtaking. But the whole piece served to crown a fascinating evening of dance and, yes, music I might not want otherwise to hear.

[Photos by Freddie Kelvin]