Friday, December 7, 2018

Dance Kaleidoscope's holiday glow: A world tour of Christmas, plus a celebration of Hanukkah

Dance Kaleidoscope's resumed tradition of adding year-end holiday luster to its season is back, wearing a splendid two-piece suit: "Let There Be Light (The Story of Hanukkah)" and "World Christmas Kaleidoscope: A Celebration of Christmas Around the World."

Themes of challenge and restoration abound in 'Let There Be Light.'
The program, titled "Home for the Holidays," opened Thursday night on the IRT Upperstage. Both works are the creation of DK artistic director David Hochoy, the latter adapted from last year to fit the current company; "Let There Be Light" revives a 2003 piece.

The Hanukkah narrative thread, which is fleshed out in a program note, is applied with a deft touch in "Let There Be Light," yet with more than sufficient emotional impact. The foundational event of the sacrifice Abraham was prepared to carry out of his son Isaac has a poignant position in the middle, with Manuel Valdes in the role of the intended sacrificial victim.

DK dancers lively up themselves in the reggae-styled "All I Want for Christmas."
The connection to the Hebrew texts Leonard Bernstein used in his "Chichester Psalms" is also subtly applied to the psalms of praise and complaint that the composer set. For accompaniment, Hochoy chose a more fully orchestrated and mixed-chorus version of Bernstein's original, which has the effect of emphasizing the communal import of the psalms more than their personal expression. It's a smart choice, because an imperiled, unified community and its survival against large odds is the holiday's central theme in celebration of the Maccabees' successful struggle against oppression 2,500 years ago.

The transition between an intact community to one aware of its vulnerability was neatly etched as free, flowing gestures and movement gave way to more angular, shielding types. The setting for three of the company's men of Psalm 2 (known in English and to fans of Handel's "Messiah" as "Why do the nations rage?") matches the music's militancy with the rise of Jewish resistance.

Eventually, as the persistence of a people's faith gains the upper hand, there is the tender, reverent processional with one lamp (a live flame carried by Timothy June Thursday night) carried onstage and becoming the basis for the Hanukkah lighting of a central menorah. The simple, ritualized piety was underlined by Laura Glover's delicately shaded lighting upon Cheryl Sparks' timeless costumes. The saving of the much-damaged temple celebrated in the Hanukkah story puts special significance behind the program title "Home for the Holidays."

In the second half, the balance of drollery and devotion was sustained through a panoply of deft choreography and the idiomatic, sometimes spectacular costume designs by Sparks, Barry Doss, and Lydia Tanji. To incorporate the troupe's name into the piece's title has never been more appropriate: Kaleidoscopic is the best description of both the music and the dancing.

The final moment of "O Holy Night"
With Jillian Godwin displaying sharply defined limberness and comic virtuosity, the suite was launched by the solo "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy."  Balletic turns were mixed in with flung arms, shoulder shrugs and concise jerkiness to spice up the fun in one of Tchaikovsky's most beloved "Nutcracker" numbers. Fun was multiplied in the reindeer mimicry of the company's "Here Comes Santa Claus" as sung by Elvis Presley, and in the imitative ornamentation Stuart Coleman exhibited in a solo setting of Elvis' "White Christmas" recording.

It's difficult not to mention everything, but I want to highlight the reggae-intensive "All I Want for Christmas," in which Valdes was joined in succession by Cody Miley, Godwin, and Marie Kuhns for a salute to Jamaica. It was a riot of individuality pulled together in an exuberant common cause. Also: the plaintive "Nadal de Luintra" from Spain, with Aleksa Lukasiewica and Timothy June as Mary and Joseph in search of Bethlehem lodging, and a setting from Benin of a somehow fully reverent but never cheaply worshipful "O Holy Night," stunningly performed by the gesturally precise trio of Coleman, Lukasiewicz, and Paige Robinson.

[Photos by Crowe's Eye Photography]










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