Saturday, June 14, 2014

Ravel's masterpiece of late Greek antiquity is revived with 21st-century flair by Dance Kaleidoscope, accompanied by choir and orchestra.

Pan leads the dancing ensemble in a scene from "Daphnis et Chloe."
"Daphnis et Chloe" was among the miracles of modernism in its fragile first flowering, before the War to End All Wars obliterated the world that nurtured it a century ago.

The three-year gestation of the "choreographic symphony," commissioned in 1909 by the visionary Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev, brought forth a ballet so lavish in its demands that it rarely gets staged by capable dancers and equally fit choral and instrumental forces.

Luckily, collaborative efforts between Dance Kaleidoscope and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra offered a background for a fresh look at "Daphnis et Chloe," staged at Clowes Hall (the ISO's former home) and with the assistance of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir.

On Friday night (a second performance will take place tonight), the fruits of the newest joint production were abundantly evident in a performance of orchestral splendor linked to an energetic,  psychologically acute interpretation of the story. The use of wordless choral voices as part of the orchestral fabric was thrillingly realized; they re-create a world in which nature is animated in all its elements, presided over by the un-Olympian god Pan.

David Hochoy, DK's artistic director, fashioned new choreography for a troupe augmented to 14 dancers. The piece was clearly not going to overwhelm with numbers; a largeness of gesture and stage-filling movement was sufficient to suggest an abundance of pirates, shepherds and nymphs that surround the central couple, representing their happiness and the challenges to it.

Crucially, what divides them is bridged by the supernatural power of Pan, and to his credit, Hochoy neither gives the god short shrift nor surrounds him with too much hocus-pocus. The deity of fields and woodlands restores the abducted Chloe to her lover, the shepherd Daphnis, but the lovers' temporary alienation hints at causes (inconstancy and its temptations) that have bedeviled most lovers throughout the ages.

Pattern of entrapment: Chloe in thrall to the pirates.
Brandon Comer and Jillian Godwin portray the lovers. Both dancers have admirable range, with an earthy, grounded manner that can also soar and engage the atmosphere as well. They are emotionally open dancers, who not only worked well together but also were vivid dramatically when separated. Especially moving was Chloe's period of entrapment by the Pirates, with their leader (Timothy June) a focus of the menace Chloe also feels internally. That's because June also portrays Dorcon, Daphnis' rival for her affections.

Hochoy departed boldly from the scenario here and in the characterization of Dorcon, who is no longer a figure of fun. Ravel even scored an orchestral giggle after Dorcon's solo dance, which Daphnis proceeds to top. But Hochoy's Dorcon is not a bumpkin; still, it's evident his dance is all about him.  Daphnis's is guileless and not concerned with vain display, except for some triumphant moves at the end, which Comer managed flawlessly.

Daphnis and Chloe are under the protection of the woodland god Pan.
Everything conceived for the central couple spoke volumes. When they first meet onstage, they communicate the fact that, though they are part of the same rural community and are acquainted with each other, here they are mutually smitten for the first time. Their reunion in the third part contrasts their relationship — one of mutual fulfillment — with that of Chloe and her captor. In that dance, she is merely an expression of the pirate leader's power over her, whirled around him as an object, a plaything. Her more erect postures in the ecstatic dance with Daphnis indicate their romantic healthiness.

That becomes celebrated in the famous ensemble finale, the most stirring orchestral pages in all of Ravel, the General Dance (Bacchanal). With his costume designers following suit, Hochoy has conceived this  as a contemporary celebration, with the company in shiny, sleek, form-fitting costumes in contrast with evocations of classical Greece (white, flowing, translucent) worn earlier. With typical subtlety, Hochoy weaves in hints of disco frivolity, some wagging heads and torsos, to modernize the curving arms and leaping arcs on display up to that point.

Among the greatest points of conductor Krzysztof Urbanski's mastery of the work's color was the nocturnal dance of Pan (performed with with persuasive authority by Noah Trulock) and his attendant nymphs (Liberty Harris, Mariel Greenlee, Caitlin Negron). The scene was representative of the close coordination of stage and pit.

 Costumed in an alluring purple dress, Emily Dyson embodied the seductive charms of Daphnis' temptress Lyceion. Along with June as Dorcon, her portrayal was sufficient to underscore how tempted both Daphnis and Chloe are to stray from their destined true path.

Rustic imagery in an impressionist style, created by Jeff Gooch, was projected on the front curtain before each of the ballet's three parts, complementing the clarity and variegated color of the ISO's playing.

"Daphnis et Chloe" was preceded by Hochoy's ethereal choreography for Erik Satie's simplistic "Gymnopedies," played to one side of the stage by ISO concertmaster Zach De Pue and pianist Sylvia Scott. As a program curtain-raiser, the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir presented an earlier sample of French music for the theater, an arrangement of Jean-Philippe Rameau's "Hymne a la nuit," hauntingly shaped by artistic director Eric Stark. Both items were effectively contrasting appetizers that increased the gusto with which "Daphnis et Chloe" could be enjoyed.

[Photo credit: Crowe's Eye Photography]

Special notice: Not only was this ISO collaboration with two other performing-arts organizations a treat that extended the orchestra's 2013-14 classical programming, but the ISO also initiates on Thursday, June 19,  a short, informal series at Hilbert Circle Theatre that further expands its presence in the spring-summer musical season: Called "Lunch Break," the concerts will enable those working in or passing through downtown during the lunch hour  to hear 30 to 40 minutes of symphonic music for only $5 a pop. The hall opens to the public at 11:30; each performance will begin at 12:15 p.m. The first concert — "Great American Classics featuring Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue'" — will spotlight piano soloist Eric Zuber and ISO assistant conductor David Glover, who will also be collaborating the opening weekend of the annual Symphony on the Prairie series Friday and Saturday at Conner Prairie in Fishers. More information here.

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