Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dance Kaleidoscope: Extending the legacy of a major dance interpretation of 'Carmina Burana'

The "brand" of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" is unlike anything else in 20th-century classical music: People go wild over it, its repertoire position is almost as secure among chorus-orchestra pieces as Handel's "Messiah," and its opening chorus, "O Fortuna," has been pressed into service to sell things.

What David Hochoy has done with it benefits from representing the spirit of the piece without following its context except through an imagery prism of his own devising. There are no monk's robes to suggest to us the Goliard poets who accessed their secular side through the poetry Orff drew from manuscripts discovered at the monastery of Benediktbeuern in southern Germany.

Dance Kaleidoscope represents formidable Fortune in "Carmina Burana"
In the current revival by Dance Kaleidoscope at Indiana Repertory Theatre, I enjoyed the removal from anything devoted to the Middle Ages in central Europe. There is instead a timeless setting of pagan life that looks both pre-Christian and what might be called extra-Christian, as if from a parallel universe where nature and fleshly pleasures are celebrated against the indifferent backdrop of omnipotent Fate. There is no transcendent salvation awaiting these souls, whatever the import of the students' training and mission may have been.

With a panoply of striking costumes by Barry Doss and Laura E. Glover's lighting seemingly poised between artificial and natural worlds,  Hochoy has drawn on the emotional resonance of the text more than its literal meaning. In doing so, he has interpreted the pulse and accents of  Orff's score in exhaustive (and for the dancers, probably exhausting) detail. Its flowing, lyrical portions bring forth billowing, curving postures and movements enhanced by the costuming.

"O Fortuna," for instance, at first presents the severity of the choral complaint against the hostility of Fortune to human hopes. Dancers look like ancient warriors, helmeted and bristling with menace.  The second part of the paean to Fortune carries a softened mood, with a central figure surrounded by and then lifted with large white cloths, as if the mystery of Fortune's capriciousness were being raised in devout hope.

The celebration of spring brings fun into the picture, with gravity-defying buoyancy and zest.  The frolicking has an innocence, even naivete, that works to free the company from the imponderable, often cruel whims of Fortune,  temporarily set aside. The second act is conceived as a nocturnal contrast to the daytime polarities of fate and freedom — two sides of the natural order of things.

It is gratifying that a new kind of severity comes into the costuming in its tavern scene, rather than a series of inebriated cliches. Before the full revelry ensues, there is an effective take on the original song by a roasting swan that plays off the music's fearful intensity: dancers with poles torment an isolated female dancer with precision as the tenor on the recording wails away.

Male-dominated in the original, the tavern section otherwise brings men and women alike under the spell of less innocent frolicking. Thank goodness there's not the slightest bit of mickey-mousing the toasts to binge drinking in the original. For Orff's chorus celebrating universal drunkenness, Hochoy suggests rather the illusion of power and freedom that getting drunk deceptively provides revelers.

The choreography carries hints of the kind of depravity most familiar in Western art in Hieronymus Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights," but Hochoy holds on to his parallel course of bending the musical energies Orff unleashes to his own purposes. As the work threads its way through eroticism and into a pagan wedding and salute to Venus, the dancing becomes increasingly ennobled and transcendent. The flowing robes and silvery halos suit the celebration that emerges, and (partly because the music allows for no pause), the same costuming fits a heightened recapitulation of "O Fortuna."  Visually and choreographically, this repetition of the opening suggests a reconciliation between submission to Fate's ultimate control and the value of vulnerable human alliances.

The impressive tableaux and the variety and challenges inherent in the ensemble dancing make Dance Kaleidoscope's "Carmina Burana" worthy of the periodic revival it enjoys in the schedule. It's also, as I said at the beginning, an eminently marketable title to which Hochoy and his dancers do justice.

A revival of a solo showcase for Liberty Harris, DK's most senior member, marked her retirement from dancing with the troupe after 15 years. A Lilly Endowment grant will allow her to continue with DK,  helping with rehearsals and educational outreach.
Apart from a company role in "Carmina Burana," this weekend's performances of 'Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" constitute veteran DK veteran Liberty Harris' performing farewell.

"Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" is a solo piece after the song of the same title by Cole Porter, sung in the version Hochoy has set by Annie Lennox. On Friday, Harris responded as expected with her personal blend of elegance and pathos. The yearning in the song was carried out in every long-limbed gesture, and in extended and contracted postures, with her patented elegance.

But the elegance never verged into being too cool for the song's (and its choreography's) own good. There has always a lot of personal investment in Harris' dancing, joined to a refined technique, that made her 15 years with Dance Kaleidoscope productive of many great memories.

The first half also included a nicely put together ballet by Victoria Lyras for her best dancers at the Indiana School of Ballet. "Rondo Capriccioso" takes its title from the Saint-Saens violin-orchestra showpiece that provides the music for a smooth, energetically performed original work receiving its world premiere this weekend.

In another guest spot,  there was a remarkable contemporary-dance display of relationship patterns in the difficult duet "Minor Bodies," choreographed by Elizabeth Shea of Bloomington. It's performed here this weekend by two of her company's dancers, Rachel Newbrough and Ryan Galloway, who fashioned an intense blend of wariness, magnetism and trust out of its manifold lifts, falls, spins, turns, prods and nuzzles.


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