Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Indy FringeFest, Day Five: Prophecy, curse, and religion in 'Sleeping Beauty,' ballet off the classical-romantic track, and naughty Las Vegas pizazz

Opportunities for going contrary to expectation on the one hand, reinforcing what you're known for on the other, and surprising and mystifying an audience on the third (an impossibility suggested by the show I'm thinking of) abound at the 12th annual IndyFringe Festival.

The mainstage at Theatre on the Square is a welcoming arena for a dance show, but up to now, I've only caught Dance Kaleidscope on that stage. Monday night it was a pleasure to see the Indianapolis School of Ballet's "Beyond Ballet" there. Victoria Lyras' 10-year-old organization is going from strength to strength, shown most recently in the announcement that the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra will be playing for its "Nutcracker" production in December.

I liked the refreshing application of ballet to classic jazz in "Waitin' for Katie" by Ben Pollack (in whose band Benny Goodman got his start). The "beyond" note was immediately struck as the audience took in the surprising aptness of the ballet vocabulary to 80-year-old popular music. That piece was by William Patrick Dunne, and the program surveyed a host of modern styles, with a nod to tradition in the middle, the Petipa-Minkus "Paquita Suite." Brightly presented and sharply defined, that spiffy work opened with a pas de trois (Entrada) and moved splendidly through three variations, ending in a poised coda.

Noah Trulock, a featured guest dancer from Dance Kaleidoscope, makes his first appearance in the program in Lyras' "Machichis & William," a pas de deux with Alexandra James with a scenario of an encounter between an American Indiana maiden and local settler William Conner. Lyras withheld her creative side from the rest of the program except for the three-part finale, "TangoX3," to music of Astor Piazzola.

It was a triumphant exhibition of how suitable the best tango music is for creative extrapolation beyond the conventional tango movement.  A sensuous pas de deux to  "Oblivion" for Trulock and Hannah Schenk was bookended by ensemble pieces "Imperial" and "Escualo" to open up the space around Lyras' inspirations, indicating the culturally shared spirit of tango. "Oblivion" was fascinating: crisply articulated, daring, steamy, and elegant.

Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise," to a lush arrangement for strings, was a lyrical ensemble piece, with effective counterpoint between the troupe's two men (Noah Klarck and Luther DeMyer) and nine women. The dramatic scenario of Roberta Wong's "We See Things As We Are" was vivid but a little hard to interpret in the excerpt presented. Finally, I have to confess an aversion to John Lennon's song "Imagine," so it's a credit to DeMyer's flair as a tap dancer that I didn't mind it at all in this brilliant performance, where I could interpret the dance as superior to its vehicle.

On the same stage earlier in the evening came the high-energy "Class, Grass & Ass," a Las Vegas-style extravaganza of often naughty song and dance starring Deb Mullins. The show's star has a long performing history in the area, and the loyal, close-to-capacity audience loudly cheered her and her colleagues on.

She had professionally astute support from saucy singer-dancers Jenee Michele, Deb Wims, and Carol Worcel as the "Debutantes." A band adept at styles ranging from novelty items from the Swing Era to pop/rock favorites from 1968 onward provides onstage accompaniment. Troye Kinnett leads the  instrumental quartet from the keyboard, and is featured with Mullins on accordion for "Squeeze Box."

With Kinnett and his guitar-bass-drums sidemen going all out, professionally snazzy to the core, there was sometimes an imbalance Monday between Mullins' vocals and the accompaniment. Some of this had to do with her face mic's cutting out (especially during "My Eye on You"). Whether she was being temporarily covered or not, she held her own with a trouper's aplomb.

The show — divided into four parts after each rhyming word of the title, with "class" first and last — was directed  and choreographed by Worcel, who also designed eye-catching costumes. Songs touting recreational drugs and sex give a "blue" tint to the production.

There is never a dull moment, yet there's enough ebb and flow in the intensity to allow for frequent, undisruptive  costume changes by the star and the Debutantes. In a final display of community zest, "Class, Grass & Ass" concludes with a stand-up-and-sing-along reprise of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together."

For a much darker, even menacing sense of spectacle, you might want to visit "Sleeping Beauty," an adaptation of the famous fairy tale being presented by The 7th Artistry of Zionsville at the IndyFringe Basile Theater. Seen Monday night, the show struck me with its elaborate and arresting visual design, as well as the poise of its young cast in conveying the work's mixture of dramatic dialogue and performance-art tableaux and gestures, set to a booming soundtrack.

The familiar fairy tale of the curse upon an infant princess is blended in this version with an early American setting and the hysteria with which unchecked evil was feared and fought, particularly in late-17th-century Salem, Massachusetts, by the religiously orthodox. The split among four supernaturally powered sisters between Do No Evil and the other three — Speak, Hear, and See No Evil — is at the center of the scenario.

Sacrifice of the innocent to satisfy the demands of overwhelming power is always heart-wrenching, whether in our everyday world or in the special one of "Sleeping Beauty." Curses are emblematic of tragically unmet needs for justice, which neither world ever guarantees.The struggle for young souls is perpetual, and takes many forms. In this show, the desire to break the chain of accusation, suspicion, control, and punishment is elevated to a position of mythic weight.

The costumes are stunning, the light and sound design thoroughly at the service of the fragmented but ultimately coherent story.  If you have a taste for fairy tales, the more outlandish the better, or the dark symbolism of stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Sleeping Beauty" will play upon your mind as well as your nerve ends indelibly.

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