Dance Kaleidoscope gets assistance at the keyboard for 'Music of the Night'

Dance Kaleidoscope company puts out a nighttime vibe in "Duke's Place."
The title of Dance Kaleidoscope's current show is likely to stir to life an earworm — the title character's seductive song from "Phantom of the Opera."

But "Music of the Night" has been borrowed, not from Andrew Lloyd Webber, but to apply to a program mostly devoted to George Gershwin and Duke Ellington, whose music inevitably suggests nocturnal romps and reveries.

Ellington was once asked to explain how he habitually got by on four hours sleep a night. "I sleep fast," he replied. Daylight held no terrors for the jazz master, however. Another time, when he and a friend stepped outside a club long after closing and looked up to see a gray bank of clouds, his companion said: "I hope tomorrow is a good day." Duke, at the time afflicted with age-related health problems, came back suavely with this: "Any day I get up is a good day."

So, we've got a sermon text. Guest choreographer Cynthia Pratt illustrates it with a new work, "Duke's Place."  Laura E. Glover's lighting emphasizes nighttime's reduction of color to black and white as the dozen-strong company goes through some vivacious movement, with the ensemble in close order always being its home base.

The first part of the work is set to the inviting vocal of Louis Armstrong in the album he made with Ellington. The text gives night-owl specificity to an old jam-session favorite, "C Jam Blues." What we saw in Thursday night's preview at Indiana Repertory Theatre was a scintillating piece for people who sleep fast and presumably believe that any day they get up (without feeling worse for wear) is a good day. That was the reassuring message I took especially from the colored circles, which began appearing during Missy Thompson's solo, as they pulsated overlapping across the stage, settling auras upon the dancers.

A revival of Hochoy's 2007 "Sophisticated Ellington" occupies the program's second half. The DK artistic director favors somewhat blowsier, more elaborate versions of familiar Ellington tunes than I prefer, but the important thing is what kind of arrangement inspires the choreography that Hochoy wants to present. Emily Dyson's solo to "Mood Indigo" was appropriate, though I missed the spare, groundbreaking harmonies and tone colors of the small-scale original.

On the other hand, Hochoy's decision to make of the swing-dance favorite "Perdido" something contrary to the style's conventionally smooth, swirling couples was inspired: Starting with the men, dancers step sideways in coordinated arm-flapping from the elbow, facing front — postures  rarely seen when stompin' at the old Savoy, I'm pretty sure. There were couples crawling across the stage floppily like mating insects and many other drolleries, accompanied by the heavily accented tune. In "Sophisticated Lady," with the focus on one couple (Dyson and Timothy June), again as humor was brought into the choreography, Hochoy wisely omitted a version with the poignant lyrics, allowing the piece to focus on the sophistication of an evolving relationship in which the lady dominates.

The program opened with several pieces featuring 2007 American Pianists Association laureate Eric Zuber at the piano, which was placed in front of the stage. "Three Preludes" (2002) showed Hochoy's sensitivity to both the dashing quality of Gershwin's solo piano music and its fondness for filigree. The slow middle prelude was kind of haunting as it featured a tentative quality to the dancing and a precise evocation of how we look about cautiously when entering new situations.

Eric Zuber and Jillian Godwin got the musician-dancer partnership just right.
"Fascinatin' Rhythm" revived a 2002 work featuring six Gershwin songbook versions for solo piano. They were played with exemplary style by Zuber; the dancing at this preview was sometimes brilliant, sometimes a little rough. Jillian Godwin took full advantage of a solo opportunity in "Do It Again" in which her partnership with the guest pianist seemed perfect. The onstage partnership of Marie Kuhns and Timothy June had comical flair in "Oh, Lady Be Good."

After the curtain closed, providing respite for the dancers, Zuber offered a sprightly, idiomatic version of one of Claude Debussy's character sketches, "General Lavine, Eccentric." The side trip into the French impressionist composer (an influence on both Gershwin and Ellington, by the way) also included the ballet "Clair de Lune," from Hochoy's 1993 "Seasons." This early piece vividly reflects the Martha Graham influence that remains strong in DK under his leadership.

The four female dancers move together and apart, sometimes fused in a kind of tower of homage to the full moon as projected on the backdrop. The gestures are angular and sustained. It's a piece suggestive of pagan ritual as well as a representation of the Earth's ever-changing satellite. It was beautifully played and danced Thursday. So rich in artistic representations through the ages, the moon is also the touted companion of everyone who, like the Duke, sleeps fast.

[Photos by Crowe's Eye Photography]


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