Friday, February 22, 2019

Going wild with Wolfie: Dance Kaleidoscope's 'Funny Bones' features a new suite, 'Merry Mozart'

As David Hochoy told a preview audience at intermission Thursday evening, Mozart is a notoriously difficult composer to set choreographically.  He's too perfect, Hochoy explained, so that there's not much left to fill in in dance terms.

Add to that the difficulty of coming up with amusing choreography that succeeds, and you realize that Hochoy and Dance Kaleidoscope are putting forward a big self-challenge this weekend with "Funny Bones" on the upper stage of Indiana Repertory Theatre.  Committed by this program to tickling those funny bones, what does the trick?  Precise timing helps immeasurably, Hochoy's mentor Martha Graham told him long ago. DK has learned that lesson well.

Approaches to injecting dance with humor were undertaken by members of the troupe in the program's first half, reprising the troupe's contribution to the 2018 Indy Fringe Festival. After intermission the showcase was focused on Hochoy's new work (though the program pinpoints 2001 as its origin), "Merry Mozart."  Eight excerpts from the Austrian genius' oeuvre are pressed into unconventional service for the piece, framed by full-company settings of the "Marriage of Figaro" Overture and the Serenade in D ("Serenata notturna").

Plenty of humor adheres to Mozart in and out of his music. His letters are full of jokiness, some of it coarse. The dramatic tension of "Amadeus," the play and movie exaggerating the rivalry between the upstart prodigy from Salzburg and the imperial court composer, Antonio Salieri, rests largely on the older man's dismay that an ill-mannered buffoon has been unfairly the beneficiary of divine favor.

Dance Kaleidoscope members cavort in "Merry Mozart."
The Mozart shelf of operatic masterpieces is loaded with comedy.  Much of it still plays well today, even though it carries the imprint of racism and sexism. The comedy is often darkened with as much mastery as the funny business: "Don Giovanni," despite murder, seduction, and ghostly retribution, has "dramma giocoso" on its title page. The notches in the rakish hero's belt are lip-smackingly detailed by his servant in the first act. Oh, what #MeToo foreshadowing is there!

In "Cosi fan tutte," we are asked to enjoy a cynical wager in which the male lovers are persuaded to disguise themselves as rival suitors in order to test their ladies' fidelity. "Women are like that!" runs one common translation of the title. And thankfully there's no "Albanian Lives Matter" movement around to object to Ferrando and Guglielmo's broad ethnic caricaturing of the purported suitors.

The exotic is made fun of, not surprising considering the Mozartean public in Prague and Vienna, with racial stereotyping: Lustful, conniving black men get their comeuppance — Osmin in "The Abduction from the Seraglio," Monostatos in "The Magic Flute."  Directors today must lose sleep over how to honor Mozart's sense of humor without tossing box-office-killing poisoned flowers at the audience.

I point this out to underline how successfully Hochoy has celebrated Mozart's sense of humor through finding cues in the music that are life-affirming, that celebrate the buoyancy of the music without sugarcoating or cliche and probably without giving offense. Conflict, as in the delicious interplay of Jillian Godwin and Cody Miley in what Hochoy does with "Non piu andrai" from "The Marriage of Figaro," moves toward resolution and achieves it in a way that will have you saying to yourself, "Well, of course!" The martial energy of the aria is celebrated through gestures and floor-hugging movement of advance and retreat, as well as via an abundance of amusing question and answer.

Hochoy works enchantingly with couples in a few other places: It was charming  to see Mariel Greenlee and Brandon Comer — both not long ago on the DK disabled list — back onstage and tenderly partnered in the slow movement from the sublime Clarinet Concerto. The tension of seduction, evenhandedly thrust forward and resisted, was well counterpointed in Emily Dyson's and Timothy June's duet to "La ci darem la mano" ("Don Giovanni").  Solo piano music suited the bright intimacy that Aleksa Lukasiewicz and Stuart Coleman achieved in another section of the piece. Laura Glover's lighting and Guy Clark's costumes were always apt across the wide musical spectrum.

Some sketchy appreciations of the first half follow: Cut-ups and putdowns, preening and withering,  showing off and just showing up — what suits youth better than their conventional gatherings, whether on the playground (Manuel Valdes' "Recess") or at a high-school rite of passage (Paige Robinson's "Prom")?

Extraterrestrials pay a visit in Missy Thompson's "Out of This World."
Popular culture is rife with humor, sometimes deliberate, sometimes accidental (though the signature of "camp" is often discernible). The program has Missy Thompson's horror-film and sci-fi mash-up, "Out of This World," to delight our sensitivity to assorted baskets of improbables (to vary a phrase from the last presidential campaign).

Speaking of that campaign and its results, Jillian Godwin joins creative forces with the antic muse of Randy Rainbow for "Commander of Cheese," brought off vigorously by five dancers allowed to escape the choreographic corral but perhaps demonstrating that lip-syncing inevitably distracts from the type of illusion dance is best at. The bounds of anarchy are  also approached satirically in Timothy June's "Naptown Misfits," the title characters lovably awkward and idiosyncratic at every turn.

Kids being kids on the playground in "Recess." Don't we miss it!
Dance's peculiar range of illusion is trimmed down in the solo Stuart Coleman fashioned for Paige Robinson in "BruBlech." The choreographer takes from the bouncy, asymmetrical energy of Dave Brubeck's "Unsquare Dance" just what he needs to provide a neat showcase for the witty soloist. At the ensemble end of the humor spectrum were the opening and closing pieces of the first half: Brandon Comer, assisted by Guy Clark costume designs at their most flamboyant, salutes the genius of Broadway in his version  of "Don't Tell Mama" from "Cabaret," making the most of the clever lyrics in a well-structured piece.

And, sending the audience out to the interval with visions of real-world hassles transformed by dance was Mariel Greenlee's "The Waiting Game." This examination of how ordinary people react to having to wait among strangers to get waited on somewhere (that's all of us, and almost every day) externalizes feelings of impatience and self-regard that we usually mute in public.

It was striking how thoroughly the waiting experience was not simply converted into physical expression by the eight dancers,  but also individualized from the ground up and made both amusing and revealing. It was as if dance should be considered basic to processing "the waiting game" and not just a way of representing it. Dance can fill no higher function than to seem more essential than decorative, especially when making us laugh, and "The Waiting Game" is commendably dedicated to the proposition.

[Photos by Crowe's Eye Photography]

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