Saturday, August 17, 2019

Second night Indy Fringe Festival 2019: Stunning 'Beyond Ballet' at the District Theatre

Indianapolis Ballet extends a beckoning index finger by titling its Indy Fringe Festival show "Beyond Ballet."

The hint is that whatever the general public's vision of ballet may be, chances are it's too narrow. Perhaps a seductive "come on!" is called for with the promise that the show indeed stretches beyond ballet.

Of course, given the informal audience poll that founding artistic director Victoria Lyras conducted Friday night, just about everyone occupying seats at the District Theatre Main Stage had previous experience of actual ballet. Presumably, familiarity with the range of dance coming under that heading nowadays is extensive among savvy Fringers.

Nonetheless, the emotional payoff of this year's showcase of brief ballets is vast, given the variety among the half-dozen pieces presented.  The technical virtuosity of the company was as impressive as the dancers' expressive range.

The droll finale of "Mountain Medley" in "Beyond Ballet."
Comic gifts were amply displayed in "Mountain Medley," a piece of deliberately Alpine kitsch in costuming and recorded accompaniment — the yodeling virtuosity of Mary Schneider across familiar excerpts from "Carmen" and the "William Tell" Overture, among other sources. Paul Vitali's choreography implied a scenario of rustic wooing gone amiss (or maybe "gone a-Ms." given the  work's amusing feminist triumphalism).

These high spirits were re-engaged in the program finale, but without as much full-bore zaniness. The point of "Too Darn Hot," the Cole Porter song inspiring the exuberance of Scott Jovovich's choreography, was the collective yearning both to escape and yield to excessive urban heat in the time before air conditioning. The ensemble moved from impersonating wilted subway straphangers to throwing off all restraint as mating-minded young people eager to get their groove on despite the high temperature. The coordination of jitterbugging moves and suggestive poses, flips, and twirls was astonishing and invariably looked all-out and all-in. The buoyancy and athleticism was unceasing and flirted with the audience's nascent apprehension that everything might come apart. It never did.

For more abstract and emotionally conflicted representations of youthful energy, the program offered Roberta Wong's "Strange Idea," choreographed to the pungent guitar-playing of Charlie Ballantine. On Friday, the double-cast piece offered Shea Johnson, Chris Lingner, Jessica Miller, and Kristin Toner in a brief tone poem of movement encompassing both predatory and cooperative movement. The dancers leaped, stalked, and swooped in patterns that seemed to represent aggression partially tamed by an abiding desire for mutual engagement.
Exultant virtuosity in "Don Quixote" pas de deux

The historic ballet legacy of the romantic era got representation in the Marius Petipa "Don Quixote" pas de deux,
in which Lingner indicated this company's versatility at its peak. He partnered Yoshiko Kamikusa in the formal arrangement of a duo introduction and a coda framing two pairs of solo variations. The couple's opening presentation was astonishing enough to draw a sustained ovation, setting up individual showcases of mounting intensity and brilliance. Both dancers managed not only the flair and precision required, but also projected extraordinary joy in their partnership and the astonishment they were creating in the audience.

Lyras had her choreographic acumen on view in two contrasting pieces: the bright "Allegro vivace," to crystalline piano-and-orchestra music of Saint-Saens. The formal interaction of the corps with the featured couple (Kamikusa and Riley Horton in the performance I saw) looked unfailingly natural and presented testimony to the integration of main roles and the ensemble. The romantic costuming was heart-melting and almost mouth-watering, long skirts contrasting aquamarine in half the dancers with a sort of raspberry sherbet hue in the rest.

"Miroirs," Lyras' other "Beyond Ballet" contribution, presented still another aspect of her dancers: the ability to present unwavering steadiness in a slow piece. The music was by the contemporary exponent of "spiritual minimalism," Arvo Pärt. The mesmerizing, sustained flow of the work, with solo cello and harp in the musical foreground, owed much to the ensemble's way of making difficult bends and extensions look as free of tension as the more centered and upright positions. To bring off episodes of muscular stress as naturally as relaxed moments can be entered as evidence of the high level of expertise Indianapolis Ballet has achieved. The Fringe Festival is much richer for its participation.

[Photos by Daniel Axler]

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