Friday, February 14, 2020

Dance Kaleidoscope celebrates love of country and those other kinds, too

"American Valentine" is how the holiday weekend is being celebrated by Dance Kaleidoscope on the main stage at Indiana Repertory Theatre.

The title encapsulates the balance of the program's two acts between the "Our America" celebration by the company's dancers in pieces designed for last year's Indy Fringe Festival and diverse DK repertoire dances by artistic director David Hochoy and two guest choreographers under the title "Facets of Love."

Jillian Godwin's "A Home for All" exemplifies the choreographer's distrust of barriers.
We are accustomed to thinking of "anthology" as a designation for a collection of literary pieces. However enthralling such volumes can be, they are a product of selections marketed around an attractive theme. "American Love" is an anthology that returns us to the word's roots, from the Greek meaning a gathering of flowers. The organic imagery is important, because this program is a fragrant bouquet of diverse lived experience expressed in dance form.

Bouquets have long been a major feature of Valentine's Day, but this gathering of cultivated tributes to love deserves to move to the front of the display. In the dancers' half of the program, idealism rules the day. This is clear from the spoken introductions to each piece, testimony to the choreographers' remarkable verbal eloquence, which almost matches the kind they have set upon their colleagues.

I want to hold up some of the stronger impressions "Our America" made on me as "American Love" premiered Thursday night. The lengthy title of retired dancer Mariel Greenlee's show-opening piece, "We hold these dream to be self evident," signals its blend of one of the Declaration of Independence's most famous phrases and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" 1963 speech at the Washington Mall. The choreography puts equal stress on the holding and the dreaming in a freshly ceremonial way.

Pointed social commentary vitalizes a few of the current DK dancers' creations. As it did memorably at its Fringe premiere, Missy Thompson's "The Jones Effect" skewers the "keeping-up-with-the-Joneses" consumerist drive while not getting silly about it. Social regimentation, often entered into voluntarily, is reflected in movement in which nonconformity vies with individual self-assertion.

The satirical element reminded me of a 1960s wall poster, crowded with identical hippie figures, marching in lockstep under the slogan "Protest Against the Rising Tide of Conformity." It was a dig at a widely seen poster carrying the same slogan, with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez posed on either side. The American reality has long been stocked with competing stances on that idea; nearly everyone is inclined to assert themselves until they realize they are doing so a little too much.

Similarly juxtaposed viewpoints clash in Manuel Valdes' powerful "In the Midst of a Storm." Six drab-garbed
Kaleidoscopic patterning: Taylor and King duet.
women move under oppression in the opening scene, their individuality muted, only to then declare their liberation, their limbs free and with skirts emphasizing freedom of movement. In "A Home for All," Jillian Godwin has used a long piece of fabric to represent a wall whose initial dividing function among a large group is ambiguous, eventually closing in around one dancer expressing resurgent determination to rise over the barrier.

Three other pieces focused on celebration: Aaron Steinberg's "Boatman's Dance" used Aaron Copland's folk-song setting to shape an exuberant, idiomatic work for two couples; Paige Robinson's  "Open Horizon" uses part of Ferde Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite" to send three women in circling energy about the stage like Botticelli's 'Three Graces"  animated, following the concentrated force of a violin cadenza interpreted with her usual intensity by Jillian Godwin; and the finale, Stuart Coleman's "Kaleidoscope." The work outfits a sizable ensemble in glowing pastel colors that contrast from dancer to dancer. The lively score by Peter Boyer, in a compound meter (3-3-3-2) well-designed and -executed, has a charming respite in the middle, a duet featuring the deft partnership of Kieran King and Sarah Taylor.

The second half brought forward in concentrated form several displays of Hochoy's imagination as applied to the theme of love over the years. The capstone was the "Fire" movement from "The Four Elements," one of the most expansive and emotionally charged of the artistic director's more abstract pieces, joined at the hip to music.

Set to a pulsating performance by Tito Puente's foundational mambo band,  "Fire" is also a sublime representative of the collective wisdom of Hochoy and his longtime collaborators, lighting designer Laura E. Glover and costume designer Cheryl Sparks. The ensemble unity of the current DK company is as good as ever, and its virtuosity in this piece is relentlessly exercised. What a steady blaze in our hearts this piece stoked beyond all the flickering love cliches that light up Valentine's Day!

Earlier in the program, the audience is treated to a few incandescent duets by Hochoy. Each had its distinction. "Some Enchanted Evening" put Aaron Steinberg in sympathetic partnership with Sarah Taylor, who made the most of Hochoy's exalted concept by seeming to float on winds of enchantment. Less ethereal duo performances included the steamy "Seasons Tango," to music of Astor Piazzolla, danced by Marie Kuhns and Stuart Coleman, seasoned with a drizzle of wit. To amend the J. Geils song title, love also winks.

Guest vocalist Doug Dilling sings "End of the World," danced by Stuart Coleman and Kieran King.
To start the program's second half off in the mood of classical romance, Hochoy has brought back his "Romeo and Juliet" balcony scene as a vehicle for Aleksa Lukasiewicz and Kieran King, to which they bring both ardor and nobility. For a dynamic prelude, he uses his setting of the Montague-Capulet street brawl that symbolizes the feud making the love affair so dangerous. Hochoy's humor, a resource he can draw upon with the same degree of commitment, is showcased in "Stand By Your Man," an updated version of the eternal triangle, with Missy Thompson, Manuel Valdes, and Aaron Steinberg drolly effective. Guy Clark's costumes are rightly a lampoon on country chic. Obliquely, the setting undercuts the retro sexism of Tammy Wynette's singing.

Hochoy's guests vary the program even from a style as capacious as his: Cynthia Pratt moves across a spectrum of three duets in "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." The versatility of the choreography for three couples both celebrates the song's message and usefully relieves the Roberta Flack recording of some of its iconic dead-seriousness. And for a sassy contrast, another three couples cavort zestfully to Michael Jackson's performance of "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)," as choreographed by Nicholas A. Owens.

"American Valentine" is a true anthology. The kind you might find delightful to read is another matter entirely. This one blooms through Sunday. Take time to smell the roses.

[Photos by Crowe's Eye Photography]

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