Saturday, January 16, 2021

Embracing the new era, Dance Kaleidoscope posits 'A New Dawn'

Masked and with touching mostly proscribed by pandemic protocols, Dance Kaleidoscope has expanded its art for the era of video streaming with a two-work program titled "A New Dawn." The world-premiere pieces draw from the limitations imposed by Covid-19 to send a sinuous message of hope and new spheres for creative expression.

With supple, well-coordinated camera work by WFYI-TV, the company is shown in its usual performing space, the main stage of Indiana Repertory Theatre. Visual components that make the choreography appeal to the senses (on screens through Jan. 24) come from the troupe's veteran lighting designer, Laura E. Glover, and costume designers Guy Clark and Cheryl Sparks.

Natalie Clevenger in a "New Dawn" scene 
Guest choreographer André Megerdichian, a former DK member, has compared his habitual way of unifying his ideas for a piece to attempting to assemble a satellite out of stray pieces gathered in outer space. The new work has that pieced-together quality with evidence of a personal signature throughout, fashioned far beyond thin air. 

"Communal isolation" is a phrase he came up with in an interview with DK marketing director Paul Hansen; it's fleshed out in "Belly of the Whale." The whale is the global leviathan that has ingested and holds all of us, in Megerdichian's view. And I think he is on to something: The elements we have to hand, anything accessible, are what we fashion in order to get our lives to cohere when so many resources are unavailable to us. "We are all in this together," the cliché we got used to as a rallying cry throughout most of 2020, inevitably highlights isolation as much as community in Megerdichian's choreography.

The ensemble comes on to a march that morphs into a calypso. Concentric circles of light on the stage imply patterns that take in whatever unifying features they can. There's a dramatic shift at a point when an onstage costume change, freeing the dancers from robe-like confines, is initiated by a solo female dancer. The music, with its minimalist pulsations, suggests through the dancers' rising, reaching, and falling gestures our mirrored attempts to fight mental and physical claustrophobia. Near the end, the ensemble gathers facing forward standing like a chorus; against an instrumental drone, the dancers seem to be uniting around a ritual, as one dancer on the floor mimics cleansing motions. In the finale, everyone enters in a processional, with raised arms crossed at the wrist. The accompaniment is lighter, dominated by harp, but are the wrists bound or are they ritualizing acceptance of temporary limitations, with figures standing tall in readiness to once again reclaim their wonted freedom?

Stuart Coleman's "Hindsight/Blindsight" locks into a personal narrative of the year just past. The work's three sections clearly point to a linear view of the Covid-19 experience: "What We Thought Would Happen," "What Actually Happened," and "What Happens Next."  Much of the music of John Psathas chosen for the work draws heavily upon Bela Bartok, particularly the sonic aggressiveness of his Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. The first part sets ensemble coordination in contrast with small-scale opposition to any movement toward consensus. As in the past, I like the abundance and flow of Coleman's choreography. Though it's chock-full of ideas, things meld gracefully without mere busywork. Transitions that seem abrupt all of a sudden look logical and better prepared for than we had any reason to expect.

In his interview with Hansen, Coleman admits to being an instinctive planner, and his imagination

Stuart Coleman's solo in his "Hindsight/Blindsight"

fortunately allows him to keep the plans from becoming a series of set-pieces. In this piece, patterns emerge in the ensemble out of ostensible incoherence. The dark costumes and sepulchral lighting
in "What Actually Happened" allow for the emergence of individual enlightenment, represented by Coleman himself "taking a knee" for about eight minutes until one dancer of the group presents himself in suffering postures to the spotlighted dancer. The mass dawning of social conscience is encapsulated.

The encounter generates Coleman's graceful solo, again full of ideas but never blurred with padding. "What Happens Next" opens up vistas of a better future. The ensemble spreads its wings; ecstatic whirling galvanizes the company. Outsize energy with explicit optimism makes for the kind of finale that would surely bring a live audience immediately to its feet at the end. Maybe "Hindsight/Blindsight"'s  deuxieme  in the not too distant future will create such a rousing scenario. We can only hope. A new dawn must be coming.

[Photos by Crowe's Eye Photography]



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