The post-pandemic ache to spread our wings seems to be rising, along with air-travel costs and concerns about safety and scheduling. For those inclined to bypass the hassles, it might be past time for imagination to take over. Dance Kaleidoscope has set for this weekend sojourns to seven of the world's architectural and archaeological wonders, heritage sites for all humanity.
"Wonders of the World" opened Thursday at Butler University's Schrott Center for the Arts. The show celebrates the cultural landmarks with new or revived choreography by David Hochoy and Stuart Lewis.
Invited to Wednesday's dress rehearsal, I also took in opening night. The tour is both refreshing and mind-boggling. Images of the sites are projected during spoken introductions to each by the choreographers, who are DK's artistic director and associate artistic director, respectively. All "Wonders" performances are preceded by brief demonstrations of student troupes under the aegis of the company's educational wing, directed by Liberty Harris. The run ends Sunday.
In the main show, each distinctive structure left behind for posterity to contemplate can be approached by the imaginative tourist as a human story, sometimes quite remote. Embodied in dance, movement can suggest how humans interacted with the structure, tell what it meant to people when it flourished, and render artistic impressions of its lines and forms with bodies in motion.
|Geometry and texture of Chichen Itza celebrated in "El Salon Mexico"|
The last approach seems to have been Hochoy's focus in celebrating Mexico's Chichen Itza. The stepped pyramid shape, like the ziggurats of ancient Mesopotamia, is imitated in the wealth of geometric postures in the choreography, especially when accompanying the assertive opening melody in Aaron Copland's "El Salon Mexico," which lent its title to Hochoy's 2000 work.
There are continual notions of building rectilinear forms that strive for height set upon and launching from well-grounded weight; one notes suggestions of gymnastics, vaulting and pommel horses. There are astonishing lifts and daring extensions upward. Cheryl Sparks' costumes and Laura Glover's lighting celebrate the sharp angles and decorative density of the structure. When Copland's score becomes frisky, as in the boisterous showcase for E-flat clarinet, Hochoy's sense of humor rises to match the music, without undercutting the cultural significance of the Mayan site as an anchor of vigorous community life.
"Concierto," a Hochoy piece inspired by Machu Picchu in Peru, wisely avoids following a formal model, since the much-visited Inca site was once a community with many activities inferred from what scholars make of its remains. The language is more abstract, lofty, and at the end, ethereal in the gentle, sapling-like sway of three women under soft circles of light.
Until that finale, the movement seems carved out of recognition of the effort required for a community
|"Concierto" suggests the stability and elevation of Machu Picchu|
to build and occupy a place so substantial, remote and isolated until its posthumous rediscovery in the 20th century. The slow movement of Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto di Aranjuez
, which varies in intensity keyed to a solo guitar, accompanies a dance in which any moments of awkwardness (illusory, not the dancers' or the choreographer's) are quickly folded into something graceful.
The emotional core of the Taj Mahal speaks to community only through a highly placed Indian emperor's devotion to his deceased wife. "Niyam," the title Hochoy chose for his one new piece on the program, is a Hindi word meaning "testament." A testament to one romantic union, the building and its majestic environment lie at the intersection of personal and transcendent vanity. The architecture and its setting reach out to posterity in their frank embrace of particular glory. "Niyam" is a rigorously focused work about love transcending the grave and expressed through ghostly and actual representation of the woman.
The glory is embodied in the duo compatibility of Emily Dyson and Kieran King. Barry Doss's elegant costumes speak to the high status of the royal couple, but the naturalness of both the couple's commitment to each other and the survivor's grief are essential to Hochoy's vision, which is interwoven to the elaborate score by Ravi Shankar. The buoyancy of the paired dancing, as well as the widower's controlled contortions of grief, are set in a context that also echoes the flowing curves in the architecture.
Hochoy's other revived work in "Wonders" is an excerpt from "Writing on the Great Wall," which takes inscriptions on the Great Wall of China as a cue to give calligraphic effusion and spontaneity to choreography for the company. The piece is typical of Hochoy's keen feeling for structure that still welcomes an almost improvisational zest.
Lewis has three world premieres in "Wonders of the World." He has shown in previous work his penchant for sketching in personality with dances that also serve a larger purpose. "Trinity" deals with the imposing, gargantuan figure of Christ the Redeemer, a statue which appears to both bless and embrace Rio de Janeiro. Lewis gives the statue prismatic treatment for three dancers, including the choreographer's request that they incorporate their personal views of Jesus Christ into their work. The meaning of the piece's title came under sympathetic questioning during intermission dialogue Friday.
Lewis says that Christian doctrine's view of a triune god was not his intention so much as three aspects of Jesus Christ himself. What I saw from the solos seemed to present Jesus' humility (Holly Harkins), his blessing and miracle-working function (Paige Robinson), and his identity struggles as both god and man (Adrian Dominguez). The meaning of "trinity" could be taken as the last scene's joining of those qualities in viewers' minds (believing or not) to justify the colossal statue and Lewis' interpretation of it.
With "City of Sandstone," fewer cultural clues have current force. What informed life in the ancient city of Petra in Jordan is obscure. But Lewis responds creatively to the robustness of a civilization that lay along a trade route abandoned long ago. The choreography displays Lewis' gift for fashioning works that are busy but never cluttered; you never feel that he should have left something out in order to get to the next thing.
Lewis also gets the program's finale, "Echoes in Eternity," which celebrates the Colosseum in Rome through a variegated tribute to that ancient venue of mass entertainment, much of it violent. We see the "bread and circuses" spectacles of imperial Rome, including gladiator combat and its morituri te salutamus gesture of respect to the emperor seated above. The inspiration to represent the site's many victims by one dancer, Marie Kuhns, was striking and heart-stopping in suggesting the martyrdom of early Christians.
|"Echoes in Eternity": Adrian Dominguez and Kieran King as gladiators|
The note of triumph reflected in Respighi's suite "The Pines of Rome" rises to a whirling celebration of life, with costume designer Erica Johnston's gossamer textures highlighting the ecstatic dance of the company. This finale is a fanciful variation on the music of "The Pines of the Appian Way," which depicts the return of Roman legions from conquest abroad.
It was such a relief for once not to have to think of triumphant militarism and its subjugation of enemies during Respighi's crescendoing march. Instead, Lewis invites us to feel the music's thrill through a positive, danced indication that life can sometimes have the last word as its most outsized episodes reach toward eternity. And as a whole, "Wonders of the World" proposes that the preservation of cultural artifacts is essential to that hopeful view of human history. Come fly with Dance Kaleidoscope!
[Photos by Lora Olive]