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Musical Arts Center - Indiana University
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Indiana University Ballet Theater's Fall Dance Production a Meal for the Senses

by Rita Kohn
October 4, 2015
Musical Arts Center - Indiana University
101 North Jordan Ave
Bloomington, IN 47406
(812) 855-7433
This article was originally published in NUVO Newsweekly, Indianapolis; IN. Rita Kohn is a member of the Board of the Dance Critics Association.
Indiana University Ballet Theater's Fall Dance production Oct 2-3, presented a momentous evening of three choreographic icons and their works — Twyla Tharp's “Surfer at the River Styx” [music by Donald Knaack, Coda by David Kahne] mesmerized with bravura as IU's dancers brought the challenge between Deity and King to vibrant life. George Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco” [Concerto in D Minor for 2 Violins by J. S. Bach] then elegantly twinned dancers with violins and a counterpart chamber orchestra and Paul Taylor’s “Musical Offering” [Bach Opus 85] embodied celebratory ritual with majestic physicality, challenging dancers to do the impossible.

For a genre void of vocalized speech, dance at this program poignantly showed why it does indeed possess the most expansive vocabulary of all the art forms. Absorbing this diversity fills every nook and cranny of our six [not merely five] senses. We were in the vortex of wind, water, air, fire, earth and soul in the big bang of creation.

At the pre-performance talk, Michael Vernon described this as his “dream program” and indeed it encapsulated his tenth anniversary of exquisite leadership as the artistic director of IU Ballet Theater.

The unifying element between the three works is the way in which the principal and solo dancers introduce the unique movement vocabulary of that work, and the way in which the corps dancers individually and in unison carry it through, in the manner in which jazz players riff on a song’s melody before returning it to its original embodiment. Thus the dramatic tension unfolds as a living in-the-moment event. Yet it is the music’s rhythm upon which each choreographer developed innate moments building toward the wholeness of universality.

Being “one degree removed from the original creation of masterworks,” is part of the excitement said Vernon. Benjamin Bowman, who staged “Surfer at the River Styx,” danced in its 2000 premiere. Nilas Martins, who staged “Concerto Barocco,” has a 30-year association with the works of Balanchine. Constance Dinapolis, who staged “Musical Offering,” joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1986, the year the work premiered.

Tyler Dowdy and Kenneth Shelby displayed non-stop turbulent energy as they tried to outstrip each other even while being tormented and mimicked by a splendid quartet symbolizing the River Styx. When peace finally is restored, it’s an equally bravura moment of a female dancer being carried high off-stage in a stream of light—peace transcending rancor? One can hope this is the meaning of the Coda so eloquently embodied in Tharp’s vision. The troupe included Julian Goodwin-Ferris. Jared Kelly, Margaret Andriani, Sophia Brodin, Anna Barnes, Elizabeth Yanick, with Nicholas Gray and Darren Hsu.

Oct. 2, Cara Hansvick and Allison Perhach danced “the violins,” played in the pit as first and second violin by Jimin Lin and Evan De Long, as distinct personalities. Andrew Copeland partnered the soloists while a corps of eight reflected the melody in movements of interconnecting shapes and scenes.

Taylor’s “Musical Offering: A Requiem” required the most exacting attention. It is atmospheric throughout, with costumes, background and lighting evoking a distant place and time reminiscent of Polynesian rites. Death is imminent yet life is glorified. Taking turns as soloists and in groupings, 14 dancers depict layers of emotions and reactions to the unfolding sagas. We are left wondering if this community can survive the death of a revered member.

Turning in superlative performances were lead dancers Ryan McCreary and Kenneth Shelby along with Caroline Atwell, Grace Koury, Colin Ellis, Imani Sailers, Anna Peabody, Leah Gaston, Megan Noonan, Eli Downs, Andrew Copeland, Jared Kelly, Antonio Houck, Nicholas Gray.

Joseph Stepec conducted. Lighting design was by Aaron Bowersox.
IU Ballet Theater dancers in Twyla Tharp's “Surfer at the River Styx.”

IU Ballet Theater dancers in Twyla Tharp's “Surfer at the River Styx.”


Anna Barnes aloft with other IU Ballet Theater dancers in Twyla Tharp's “Surfer at the River Styx.”

Anna Barnes aloft with other IU Ballet Theater dancers in Twyla Tharp's “Surfer at the River Styx.”


IU Ballet Theater's Cara Hansvick and Andy Copeland in George Balanchine’s 'Concerto Barocco.'

IU Ballet Theater's Cara Hansvick and Andy Copeland in George Balanchine’s "Concerto Barocco."


IU Ballet Theater's Cara Hansvick and Andy Copeland in George Balanchine’s 'Concerto Barocco.'

IU Ballet Theater's Cara Hansvick and Andy Copeland in George Balanchine’s "Concerto Barocco."

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