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Dance Kaleidoscope joins with Todd Rosenlieb Dance in a program celebrating their shared dance heritage

by Rita Kohn
April 13, 2017
Rita Kohn is a member of the Board of the Dance Critics Association.
An element of bravura ran through the Sunday, April 9 program of DK & Friends in Indianapolis as Todd Rosenlieb Dance and Dance Kaleidoscope danced as much for each other as for the audience. Dance Kaleidoscope artistic director David Hochoy introduced Todd Rosenlieb as DK’s "artistic cousin, since he was raised in the company of Erik Hawkins, who danced with Martha Graham."

Hochoy was with the Martha Graham Dance from 1980-1989 and has been connected to it in various capacities ever since.

"I’m sure that you will enjoy recognizing the similarities and differences in our approaches," said Hochoy. "And that your understanding and appreciation of the art of contemporary dance will be enhanced."

Indeed, that’s exactly what happened. Speaking with audience members after the program, each had a personal view of what it means to express Graham’s legacy; that Hochoy emulated more of her early works, Rosenlieb, more of her later career. Best of all, the program engendered a conversation that is expected to continue when DK dancers travel to Norfolk in 2018 for another exchange.

Connecting the two companies was Ricardo Melendez who danced with DK from 1992-1999. Following his tenure as artistic director of Ballets de San Juan, Puerto Rico, he joined Todd Rosenlieb Dance as associate artistic director. He also serves as artistic director of Virginia Ballet Theatre.

This uniting of modern dance with ballet is the legacy of Graham herself. One feels this in Rosenlieb’s “Heavy Like Waits,” set to music by Tom Waits. In it, six dancers deploying raincoats as an extension of Graham’s wizardry with fabrics, and very much echoing a George Balanchine-like take on ordinary people strutting their stuff while ‘partnering’ with a raincoat.

Melendez, during an intermission chat with this reviewer, commented: “not any ordinary raincoats, they have to be just right.” For the seemingly laid-back but non-stop precision-glinted movement he says, “You can’t be stuck in a sleeve. The heft has to be right to swing and strong enough to drag a dancer across the stage.”

It takes a Graham-Balanchine sense of musicality to make Tom Waits' music dancerly (although many other choreographers have used his music for their works). Rosenlieb’s traveling company does this splendidly, with each portraying a real person, discernible in groupings and in a crowd. Caleb Waybright’s ‘nebish’ mugging in the work didn’t so much steal scenes as brighten them. His performance was abetted by Aileen Braun, Megan Butler, Caitlin Cooley, Ronald Parker and Janelle Spruill, who played into imagery that was flashy, macho, seductive, bored and brazen as they traversed the stage in deploying slices of everyday life.

In “Voiced,” Melendez showed vintage Graham push and pull, pain and conciliation, unfolding female empowerment via music by Meredith Monk. Butler, Cooley and Spruill - uniformly clad in Melendez’s glyph on Graham’s cross-over bodice straps and split fulsome skirt - gave a sense of group inclusiveness with encircling arms, yet inserted their own individuality within the choreography.

“Suite Sammy” was Rosenlieb’s homage to "The Rat Pack" and the pizzaz and swing of Sammy Davis Jr. It was musical chairs in Las Vegas as Cooley and Braun in 1950s glitter gowns and sparkly shoes vied for the spotlight in competition with Waybright who was attired in an open-collared shirt, easy slacks and soft shoes. His goal appeared to try and outsmart and out-dance them.

Act Two opened with the premiere of Hochoy’s visualization of Matt Alber’s “End of the World” to a song by Doug Dilling. As a tender, caring moment between lovers for whom life-long fidelity is the ultimate wish, Stuart Coleman and Timothy June brought us into their intimacy with honesty and allowed us to witness their love and desire to overcome a breakup. The dancers' encircling bodies, gazes, waltzing and stillness was touching.

Next came Hochoy’s 1999 work “Skin Walkers.” Coming back to witness it with a whole new company of dancers, during our conversation Melendez, DK’s rehearsal director in 1999, recalled Hochoy’s description of the dance as “sculptures that move.” With Cathy Morris adding her electric violin to recorded Celtic-inspired music composed by T.H. Gillespie and L.E. McCullough, these were warm-blooded, living sculptures, each getting a moment to shine with a solo, and as an ensemble representing a caring community. High, explosive energy makes this one of DK’s most enduring works. It was danced solidly by Coleman, Brandon Comer, Phillip Crawshaw, Emily Dyson, Jillian Godwin, June, Aleska Lukasiewicz, Marte Osiris Madera, Caitlin Negron, Missy Trulock and Noah Trulock. Costumer Cheryl Sparks’ flowing skirts created a swirl of colors for an ending that served equally as a coda for the entire spirited program.

Even though Todd Rosenlieb Dance came with a lighting plot, longtime DK designer Laura Glover re-imagined the lighting to the extent that she is credited with lighting the entire program.

As part of an email conversation, Melendez replied “Everything” to my question, What's special about being back here? - adding, “David Hochoy is my mentor. Under his guidance I gained insight and courage. To have the chance to share my work alongside the work of a master for whom I hold such admiration and respect, is a blessing. Not to mention that seeing my choreography under Laura Glover's lighting warms my heart and breathes new life to my work.

I started choreographing while I was in DK. I choreographed two pieces for DK while with the Company. After I became Artistic director for Ballets de San Juan in Puerto Rico I set many pieces for the Company that were toured in the States and Europe.

After my tenure with Ballets de San Juan, I became Associate Director with Todd Rosenlieb Dance and there I have set many works including 'Voiced,’ which we have included in this concert with DK. Choreographing had been a natural progression for me. I love the language of dance and to stop will be to willingly become mute.”

Melendez has also been designing costumes since his student days at Butler University and Brooklyn College. He described this as part of the process of choreographing.

What's next, I asked.

“LIFE,” replied Melendez.

“Up to this moment I have been able to juggle all my passions: Dance, choreographing, theater, teaching, writing; always sharing my work in the hope my voice inspires others to examine our common humanity. I continue exploring and learning and I hope that never changes. In the words of Dylan Thomas: 'Rage, Rage against the dying of the light.' A passage that Martha Graham loved and David Hochoy lulled to me. The future is unknown; my present moment validates my traveled path.”

Along with his appointments as artistic director of Virginia Ballet Theater and associate director of Todd Rosenlieb Dance, Melendez teaches for both the theater and dance departments at the Virginia Governor's School and serves as an adjunct professor at Old Dominion University.

“In my spare time, who am I kidding, the sino time to spare!,” concluded Melendez, whose return brought back an audience of his colleagues from Phoenix Theatre where, in his ‘spare time,’ he acted and choreographed.

Todd Rosenlieb previously choreographed a work at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra as part of a Brahms program.
Aileen Braun, Megan Butler, Caitlin Cooley, Ronald Parker, Janelle Spruill, Caleb Waybright.

Aileen Braun, Megan Butler, Caitlin Cooley, Ronald Parker, Janelle Spruill, Caleb Waybright.

Photo © & courtesy of Freddie Kelvin


Megan Butler, Caitlin Cooley, Janelle Spruill.

Megan Butler, Caitlin Cooley, Janelle Spruill.

Photo © & courtesy of Freddie Kelvin


Caitlin Cooley and Caleb Waybright.

Caitlin Cooley and Caleb Waybright.

Photo © & courtesy of Freddie Kelvin


Doug Dilling (singer), Timothy June and Stuart Coleman.

Doug Dilling (singer), Timothy June and Stuart Coleman.

Photo © & courtesy of Freddie Kelvin


Stuart Coleman and Timothy June.

Stuart Coleman and Timothy June.

Photo © & courtesy of Chris Crawl


Noah Trulock

Noah Trulock

Photo © & courtesy of Crowe's Eye Photography


DK dancers

DK dancers

Photo © & courtesy of Crowe's Eye Photography


(l-r) Ricardo Melendez, David Hochoy and Todd Rosenlieb.

(l-r) Ricardo Melendez, David Hochoy and Todd Rosenlieb.

Photo © & courtesy of Crowe's Eye Photography

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