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For Indianapolis Dance & Theater Troupes Hopefulness is the Message, Arts, the Medium

by Rita Kohn
June 5, 2018
Indianapolis, IN
Rita Kohn, member: Dance Critics Association, Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild
Experiencing Dance Kaleidoscope performance of Martha Graham's Appalachian Spring and Beef & Boards production of Annie back-to-back, June 1 and 2 respectively, brought forward aesthetic concepts both iconic and dated. Conversations with fellow patrons at both performances touched on the dynamics of re-staging and bringing back a work within the context of our current PC culture.

Reflecting upon a work developed in 1944, post-WWII, and a work developed in 1977, but set in depression-era 1933, it is the glimmer of hopefulness in each that delivered a punch to my gut. But hopefulness feels disingenuous in today’s climate of bullying, bravado and bile. Each day brings new headlines of behavior that though cheered by some in the red state of Indiana, it’s not universal.

Seventy-four years ago we were defined by the aftermath of World War II. Eighty-five years ago we were defined by the Great Depression. Now we are defined by political division.

Segue to the first weekend in June 2018 leading us into the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Robert Kennedy, which followed so closely on the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King.

I attended both productions with this half-century memory. I was seeing now through the lens of then; I was feeling now through the emotions of then — physics of time playing into cultural refraction.

At each performance, I was watching the dancers delivering on the highest level of technique; yet something deeper was coming across from stage to seats. It has taken a few days of assessing to gain and share perspective, to recognize that maybe the people on stage, who are charged with uplifting the spirit of the people in the seats, also have been grappling with upbeat at a time of downbeat. When you’re not sure if your company will garner the funds to stay viable, being merry and bright takes effort. And yet, that’s exactly what they were showing. They were taking the high road and inviting me in. To succumb to glumness, to give up, is to cave in to the lowest common denominator.

Dance Kaleidoscope and Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, respectively, programmed around significant anniversaries—75th coming up for the debut of Appalachian Spring at the Library of Congress; 40th just past for Annie’s opening on Broadway.

I saw Appalachian Spring June 1, on the Indiana Repertory Theatre One-America Main Stage in Indianapolis. It was staged by David Hochoy and Miki Orihara as Martha Graham envisioned the ballet unfolding with Aaron Copeland’s score. The Revivalist dominates on a perch and in exhortations of doom. The Bride counters, sidestepping him in a flirtatious moment to bring The Husbandman out of his reverie—looking over the now barren place. When bad happens, declares The Bride, make good come of it. Lift yourself up, concurs The Pioneering Woman, and take everyone along with you. The Husbandman can’t resist this optimism. Even The Revivalist has to admit that with The Bride’s spunk, life is more than waiting for the next disaster, and off he marches with The Followers, who are the comic relief to his dour predictions. We are assured that this bare bones place will give rise to a field, a family, a future. From that point of view Appalachian Spring is a timeless coda to what is required of us now, as it has been since the beginning of time.

Yet another level of dynamics was underway. With this production, Caitlin Negron, portraying The Bride, is retiring. DK is a cohesive company. Mining the humanity and humor in any work is organic. I could feel the warmth from everyone on and off stage reaching out to Negron, the person and the role. Most of us in the audience have been watching Caitlin Negron and Timothy June, here as The Husbandman, partner over the past decade. We were in the moment of change as it happens in a ballet and in life.
[see also: www.exploredance.com/article.htm?id=4920]

While Appalachian Spring was the main event, and mention was earned for exquisite portrayals by Mariel Greenlee as The Pioneering Woman, Brandon Comer [on June 1 and 3] and Stuart Coleman [on May 31 and June 2] as The Revivalist, along with Emily Dyson, Marie Kuhns, Aleska Lukasiewicz and Missy Thompson as The Followers, the four pieces in Act 1 require equal citation.

The program opened with Stuart Coleman’s flowing, lyrical visualization of the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria. Originally choreographed in 1988 by David Hochoy “on a dancer named Daniela Stasi while I was still rehearsal director at the Graham Company,” Hochoy restaged the work for Coleman to perform it in Norfolk, VA in April as part of the DK residency with Todd Rosenlieb Dance. Reflecting on the this lovely gesture, I realized how even the seemingly smallest moments of thoughtfulness lift us from the mean-spiritedness of current time. Coleman is from Virginia, began his training in 2005 in Lynchburg under Keith Lee and joined the Virginia School of the Arts. Here he would be with childhood friends and family sharing this beautiful work. Having watched Coleman during his Butler years performing as part of the dance department, and subsequently transitioning into DK, his sensitivity here, transforming a prayer within Laura E. Glover’s lighting, caught my breath as he seemingly floated upward.

Hochoy created Stephen Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind” on Mariel Greenlee in 2010 in a Mad for Musicals program, then in 2014 reprised for a Broadway Meets Motown program. Both were on the smaller, thrust IRT Upper Stage. Now, on the larger One America Stage at the IRT, the impact of a day-long reverie on her desire and loss and the transformation from cute showgirl to pining torch singer deepened what Sondheim referred to as a nod to the Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” and that brought to mind Michael Feinstein’s book, "The Gershwins and Me."

In my Dec. 5, 2014 NUVO Newsweekly review I mentioned, “Mariel Greenlee holds nothing back with “Losing My Mind” and we are there with her recalling our own lies.” This particular torch song wears many hats; news reports point out those having donned the red cap on the ‘big stage of politics’ now are lamenting the lies of their imagined lover—it’s estimated millions of U.S. jobs will be lost-not gained- in the wake of a tariff war. I ruefully smirked. Now what?

Let it be noted Greenlee is as poignant an actress as she is a dancer.

Chicago-based Stephanie Martinez premiered "Taking Watch" at the close of the 2014-15 DK season. As a treatise on building community out of dissension and alienation, having it return so quickly speaks to the sentiment of now. Jillian Godwin brackets the work with intimately defined solos, initially urging action and then concluding with a coda on the joyfulness of inclusion. In between, we feel the development of community through trust, respectfulness, compromise. Hopefulness is at the heart as the entire company transforms conflict into unity. It takes a lot of leaps, catches, anatomically impossible stretches to show how one person can motivate people hunkered down in isolation to move for a greater good—quite a lesson in opposites for the current case of demagoguery for self-gain.

Act 1 closed with "Sing, Sing, Sing," choreographed to Louis Prima/Benny Goodman by former DK dancer Andre Megerdichian. It’s an incarnation of 1930s big band swing era. The cat-like posturing from fingers to toes and rippling back up set the tone for one-up-man-ship of moves. Something to tide me into the musical, Annie, at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre where complexity of stage characterizations equally reigned.

Director Eddie Curry opted out of ‘feel-good’ to give Annie a darker edginess. 12-year-old Claire Kauffmann brings full meaning to ‘old soul.’ She’s very much in tune with young people today addressing issues affecting their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Right along with her are seven other orphans, toughened to ‘their realities’ circa 1933. While six-year-old Sylvie Templet is a standout as Molly, Anna Wagner, Bridget Bingham, Kynden Luster, Macy Franklin, Alivia Rose Williams and Sadie Cohen equally bring specific personalities to each of the others, refusing to be diminished by Miss Hannigan, whose actions are a treatise on a welfare system not all that far removed from Charles Dickens novels and copied into now.

Kelly Teal Goyette made me empathize with Hannigan’s plight—as full of disdain as she is toward her young wards, at a time of massive homelessness even an orphanage has merit as a place to live. In direct contrast, Bobbi Bates gives Grace Ferrell the sweet toughness required to deal with Hannigan and whoever else comes along to take advantage of the least among us. She deftly leads Oliver Warbucks to a fuller understanding of what makes us human, and a family.

The arc of the musical leads us to “The New Deal,” here in a fanciful projection with a roster of characters true to their time. But who’s to say a miracle of widespread caring can’t happen again as we witness mass deportations and the possibilities of "Trumpvilles" as more homelessness grows into communes, not just a business doorway after closing.

Political implications aside, the combined production elements and fine acting and dancing bring the audience into the immediate story and its implied aftermath—we each have an obligation to provide well-being for the orphans, the widowed, and the strangers within our midst. Ron Morgan demands high energy musical numbers that grow from relationships and dialogue. The Orphans set the bar high with “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” followed by “Hooverville” that spills into the house among patrons seated at tables. It’s a spirit of cooperation that makes a thin soup seem nourishing.

Most heartwarming is Ty Stover, as Warbucks, teaching Annie to waltz. Most exhilarating, of course, are the “Smile” routines reprised by the orphans from what they ‘imagine’ as occurring on the radio show. “Easy Street” is saucy, and John Vessels delivers the zinger as Drake reacting to the impending adoption of Annie.

My table mates and I lingered, still rehashing DK’s program and now adding the implied message of Annie. It did take me days to absorb what kept niggling—turn despair into meaningful action, one-on-one give care to people in need.

It’s not easy street, but it’s a start to paving a more humane political path.

Annie continues through July 15. Tickets at 317-872-9664 or beefandboards.com

Dance Kaleidoscope commences with performances Aug. 4 & 5 with Soul Sisters at The Tarkington at The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana. Next, the dancers will choreograph a comedic dance show for the 2018 IndyFringe Festival Aug. 16-26. DK's regular season begins Oct. 25 at Indiana Repertory Theatre with Music of the Night, a collaboration with American Pianist Association. Tickets at: 317-940-6555 or duncekal.org

More news from Dance Kaleidoscope:

“Following the studio dress rehearsal of Appalachian Spring, DK Artistic Director David Hochoy gathered the dancers in the rehearsal studio. In addition to giving notes about what to continue working on for the upcoming performances, he surprised the dancers by announcing that apprentices Paige Robinson, Marie Kuhns, Cody Miley and Manuel Valdes would be promoted. When they return from hiatus on July 9, they will be full company members.

"Paige, Marie, Cody and Manuel have worked tremendously hard during their stints as Dance Kaleidoscope apprentices," said DK's Artistic Director, David Hochoy. "Deservedly they have been promoted to company member status for our 2018-19 Season. We very much look forward to their continued growth and development as they embark on their journeys toward fulfillment of their artistic potentials."

This comment by Manuel Valdes encapsulates the reaction by the other three: "It’s been an honor to grow and develop my craft as a dancer with Dance Kaleidoscope this past year. To be promoted to a Full Time Company member is a humbling, overwhelming and gratifying feeling. I’d like to thank David, Libby and my fellow dancers for pushing me this past year to go above and beyond in my still developing career. I hope I continue to surpass their expectations and continue to bring light, love and good energy to DK."
Dance Kaleidoscope in Martha Graham's 'Appalachian Spring.'

Dance Kaleidoscope in Martha Graham's "Appalachian Spring."

Photo © & courtesy of Crowe's Eye Photography


Dance Kaleidoscope's Caitlin Negron and Timothy June in Martha Graham's 'Appalachian Spring.'

Dance Kaleidoscope's Caitlin Negron and Timothy June in Martha Graham's "Appalachian Spring."

Photo © & courtesy of Crowe's Eye Photography


[l-r] Dance Kaleidoscope's Mariel Greenlee,Timothy June and Caitlin Negron in Martha Graham's 'Appalachian Spring.'

[l-r] Dance Kaleidoscope's Mariel Greenlee,Timothy June and Caitlin Negron in Martha Graham's "Appalachian Spring."

Photo © & courtesy of Crowe's Eye Photography


Dance Kaleidoscope's Stuart Coleman and Mariel Greenlee in Martha Graham's 'Appalachian Spring.'

Dance Kaleidoscope's Stuart Coleman and Mariel Greenlee in Martha Graham's "Appalachian Spring."

Photo © & courtesy of Crowe's Eye Photography


Annie and Daddy Warbucks: Annie (Claire Kauffman) puts her arms around Oliver Warbucks (Ty Stover) in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Annie, now on stage through July 15.

Annie and Daddy Warbucks: Annie (Claire Kauffman) puts her arms around Oliver Warbucks (Ty Stover) in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Annie, now on stage through July 15.

Photo © & courtesy of Patricia Rettig


Hard Knock Life: The orphans sing about their “Hard Knock Life” in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Annie, now on stage through July 15.

Hard Knock Life: The orphans sing about their “Hard Knock Life” in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Annie, now on stage through July 15.

Photo © & courtesy of Patricia Rettig


Little Girls1: Miss Hannigan (Kelly Teal Goyette) is distraught over her life that’s filled with “Little Girls” in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Annie, now on stage through July 15.

Little Girls1: Miss Hannigan (Kelly Teal Goyette) is distraught over her life that’s filled with “Little Girls” in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Annie, now on stage through July 15.

Photo © & courtesy of Patricia Rettig


NYC: Oliver Warbucks (Ty Stover), center, sings about “NYC” to Grace (Bobbi Bates), left, and Annie (Claire Kauffman), right, during the child’s first night out on the town in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Annie, now on stage through July 15.

NYC: Oliver Warbucks (Ty Stover), center, sings about “NYC” to Grace (Bobbi Bates), left, and Annie (Claire Kauffman), right, during the child’s first night out on the town in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Annie, now on stage through July 15.

Photo © & courtesy of Patricia Rettig

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