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Indianapolis Ballet to Spotlight Indiana Composers in “New Works Showcase”

by Rita Kohn
October 28, 2018
The District Theatre
627 Massachusetts Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
(317) 685-8687
Rita Kohn, member: Dance Critics Association, Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild
Indianapolis Ballet will spotlight Indiana composers in its latest program “New Works Showcase,” Nov. 8-11 at The District Theatre.

For it, New York City-based choreographer Joshua Bergasse brings forward "Aspects of Andy," David Baker’s 1998 Symphonic Jazz composition scored for clarinet, double bass, piano and string quartet. The recorded music is from the 2012 Indiana University Jacobs School of Music tribute to David Baker that celebrated his 80th birthday and marked his 60-year career as a jazz musician, composer and educator. [James Campbell, clarinet; Brendan Shea, violin; Annas Linz, violin; Caroline Gilbert, Viola; Eric Kim, cello; Bruce Bransby, bass; Luke Gillespie, piano.]

Also on the program, Indy-based Roberta Wong choreographs on Rob Dixon’s "Flat Tire Blues" from his newly released album Coast to Crossroads, with Dixon on alto and tenor saxophones, Charlie Hunter on 7-string guitar, Mike Clark on drums, Ernest Stuart on trombone. Dixon echoes Baker’s career as a jazz musician, composer, educator; he was part of the 2012 celebratory program for Baker.

It’s electrifying observing each choreographed work grow into its designated music at IB’s studios at the corner of Capital and Michigan streets, within reach of Indiana Avenue, the historic anchor of Indianapolis’ jazz heritage.

Bergasse flew in from New York to Indianapolis on Oct. 26, just in time to stretch, say hello, outline the rehearsal format, and get to work. After watching a run-through of the staging by IB principal dancer Christopher Lingner, Bergasse identified the areas of attack for dancers to sharpen the exactness of his signature movement. Linger expertly had staged the flow of the work in which he had danced at the 2012 premiere as a student at Indiana University.

Bergasse was on-site to revitalize original choreography on a professional company and to incorporate each dancer’s strengths for this program. And yes, a half-dozen years later, Bergasse concedes, he has grown in his vision of the story unfolding explosively from the clarinet’s atmospheric panning of a space, at first glance empty. "Emptiness" grows pregnant with an uneasy feel of someone’s quick exit. The music swells into a leap and a discovery, plunging our vision downward in sync with the entry of Andy. Together, we see the body at the same instant. We’re in the event.

“My favorite is to tell a story,” commented Bergasse during a quick conversation over the half-hour lunch break. His choreographic aesthetic grew from a childhood love of movie musicals, formulating sensibility from the masters: Michael Kidd, Hermes Pan, Fred Astaire, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, all circling back to the genius of Jack Cole, to marry movement with music to tug the viewer into the unfolding narrative.

Bergasse’s movement vision paired with the music of “Aspects of Andy,” for me, is Rudyard Kipling meets Damon Runyon; the law of the jungle on the turf of the ‘hood.

Bergasse was laying precision of intent, grace in menace and power in pause on the bodies in front of him. Forget dah-dah dah-dah rhythmically, hook onto openness with ha-ha-ha- hahhh, pow. Clarity, crispness, defines your character as a singular, dimensional component of the whole. Each body part imparts a message. Each step sends a meaning. What’s the difference between toe before heel over heel before toe in a forward pace? What’s the atmosphere with stooping?

How do you own that space, defend it, wipe out intruders? Multiple dramas within the overarching drama were mounting toward a climax—and a surprise.

I was feeling David Baker’s presence. He died March 26, 2016.

I left before the end of the rehearsal. I’ll be back for the performance with a cast of twelve; compelled to return to catch alternate leads.

Roberta Wong takes me into a totally different world with “Blues for Velez.” This intimate pas de deux skates on the verge of voyeurism. We’re into the memory of love, the grief of loss, the intensity of holding on, letting go, grasping one instant more. She too is working with multiple casts, allowing each set of partners to match their trust, their innermost secrets, fears, desire to Dixon’s music that’s propelling the movement.

In an email Wong told me, “I am altering choreography somewhat, a duet originally workshopped on [Indianapolis-based dancers] Caitlin Negron and Michael Velez, at Indy Convergence (2013 or maybe 2014). Michael passed away last year at the age of 38 or so. He was a beautiful dancer. So it's entitled 'Blues for Velez.’”

Wong is asking ballet dancers to plunge into choreography we’re more likely to expect from aerialists. There are no safety nets in these leaps, catches and sweeps of bodies across space. The daring catches my breath. The dancers work at it until every move is twinned with the music.

Rob Dixon arrives. He watches as bodies transform his 4 minutes, 4 seconds of music into an interior story going public. I can feel his admiration for what’s happening. He shares his impetus for composing "Flat Tire Blues".

That was October 16. Ten days later, back at the Indianapolis Ballet studio, one of the dancers tells me, “We’re so much smoother now.”

On the heels of a three-part Balanchine program, Indianapolis Ballet dancers are bringing forward the above two works along with IB Founding Artistic Director Victoria Lyras' "Caprice & Variations" to music by Niccolo Paganini and Witold Lutoslawski, the "Diana & Acteon Pas de Deux," choreographed by Agrippina Vaganova with music by Cesare Pugni, and IB Ballet Master Paul Vitali's "Take it from Tony" to music by Leonard Bernstein & Cole Porter.

Tickets and more information at: indyballet.org or 317-955-7525.
Choreographer Joshua Bergasse (center) poses with Indianapolis Ballet dancers after a rehearsal of his work 'Aspects of Andy.'

Choreographer Joshua Bergasse (center) poses with Indianapolis Ballet dancers after a rehearsal of his work "Aspects of Andy."

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