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2019 IndyFringeFest Elevates Dance Performance in All its Forms

by Rita Kohn
August 24, 2019
Indianapolis, IN
Rita Kohn, member: Dance Critics Association, Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild
Dance performance came late to Indianapolis’ arts table. Two hundred years after the city’s founding, when theatre and music performance emerged as a part of what new settlers attended, dance was absent. Not until almost the turn of the 20th century did dance gain a toehold.The school of dance that opened in 1895 segued into the long-running Jordan Academy of Dance even though, according to the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, a 1908 story in The Indianapolis Star reported “The Indianapolis Association of Protestant Ministers took a dim view of dance.” It took fifty more years for a ballet society to rise up. Twenty-five years after that the modern dance company, Dance Kaleidoscope, emerged and now is Indianapolis’s longest-tenured professional dance company. Community companies have come and gone, with a handful gaining continuing presence: Asante Children’s Theatre opened in 1990, Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre in 1998, Motus Dance in 2003, and Kenyetta Dance Company in 2004; each with an of-and-on IndyFringe connection.

Susurrus Dance, with a 1993-2013 run as an Indianapolis community-based ensemble, led the way for The Fourth Wall, in 2010, to gain acceptance as a professional hybrid arts ensemble. Now based in Boston, The Fourth Wall continues its IndyFringe niche, while Susurrus founder Melli Hoppe has since co-founded the performance collective Michigan City Moves, following her departure from Indianapolis to northern Indiana.

IndyFringe, over its 15-year-span, has become Indianapolis’ leading exponent of both community and professional dance performance. Community-based troupes, including NoExit Performance Company, Susurrus, and Motus Dance were in the line-up for the first IndyFringeFest, as was the Indianapolis School of Ballet, which emerged alongside IndyFringe as part of an initiative to broaden Indianapolis’ performing arts audience base. Indianapolis-based professional dance companies create stellar programs just for Fringe and new community troupes keep growing up, replacing groups that cycle out or grow organically into another phase, as has Motus Dance, now operating as the Indianapolis Movement Arts Collective.

John Lyle Belden encapsulates this essential matter of having to be “introduced to dance.”

“I’m not a dance person,” he noted in his blog, “and maybe you’re not a dance person, so that doesn’t matter. Just know that some of the best storytelling at Fringe is done without saying a word. I couldn’t help but think, while watching the dancers execute movements they and their teachers and choreographers had labored over and rehearsed for endless hours, that what I was seeing was like trying to read something with not just unfamiliar words, but a foreign alphabet. When they move their arms like so, or collapse to the floor, or leap in a certain fashion, does it have a meaning they are trying to communicate to us? What is it?"

“I spoke with one of the dancers,” continued Belden, “and she liked my idea that one of the local dance troupes or schools should put on a Fringe show of 'the vocabulary of dance,' in which their movements could be better explained and understood. So I can stand at the end of the show, knowing, 'ah-ha, I get it now.'” [See playswithjohnandwendy.com/tag/modern-dance)

“We can help make something happen,” said Victoria Lyras,founding artistic director of Indianapolis Ballet, replying to my mention of Belden’s wish.

In 2020, to celebrate Indianapolis’ bicentennial, can we expect IndyFringe to premiere a special event—an event such as DanceVerve: music.movement.space?? At IndyFringe nothing is impossible.

Indianapolis Ballet, Inc., launched alongside IndyFringe in 2004 and, adhering to George Balanchine’s dictum of “first a school,” opened Indianapolis School of Ballet, which presented its first Fringe program in 2007. The professional Indianapolis Ballet presented its first IndyFringeFest program in 2017. In 2007, Dance Kaleidoscope began its ongoing IndyFringe relationship.

“I am proud to have the [Indianapolis] Ballet and Dance Kaleidoscope use IndyFringe as an incubator for new work and love that people are doing the phrase ‘the friendly fringe.’ This says a lot for our amazing Mass Ave and Indy residents,” commented IndyFringe CEO Pauline Moffat in an email exchange.

In 2013, as a professional Fringe-centric entity, The Fourth Wall delivered an explosive “Fruit Flies Like a Banana,” with flutist Hilary Abigana, trombonist C. Neil Parsons and percussionist Greg Jukes simultaneously playing instruments and dancing to tricky choreography in a zany, audience-participatory storytelling format. Their 2019 IndyFringe entry, “Fallen from the Toy Box,” again leaps off the stage, to revisit favorite fairy tales —here it’s a brilliant redux of The Tin Soldier, to connect with discarded mementos from childhood’s happy and sad times, and to play games, such as a jump rope sequence only this trio could concoct as a tour de force in agility and musicality. With the secret life of toys, who else but the Fourth Wall trio so intimately can reveal what puppets do when humans are not manipulating them? If you see promos for The Fourth Wall where you live, enter into their fray and be enchanted.

While The Fourth Wall travels the USA Fringe circuit and points beyond, the three other companies I experienced generally perform within greater Indianapolis.

Crossroads Dance Indy presented “Generations” in ten scenes as “Stories that define us. Steps that connect us. Past to Present.” “The Golden Door,” “Maybe" and “Cartooning” developed through the Indianapolis Movement Arts Collective Makers Lab program 2019, were the most clearly defined segments choreographically and aesthetically. While a corps of six gave poignancy to an Ellis Island scene of arrival, Sammy Bowyer and Daniella Conti particularly gained audience applause for their humorous, sprightly rendition of television cartooning as a joyful childhood pastime. “Maybe” visualized how “yearning for the past creates suffering in the present, preventing us from seeing the possibilities of the future." The company as a whole, including eight choreographers who are part of the dance troupe, provided a panorama of living through major national events in the development of the U.S.A.

With “Our America,” seven Dance Kaleidoscope dancers/choreographers shared their individual insights for what their country means to them, while simultaneously letting us experience what they alone and together are contributing to the greater spirit and goodness of humanity right here at home. One cannot help but leave the theater affirming, as did DK artistic director David Hochoy, “Our country is in good hands with these young citizens. They get it when it comes to making our country great every day with everything they do.”

Mariel Greenlee set the foundation with “We hold these dreams to be self-evident” to songs by Tears for Tears and U2, sung by the Kings Singers. Weaving as dreamers and believers establishing a course of action, ten dancers show how they embrace opportunity as a civic sharing.

Aaron Steinberg entrusts his personal connectivity to rivers, in concert with Aaron Copland’s music, to three fellow dancers—Stuart Coleman, Jillian Godwin and Paige Robinson alongside himself—to bring us into his emotional response to the steadfastness of every day flow and the variety of change. We’re in his moment of happening.

“My America opens its hands; listens and is caring, loving,” confessed Jillian Godwin, in her introductory remarks. What we experience with “A Home for All” is the contrast between her vision of a welcoming place and the reality of what’s in the news now. A length of fabric can delineate heartbreaking loss and its flip side—opportunity. The final moment is brilliant with the imagery and symbolism representing the greatness of the U.S.A. Set to Philip Glass music, as a blank canvas, the fragility of decency in governance unfolds as a reminder of our now beleaguered sense of compassion.

Paige Robinson busts open Ferde Grofe’s “Grand Canyon Suite” with imagery musically conceived through the movement artistry by Jilian Godwin, Marie Kuhns and Emily Franks, in total sync with movement emulating a day: sunrise, on the trail, sunset, cloudburst. Magical.

Missy Thompson reminds us of the perils of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ in a work pushed by the lyrics and pulsing robotic rhythm of “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve. Assembly lines stamping out products grow from the lyrics: “Cause it's a bittersweet symphony this life / Trying to make ends meet, you're a slave to the money then you die / I’ll take you down the only road I've ever been down…." Unless, as Thompson you stop and reassess, dare to step outside robot-living up to someone else’s debt saddled standard.

Manuel Veldes plucks negativity from the mire of imprisonment in all its manifestations to leave us with the assurance of an indefatigable, “But still I rise,” Maya Angelou's message pulsing through the music by Michael Abels & Ibeyi and leading to the shedding of prison garb much as the butterfly emerges through its five steps to become its true self. Yes, we can shed and be the truthfulness of self.

Stuart Coleman closed the show with a Kaleidoscope of scenes set on music by Peter Boyer. “We can get wrapped up in divisions, or we can direct our attention to our commonalities,” observed Coleman in his introduction. Ten dancers take up the challenge of visualizing our commonalities to leave us with positive uplift.

Dancing with an affirmation of what it means to be a person of value by valuing others were: Jilian Godwin, Aleska Lukasiewicz, Emily Dyson, Missy Thompson, Stuart Coleman, Paige Robinson, Cody Miley, Marie Kuhns, Manuel Valdes, Aaron Steinberg, Kieran King, Emily Franks, Sarah Taylor, Nathaniel Tyson and Natalie Clevenger.

“It has been very important to me to give voice to our young artists,” summarized Hochoy. “And this year they have astonished me with the depth of their creativity, honesty, and passion. I hope this concert inspires everyone to give of themselves to make our country truly great.”

Indianapolis Ballet, in another iteration of “Beyond Ballet” presented six very different glimpses in the life of a professional ballet company, where classical, contemporary and Broadway musical vocabularies gain lingua franca status, and it’s just a matter of costume change to place us into a variety of temperaments, times, locations or threads of thought.

The program opened with Victoria Lyras’ “Allegro Vivace” coupling grace with speed and verve, to music by Saint-Saens as a tri-level interweaving of principals and corps de ballet evoking a lush garden of blues and magenta shimmering in the matched glow of a sunset, a rising breeze animating both land and sky as a personification of what makes classical ballet entrancing. Alternating as principals were Yoshiko Kamikusa with Riley Horton, and Jessica Miller with Kris Santos; Buse Babadag, Abigail Bixler, Elise Csizmadia, Anna Davis, Dagny Hanrahan, Sierra Levin, Rachel Durham, Annie Freeman, Abby Marten, Emma Plinke, Sofia Cochin and Sarah Yoak comprised the corps de ballet.

An aesthetic change-up came with Roberta Wong’s spot-on contemporary dance choreography to the opening track of Charlie Ballantine’s newest album, “Cold Coffee.” With “Strange Idea” Ballantine departs from his melodic bent to conjure up a pulsing, jagged call-and-answer tune that leads Wong’s four dancers, lithe in bodysuits of shades of gray, into the push-and-pull theme that develops its playfulness through lifts, tumbles, twirls and derring-do layered on deft athleticism at-one with the density of the composition’s tempo-building, crashing climax leading to a drop-dead stop. It’s sheer joy being part of the interplay gifted by the alternate casts of Shea Johnson, Chris Lingner, Jessica Miller, Kristin Toner, and Rowan Allegra, Abigail Rose Crowell, Greg Guessner, Glenn Kelich. Ballantine is on guitar, with bassist Jesse Wittman and drummer Chris Parker.

Humor pushes drama in the delightful realm of this example of pantomime-character-centric ballet. Paul Vitali’s “Mountain Medley” as a visualization of Mary Schneider’s yodeling delivers a never-to-be-forgotten pastiche of a blink-of-time in the Alps. No spoiler alerts here. Find out when it next appears on an IB program, and show up prepared to laugh heartily. The alternative casts included Rowan Allegra, Buse Babadag, Abigail Bixler, Indiana Cote, and Riley Horton; Anna Davis, Camila Ferrera, Glenn Kelich, Siera Levin and Mary Ann Schaefer. John Beatrice and Greg Goessner danced all six performances.

With “Miroirs,” Lyras adds an expansively beautiful balletic element to Arvo Part’s iconic composition suggesting an infinity of a figure in mirror imagery ascending and descending back and forth in seeming five dimensions. IB dancers are in constant intricacy of movement before reforming into the opening moment when first we were mesmerized by a glimpse of a shadowy stilled line of figures in white suddenly morphing into an endless in and out enfolding within each other. The trick is making us feel it’s just one figure reflecting back to us as many, when in actuality it IS many behaving as if it is just one. You can’t help but smile and love every second of what’s transpiring.

When IndyFringe director Pauline Moffat made a simple request for an annual tango, keeping a promise to do so also means upping the ante, according to Lyras. This year, Lyras complied with a zestful rendition of Marius Petipa’s Don Quixote Pas de Deux to music by Leon Minkus. At alternate performances we witnessed Chris Lingner partnering with Yoshiko Kamikusa and Shea Johnson partnering with Kristin Toner. Both pairs imbued the Don and his idealized Dulcinea with the enduring charm Miguel Cervantes conjured in his timeless novel, and each pair layered on breathtaking lifts and turns that comes from abiding trust in each other’s impeccable technique. The ovation is well-earned.

A steamy “Too Darn Hot” sent us home amazed at the expansive virtuosity of ballet dancers. Guest Broadway choreographer Scott Jovovich visualized a NYCity subway—or maybe a ride on the soon-to-come Indy RedLine?—taking a cadre of friends to an on-the-town night site escapade on a steamy summer eve. Cole Porter’s music never before looked so electrified as far as I’m concerned. You name it in the realm of gymnastic-dancing and this corps of ballerinas and danseurs fearlessly, exuberantly executed it. The sweat is real. Andreas Jovovich joined the company as a guest dancer.

The magic of IndyFringeFest swirls ten days into the unexpected presented by Indiana-based and nationwide soloists, groups, troupes and companies. At its 15th anniversary neither storm nor electricity outages, neither soaring heat nor dropping temps in quick succession dimmed the street-speak of ‘what did you see that I must not miss?’ Indeed, it’s the effervescent joyfulness envisioned by the group that founded IndyFringeFest at the cusp of Indianapolis shedding its India-no-place misnomer and growing itself into an arts destination. All who embrace a community of caring are welcome, on and off-stage. Talent rises.

Coming up next:

Sept. 27-29: Indianapolis Ballet: The Toby at Newfields, Indianapolis, IN, IB will feature three iconic Balanchine ® Ballets during its 2019/20 main-stage production: "Allegro Brillante," "Sonatine," and "Who Cares?" Presented by arrangement with The George Balanchine Trust. indyballet.org/eveningofbalanchine

Oct. 17-20: Dance Kaleidoscope: Indianapolis Repertory Theatre, Indianapolis, IN, Women Sublime: The Feminist Point of View presenting the work of three women choreographers: Mariel Greenee, Kiesha Lalama, Cynthia Pratt.
DanceKal.org; 317-635-5252

Nov. 9: The Fourth Wall: Center for the Performing Arts, Carmel, IN, The Tarkington, is “hybrid arts ensemble” that blends stellar musicianship, acrobatic choreography and theater into a vaudeville-style extravaganza. Flutist Hilary Abigana, bass trombonist C. Neil Parsons and percussionist Greg Jukes create a madcap, interactive atmosphere in which the audience steers the program. TheCenterPresents.org/SubscribeNow
Dancer Hilary Abigana in 'The Nature of a Spoof.'

Dancer Hilary Abigana in "The Nature of a Spoof."

Photo © & courtesy of Freddie Kelvin


(Top to Bottom) C.Neil Parsons, Greg Jukes and Hilary Abigana.

(Top to Bottom) C.Neil Parsons, Greg Jukes and Hilary Abigana.

Photo © & courtesy of Freddie Kelvin


Indianapolis Ballet -<br>'Strange Idea'<br>Choreography: Roberta Wong<br>Dancers L-R: Kristin Toner, Jessica Miller.

Indianapolis Ballet -
"Strange Idea"
Choreography: Roberta Wong
Dancers L-R: Kristin Toner, Jessica Miller.

Photo © & courtesy of Sonja Clark


Indianapolis Ballet -<br>'Mountain Medley'<br>Choreography: Paul Vitali<br>Dancers L-R: Rowan Allegra, Buse Babada?, Abigail Bixler

Indianapolis Ballet -
"Mountain Medley"
Choreography: Paul Vitali
Dancers L-R: Rowan Allegra, Buse Babada?, Abigail Bixler

Photo © & courtesy of Sonja Clark


Indianapolis Ballet -<br>'Don Quixote Pas de Deux'<br>Choreography: Marius Petipa<br>Dancers L-R: Yoshiko Kamikusa, Chris Lingner.

Indianapolis Ballet -
"Don Quixote Pas de Deux"
Choreography: Marius Petipa
Dancers L-R: Yoshiko Kamikusa, Chris Lingner.

Photo © & courtesy of Sonja Clark


Indianapolis Ballet - <br>'Too Darn Hot'<br>Choreography: Scott Jovovich<br>Dancers: Shea Johnson (mid-air), Greg Goessner, Khris Santos, Andreas Jovovich, Riley Horton, Glenn Kelich.

Indianapolis Ballet -
"Too Darn Hot"
Choreography: Scott Jovovich
Dancers: Shea Johnson (mid-air), Greg Goessner, Khris Santos, Andreas Jovovich, Riley Horton, Glenn Kelich.

Photo © & courtesy of Sonja Clark


Indianapolis Ballet - <br>'Allegro Vivace' <br>Choreography: Victoria Lyras<br>Dancers: Khris Santos.

Indianapolis Ballet -
"Allegro Vivace"
Choreography: Victoria Lyras
Dancers: Khris Santos.

Photo © & courtesy of Sonja Clark


Indianapolis Ballet -<br>'Miroirs'<br>Choreography: Victoria Lyras<br>Dancers: Mary Ann Schaefer

Indianapolis Ballet -
"Miroirs"
Choreography: Victoria Lyras
Dancers: Mary Ann Schaefer

Photo © & courtesy of Sonja Clark

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