By Wendy Carson
Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre’s first offering of the new year showcases the newly renovated Florence performance space. Named in memory of founder/director/choreographer Gregory Glade Hancock’s beloved mother, the intimate space is ideal for the audience to more vividly experience the efforts of all involved. “New World Dances” is an appropriately powerful choice to christen the space.
The show highlights dances created during the recent pandemic years, previously presented as “Dances for a New World” on stage and online, highlighting the emotional rollercoaster experienced by everyone during that time. Except for one notable exception, the dancers are not touching each other, enhancing the sense of isolation they each felt (and reflecting the fact each had to work alone during quarantine). Hancock noted that this collection of dance works is not his typical visual storytelling. While there is some discernable narrative, the emphasis is more on expressing the emotions felt as the entire planet entered today’s “new” world.
From the very start, you’re aware this is going to be an experience that you won’t soon forget, with movement open to numerous interpretations. I highlight just a few pieces here along with what they conveyed to me (your results may vary).
The opening number, Isolation, has each dancer wearing a rubber “Plague Doctor” mask (think giant crow head with goggles) and performing the same choreography in staggered succession. The angst and desperation I felt made me think of the various locations worldwide dealing with the unknowns of the Corona virus. They all came to the same conclusion but each in their own time.
Also highlighting this era: Casualties hearkens to the riots and civil unrest throughout our country; Denial shows those who never took any of this seriously until it came into their own lives; and Media has individual dancers weighed down by huge tangles of video tape, engaging our search for truth through the lies flooding in from everywhere.
There are four solo dances in the show. One is performed by the lone male in the group, Thomas Mason, while the others are performed by one of a pair in that slot. Who each is and the dance they perform will depend on the date you attend.
The first of these, performed by Abigail Lessaris during our show (Josie Moody alternates) seemed to convey our search for normalcy in our new situations while keeping yourself optimistic. Chloe Holzman (Hannah Brown alternates) gave us a celebration of our new skills learned and paths taken during this time (think all that sourdough bread we made). Camden Lancaster gives us the final solo (Olivia Payton alternates) in which her bubbly joy seems to reflect the hope for a return to normalcy with the rise of vaccines and lessening of cases and restrictions.
The final two numbers, You Can’t Stop Love and A New World show not only the fear and awkwardness of our return to “normalcy”, but also our resolve, determination, and strength to conquer all future problems whether we be physically together or separate.
The “G2” student dancers – Zoe Hacker, Allie Hanning, Audrey Holloway, Audrey Springer, Rebecca Zigmond – also display their talents in two superb numbers.
With costumes also designed by Hancock, the dances are a visual spectacle of color and movement. Hancock’s style does reflect his love of Southern Asia, but other influences emerge, with the finale more resembling classic ballet.
We are happy to add that, unlike the one-weekend dates at the Tarkington, this show continues for two more, through Feb. 26. The Florence is contained within the Academy of Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre, 329 Gradle Drive, Carmel. Get information and tickets at GregoryHancockDanceTheatre.org.