IndyFringe: Ballet INitiative – A Social Media Experience

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson

This is Ballet INitiative’s first presentation at IndyFringe and hopefully the beginning of a long string of performances for years to come. The troupe in dedicated to inclusion, inspiration, and innovation through multi-genre dance as well as traditional ballet.

The show consists of six offerings, of which, two are unique to each week’s schedule (the other four are on a rotation where each will play twice but in varying order). Taking to social media to have fans chose the set list for each week, they have managed to curate a very solid line-up to highlight all of their troupe’s talents and skills.

Prior to each number, the audience is given some information about what the intention behind the choreography is meaning to portray. There is also a pause afterwards for you to ruminate as well as allowing the dancers to change costumes.

Highlights of the show I saw were their jazzy rendition of Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife,” (originally a part of a past tribute to Darin); their more traditional ballet dance, “A Far off Spring” (being the only one performed “on pointe”); and the weekend exclusive number “Icarus” (showing the passion of flight and striving to be more than you are now).

My personal favorite dance was their delightful tribute to the musical, “Chicago” with the number, “All That Jazz.” While being sheer, sexy fun, it also highlights the physical talents of each dancer beautifully.

Choreography is by Anneka Bellman, Cheyanne Claerbout, Amanda Hickey, Trudy Martin, Lauren Nasci, Michelle Quenon, Candace Reiner, Shannon Stone, and Ola Tarnowski. Company members also include Lexie Carlson, Sarah Farnsely, Brynn Roudebush, and Lauren Smith.

With their talented cast and such a diverse number of offerings, this is the perfect show to see for anyone who is a novice to dance. Performances this weekend are 7:15 p.m. Friday and 1:45 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 2&4, in the Basile Auditorium at the Athenaeum.

IndyFringe: Beyond Ballet

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

Indianapolis Ballet returns to the Fringe to showcase its talent in this year’s edition of “Beyond Ballet.”

We get the traditional ballet in pieces like “Bartok Sonata,” “Miroirs” (opening and closing with a dancer tableau), and the exquisite “Le Corsaire Pas de Deux” featuring Yoshiko Kamikusa and Humberto Rivera Blanco. In “Diamante,” classic ballet meets contemporary composition, dancing to Karl Jenkins’ “Palladio” – music you might hear in the background of a TV show or commercial that needs something intense and serious.

For the “beyond” your expectations, we get “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin, with Ahna Lipchik’s charming portrayal of Chaplin’s famous Tramp character, working with Kamikusa and Blanco in a graceful meet-cute. For the big finish, we get “Summer at the Fringe,” a salute to disco diva Donna Summer with routines to four of her hits – some truly “Hot Stuff” right up to the “Last Dance.”

Choreography is by Kristin Young Toner, Lipchik, Victoria Lyras (who also did costumes), and William Robinson (the dancer in the program photo). Other company members include Nicholas Bentz, Colette Blake, Reece Conrad, Haley Desjarlais, Eli Diersing, Brigid Duffin, Jane Gordon, Jacqueline Hodek, Scholar Idjagboro, Journie Kalous, Kaci King, Jessica LeBlanc, Sierra Levin, Maria Jose Esquivel Losada, Robert Mack, Abigail Marten, Grace McCutcheon, Lucy Merz, Jessica Miller, Ada Perruzi, Katie Pilone, Amanda Piroue, and Macyn Malana Vogt.

For a great sampler of professional ballet at a Fringe festival price, see Indianapolis Ballet “Beyond Ballet” in the Basile Auditorium at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25 (today as we post this); noon Sunday, Aug. 28; 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4.

IndyFringe: Hope – A Theatrical Dance

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson and John Lyle Belden

Gerry Shannon and Melissa Hawkes have come down from Maine to bring us a spectacular piece of theater, “Hope: A Theatrical Dance.” The story is told through the dances of the two performers onstage, as well as in a video projected behind them highlighting memories of Asher (Shannon) with his wife, Hope, and his child (both played by Mackenzie Krueger).

Asher enters the scene clearly depressed and drinking heavily. A pair of hands appear out of the curtain behind him causing him to be manipulated like a puppet. While this may sound like whimsy, the sheer heartbreak he manages to convey keeps the audience rapt with attention. Soon the strings are cut and Asher is once again left to his own devices.

Hope, as a concept, enters as an Angel (Hawkes) and dances around him, forcing him to remember and relive the happier days of his marriage. Just as he is beginning to smile, we are transported to the birth of his daughter and the loss surrounding this event.

Grief once again threatens to overtake him, but he is shown that “hope” lives on.

The entire show is presented without words, the narrative woven through dance, mime and music by various artists including The Chainsmokers, Better Than Ezra, Jason Mraz, and Ed Sheeran.

A note to anyone who saw this show at a previous Fringe: Shannon has restructured it and cut some of the songs, making it a lot less funny than you’d remember.

Wendy’s thoughts: When I first watched the show, the portrayal of Asher’s grief hit me hard. Not only was it perfectly enacted, Shannon is literally an “everyman”. He looks like the kind of guy who’d be more at home at a sports game than dancing on stage. Still, the skill of both he and Hawkes make the show tender and unforgettable.

From the program and with talking to others who have seen it at previous Fringes, this is just a portion of the full show. Knowing that, I really hope that Shannon will return to us in the future and present the entire show. The taste I was provided has me hungry for more.

John’s thoughts: I was really struck by the lack-of-control feeling illustrated at first by Shannon, a true reflection of grief. Krueger (a St. Paul, Minn., based dancer and actor) was a wonderful addition, her sparkling talent making us see and feel the love between Asher and Hope. The innovation of having the distant and departed partner on the screen communicated their separation in an impactful way. At points, he was there with her in the video, but she is never with us here.

Hawkes ties it all together nicely, portraying “hope” in a more tangible way. Her dance reflects the support of true friends, as well as that small voice that tells you to look up from your sadness and see what more the world has to show.

We “Hope” you experience this performance as well, at the IndyFringe Theatre, 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25 (today, as we post this); 1:45 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28; 7:15 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4. 

IndyFringe: In the Company of Women

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

Though (as I’ve often noted) I’m not expert on dance, I have long appreciated the works of Crossroads Dance Indy. And once again, they did not disappoint with their latest Fringe festival offering, “In the Company of Women.”

Choreographed by company members Brittany Gaither, Nicole Dean, Sammi Kindler, Daniella Conti, Paisley Gibson, and Katie Porras, CDI pays tribute to womanhood, as well as specific women.

The beginning piece weaves in words suggested by audience members describing the women in their lives. The number that follows highlights the various professions and roles that women take in life and the workplace. At the center is the Teacher, who helps make the others possible. And in a world that allows women to do more than teach, we see the Executive, the Healer, the Fighter, the Caregiver – all beautifully rendered.

A tribute to Jane Goodall portrays a woman standing alone, not conforming to the human jungle, and finding empathy with the denizens of the natural world. A tribute to Julia Child reveals kitchen activity to be more fun than drudgery, reflecting Child’s upbeat attitude and brave life.

Dean created a duet for Taylor Brown and Lindley Hipsher inspired by the hypnotic style of turn of the 20th century choreographer Loie Fuller, which is a wonderful highlight of the show.

Another great piece portrays how the patriarchy of the 1940s and ‘50s saw Rosie the Riveter and Susie Homemaker to be opposites, a choice of giving up one for the other. As the music gives way to an old radio show, “What Makes You Tick?” the Rosies and Susies unite to confront shallow, outdated attitudes.

The company also includes Hope Frey, Alexis Julovich, Nicole Kelter, Clarice Nolan, Hannah Scott, and Ashleigh South.

Crossroads dance gives an inspiring performance, with the grace, flow and energy I’ve come to expect from this dancer-driven company. They take joy in what they do, and so will you.

Upcoming performances are Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon, Aug. 25 and 28, in the Basile Auditorium at the Athenaeum.

IndyFringe: I Think We Are Supposed to Be ‘Coming of Age’ by Now…

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson

Lily Conforti brings both her LCcreations Collective dance troupe and the band Oister Boy with her from Minneapolis to literally rock our world.

With the band playing energetic original music that we should be hearing on the charts any day now, the dancers perform for us stories of the joys, sorrows, and struggles of various social interactions representative of the journey of young adulthood, in “I Think We Are Supposed to be ‘Coming of Age’ by Now…”

This show is an amazing experience and deserves your time.

While the various songs and dances portray various coming-of-age stories, the dance style is such that they are each open to your own personal interpretation. The whole thing felt to me as if I were watching the filming of a long-form music video.

Oister Boy is certainly a band to keep a watch on. Their songs are reminiscent of bands from early Who to current radio stars. Save for their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon, the numbers are all original compositions, and they really rock. Also like a rock concert, this show is LOUD (earplugs are provided and I suggest you use them). Even with the earplugs in, the music was rather loud but so enjoyable. They also partake in in some of the dances, making them even more impressive.

Now for the dancing. From the opening number, it is clear that these kids have classical training in ballet, jazz, and modern dance. However, they incorporate these skills into a more hip-hop, street version of the disciplines. Their sheer physical abilities are breathtaking and I found myself in awe of them all.

I generally take copious notes at performances to help me remember what I’ve seen so I can better communicate the show’s intent. I found myself unable to write almost anything about the show because I was so awestruck with every second of it.

I honestly don’t know the words to express my adoration of this show (they only have two more performances, and I would see both of them again if I could). While the cast of the whole show totaled around a dozen, they outnumbered the opening night crowd three to one. These kids are amazing and deserve a much larger audience.

NOTE: while the show does have and “Adult Language” warning, it consists of two “F Bombs” in the song lyrics and I think it’s appropriate for teens and up.

Please, please, please see this show and support these artists. I really want to see them return and will be personally devastated if they do not due to lack of audience support. Performing 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20 (today, as we post this), and noon Sunday, Aug. 21, at the Athenaeum Basile Auditorium.

Visual storyteller Gregory Hancock sets new season

By John Lyle Belden

First, a bit of unfinished business. After seeing the opening of Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre’s “Antony & Cleopatra” in June, I posted a quick review on the PWJW Facebook page but have yet to officially add a write-up here. Since, like many companies, GHDT can shine up an old gem and give it another whirl in a future season, this may be some useful commentary:

Like most of his work, this production has choreography and costumes by Gregory Glade Hancock. In addition, he insisted on music and songs by award-winning composer Cory Gabel, who also worked with him on 2018’s “The Casket Girls.”

Aside from being a dance showcase without spoken lines, this “Antony and Cleopatra” is quite different from the Shakespeare play in the story it tells. The narrative is pared down and freely adapted, with adventurous casting. It is set not in Roman-era Egypt, but a more modern time – the nightlife world of Club Isis. Gabel’s songs include (prerecorded) vocals, combining with power-pop and dance music for a feel reminiscent of “Movin’ Out,” with the song lyrics and movement weaving the plot to good effect.

The two men in the company, Adrian Dominguez and Thomas Mason, are the title characters respectively. Not just supporting characters (in both the role and lifting-the-women sense), this is quite a showcase for their talents, especially in a beautifully sensuous pas de deux.

Also incredible are Abigail Lessaris as Antony’s spurned wife Octavia, and Zoe Maish as Lamprius the Soothsayer, agent of Fate. As usual, there are first-rate performances from the whole company, including “G2”.

Even (especially?) with its toying with setting and gender, Hancock’s production is still a compelling fascinating story of forbidden desire and love, rash actions and tragic consequences. It may not be what actually took place in Roman Alexandria, but note the Bard wasn’t a historian, either.

The next performance of “Antony and Cleopatra”… is when Mr. Hancock and company feel like doing it.

To open the 2022-23 season, GHDT celebrates a quarter century of dance with the “25th Season Celebration,” Aug. 26-27 at The Tarkington in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. According to the press release, Hancock “link(s) together theatrical tales from throughout GHDT’s rich 25-year history and will tell the collective story through moving, poignant and memorable theater, thrilling movement, and beautiful music.” Sounds like fun.

This year’s remaining performances also have an air of the familiar. October 28-29, Hancock’s “There’s No Place Like Home” returns. This wonderful production, inspired by “The Wizard of Oz,” is based on young Hancock’s journey of discovery as the Boy from Kansas in a strange land, with dance drenched in the magic and culture of India. Performances will again be at the Tarkington; see our prior review for more info.

This is followed on December 2-3 with the holiday classic, “The Nutcracker.” Everyone has their Christmas traditions; if this is yours, get your seats at the Pike Performing Arts Center (6701 Zionsville Road, Indianapolis).

Celebrating the new this season is “New World Dances” on weekends of February 11-26, 2023, featuring work that Hancock created during the recent pandemic, presented at The Florence, GHDT’s new black box performance space, 329 Gradle Drive, Carmel.

This anniversary “season of reflection” also includes “Illumination,” April 7-8, with a spiritual theme, and “Director’s Choice,” June 9-10, which Hancock (naturally) picks, both at The Tarkington in Carmel.

For the information and tickets, see gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org.

GHDT: Ancient yet familiar story of power, plague, and redemption

By John Lyle Belden

I am the most casual fan of dance programs there is. I appreciate it in a general sense, but have not studied or participated intensively. Still, I continue to be amazed and delighted by the visual storytelling skills of Gregory Glade Hancock.

On April 7-9, a week before Passover, Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre presented its “Exodus,” a modern story in movement inspired by the ancient story of Moses. It premiered in 2019, with plans to perform again the next year, but our modern plagues pushed the date back to this month.

The themes include freedom from oppression, as well as sacrificial love. In consideration of this, as well as Hancock dedicating this – like much of his work – to the memory of his mother, he chose to have the central figure, the Chosen One, performed by a woman. Entrusted with this role is Olivia Payton, full of passion and sacred sense of duty. In place of the Biblical Pharoah, we have The Prosecutor; Thomas Mason struts the stage, projecting authority while at times struggling with it.

Other individual roles, as well as the Slaves and Plagues, are performed by Abigail Lessaris, Hannah Brown, Chloe Holzman, Zoe Maish, Josie Moody, Audrey Springer, and Rebecca Zigmond.

The Persecutor’s army of Oppressors are danced by Ellen Burks, Grace Burks, Taylor Colter, Adrian Dominguez, Zoe Hacker, Allie Hanning, Kloie Hargrove, Audrey Holloway, Molly Kinkade, Moriah Knuth, Kallie Leib, Grace Mazurek, Evangeline Meadows, Rachel Morrow, Leah Pitman, Maria Porter, Sophia Rice, Hillary Riley, Alexia Rumrill, Rachel VonDommelen, and Elissa Weisz.

The Chosen as a young prince was Leighton Metcalfe; other children were Fiadh Flynn, Poppy Lomax, Vincent Kitchen, Violet Kitchen, Elli Thacker, and Megan Webb.

Aside from the Academy of GHDT, the company included dancers from Anderson University; The Conservatory of Dance, Granger, Ind.; and Ballet Arts of Peru, Ind.

Choreography and Costumes were by Hancock, who also credits much of the look and feel to the show to Ryan Koharchik’s lighting and set design. Dance styles vary from boldly modern to living animations of hieroglyphics, exciting and always clear in their intent.

We are presented with the plight of the oppressed from the opening moments, confined by a curtain of chain-link fence. As slave children are rounded up, a desperate Mother (Lessaris) leaves her infant in a basket for the Persecutor’s Daughter (Brown) to find. In time this Child grows (Metcalfe, Payton), knowing privilege but feeling for those in shackles. A moment of compassion leads to violence, and exile. The Chosen encounters a sacred Burning Bush (an expertly flowing grouping of about a dozen dancers, pulsing with life like a landbound sea anemone) and she understands what she must do.

The Persecutor has no interest in freeing the Slaves. He is surrounded by an army, members uniformly unisex and masked, a familiar emblem on their hoodies showing they have the “power.”

The oppressed now appear as pale avenging angels, bringing forth plagues that speak to us in the audience: Desecration (pollution) of the Earth, Gun Violence, Racism, War, Poverty, Crime, Social Media (apathy), uncaring Government, and Selfishness. To drive the point home, like in the source book, finally the First Born are struck down.

In Act Two, we get parting of the Red Sea, the giving of Commandments, and the people’s disobedience. We also get a joyous reunion, saddened by the story coming full circle. As in the scriptural Exodus, we conclude with our formerly oppressed people in the wilderness, but bold and ready for whatever comes next.

The overall program is thrilling, stunning, and inspiring – the effective telling of an epic story without a single word. Let this be an encouragement to see whatever you can attend by GHDT (next up is an adaptation of “Antony and Cleopatra” in June) and insistence to experience “Exodus” the next time it is revived.

Performances are in downtown Carmel, get information and tickets at GregoryHancockDanceTheatre.org.

Enduring mystery subject of GHDT program

By John Lyle Belden

Gregory Glade Hancock excels at telling stories through dance, such as the unusual and fascinating case of “The Black Dahlia,” presented by Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre through Feb. 27. 

Though many facts and theories have surfaced over the decades, the brutal 1947 murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short in Hollywood remains unsolved. Hancock presents, in routines set to the music of the era, four possible scenarios, each with its own suspect.

To make the story clear, aiding the Film Noir atmosphere, dancers speak to introduce each act. We initially meet the Dahlia herself, Hannah Brown as Short. Next, we hear from the suspects: 

  • the Sister (Abigail Lessaris), whose work with and against Brown (to the song “Sisters”) creates much of the humor; 
  • the Reporter (Adrian Dominguez), which also features Zoe Maish as a jilted and jealous girlfriend (“Blues in the Night”); 
  • the Showgirl (Olivia Payton), in a set pulsing with Latin rhythms; and 
  • the Doctor (Thomas Mason), introduced by Chloe Holzman, one of the nurses (with Camden Lancaster) paid “Pennies from Heaven” to look the other way and clean up the mess. 

We also witness the graceful talents of Josie Moody, Zoe Hacker, Allie Hanning, Audrey Holloway, Audrey Springer, and Rebecca Zigmond.

The dancers participated in the creation of the show, with spoken words by Christine Thacker, and choreography and spot-on costuming by Hancock.

Who do you think committed the murder? As part of an ongoing capital campaign for improvements to the dance studio and performance space, audience members can vote for suspects with their dollars at boxes in the lobby.

This entertaining and easy to follow ballet noir has sold out all its initially scheduled dates through Feb. 27 at The Academy of GHDT, 329 Gradle Drive, Carmel. Contact GregoryHancockDanceTheatre.org or follow on Facebook for information and tickets for added performances.

Oz-inspired production a celebration of India

By Wendy Carson

With Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre’s “There’s No Place Like Home,” founder Gregory Glade Hancock has brought us his most personal show to date. He spins the tale of The Boy from Kansas (performed by Thomas Mason) and his journey of grief and self-discovery that leads him back to the inevitable conclusion that all you ever need is right in your own back yard. However, rather than traveling to Oz, he is transported to the even more magical land of India.

The show begins with the Boy visiting his mother’s grave. His sadness and loss is beautifully depicted and left tears in my eyes at its conclusion. He is then swept up in a tornado of grief that eventually lands him in this exotic place where Mother India herself (Abigail Lessaris) welcomes him. He is also treated to welcoming dances from various groups throughout the land.

He is encouraged to “Follow the Golden Path” Where he meets three deities (all played by Abigail Lessaris) who bestow upon him the gifts of Wisdom (like the Scarecrow’s brains); Compassion (the Tin Man’s heart); plus Strength and Courage (the Cowardly Lion’s nerve).

The journey is not without hazards, though. his Antagonist (Adrian Dominguez) portrays the Grief, Fear, Doubt and Cancer that he literally struggles with throughout his time here.

Even with this ever-present danger lurking, he still delights in all of the beauty and pageantry that India has to offer. Amongst the highlights of these experiences are his participation in Holi (the celebration of colors); a Bollywood film; performances from Kathak Dancers and Bhangra Dancers; as well as a ritual cleansing in the Ganges.

There is honestly no way for me to begin to describe the sheer beauty, emotion and celebration of this show. It made me laugh with delight and cry with sorrow but mostly it moved me to experience more of the history and culture of India, especially the wide variety of dance therein.

John adds: This was a truly wondrous performance; I left wanting to see it all again. Hancock, who has repeatedly traveled to India (inspiring this show), took great pains to capture the authentic spirit of the subcontinent. He collaborated with India-born artist Madhuchhanda Mandal to create a beautiful mural that was made into the stage backdrop, GHDT board member Anindita Sen to bring in dancers from the Nrityangan Kathak Academy, and Yusuf Khurram of Jiapur, India, to arrange rare genuine Kalbeliya costumes.

The dancers were outstanding throughout, especially Mason, and the graceful Lessaris who dances as naturally as others breathe. Also notable are Camden Lancaster and Dominguez in their portrayal of Krishna and Radha.

Performaces, at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, were Oct. 28-30, but bookmark this review! Hancock will hopefully bring this marvel back in a future season. For upcoming GHDT events, including December’s “Nutcracker,” see gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org.

IndyFringe: Classical Collaborations

This is part of IndyFringe 2021, Aug. 19-Sept. 5 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson

Dance is an interesting art form. While anyone can see it and enjoy its beauty, not everyone can understand the intent or its meaning. Crossroads Dance Indy takes note of this conundrum by placing explanations of their choreographic meanings in their program to assist in the enjoyment of the various numbers.

Two dances, “The Thing with Feathers” and “Forever is Now,” are based upon poems by Emily Dickenson. They are beautifully performed, showing the hopefulness of the former and random but vital interactive influences of the latter (which is different with each performance).

Highlights also include “Mountain Train Jam,” a country hoedown with tap shoes, and “Perspective,” in which the dancers beautifully interpret the spoken word, written and performed by Hanna Verdin.

So, whether you’re an aficionado or a novice of the art form, come out and see this show, at the Basile Auditorium at the Athenaeum. Who knows — you, too, may find yourself becoming a dance fan.