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 Dominquez, 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.

IndyFringe: Beyond Ballet

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

Indianapolis Ballet has brought a delightful program to this year’s Fringe.

They present two classic pieces, including “The Swan,” but the rest of the show is excitingly new. Ensemble members choreograph two of the dances.

The first, “Scherzo Passionato,” feels like a sprightly celebration of spring as well as the joyfulness of the season. It also highlights the physicality of the featured dancers.

The second piece, “Fantasia Concertante,” is a fiery tribute to the choreographer’s homeland of Brazil.

The second half of the show is comprised by a tribute to the music of The Beatles. It is almost impossible to describe the energetic beauty of this montage. From dance challenges to twisting on pointe, you are swept up in the spirit of the songs and the awe of their interpretations of the music. You will find yourself clapping and singing along (which is encouraged).

Overall, this program is an excellent introduction to ballet for the novice, but also a treat for longtime lovers of the art form. Performances are in the Basile Auditorium at the Athenaeum.

IndyFringe: Second Annual Tap Cabernet

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

By John Lyle Belden

If you don’t like tap-dancing, this show isn’t for you.

But if you like to see hoofers hoofin’ it, the Tap Cabernet is your cup of tea — or whatever is in your glass. You will need to acquire your own beverage at the upstairs Athenaeum bar, but during one number, snacks will be provided.

Following through on the pun of the title, this cabaret revue has members of Circle City Tap shuffling to various hits with the topic of wine and other strong beverages. We get the energetic talented tap stylings of Jeff Bird, Lora Dingledine, Ashley Lain, Tanya Radisich, and Ashlee Yackley, who also lends her voice to the “karaoke” number. And Lorenda Carr is drafted into hosting duties despite still celebrating her birthday.

Baskets of props add to the fun. Along with routines to songs like “Good Time Cheap Wine” and “Margaritaville”, there is also a nod to the recent “wine and paint” trend in which several audience volunteers get to make an original artwork.

And if you know a step or two yourself, all are invited to join in on the traditional “shim-sham” at the end — this time to a sassy recent pop hit. 

Gregory Hancock gives fairy tales a fun twist

By John Lyle Belden

An issue I sometimes have with dance is that I find it hard to follow exactly what is going on, what the dancers are trying to portray — there is no such problem with “Once Upon a Time,” by Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre.

The subject matter is as familiar as childhood — popular fairy tales. But Gregory Glade Hancock and his dancers have put their own spin (and leap, and…) on the stories to freshen the narrative. Like in the musical “Into the Woods,” they all seem to occupy the same fanciful space, including an Enchanted Forest, in which the dancers got to work their own choreography.

Red Riding Hood (Hannah Brown) starts the stories by making her delivery. It seems Grandma appreciates the goodies so much, she just wants to dance with Red, though she does look suspiciously furry. As it turns out, the Wolf (Olivia Payton) while big, isn’t so bad — despite harassing pigs — and mostly just wants to get belly-rubs from the Princesses. 

Narcoleptic Beauty (Chloe Holzman) — turns out it wasn’t just a cursed spinning-wheel — turns in the show’s best performance, especially when constantly dancing in and out of consciousness with the Handsome Prince (Thomas Mason). She puts in moments of gracefully collapsing throughout the show, to great comic effect. As for his Highness, being the only man in the company, he has to be everybody’s Prince, which does result in a chase scene or two. But the one he loves is himself, exemplified with his solo number with a hand-mirror — what a “selfie” was 500 years ago.

In other stories coming to life: 

  • Cinderella (Camden Lancaster) sweeps through, dreaming of future happiness, but the glass that is most important to her is in the spectacles on her face, not the shoes on her feet. The Fairy Godmother (Hannah Winkler) gives her frames worthy of Elton John. But Cindy’s desire to look good is greater than her myopia, with appropriately funny results.
  • Little Bo Peep (Josie Moody) has given up on sheep and herds the Three Little Pigs (Payton*, Winkler, and Jillian Hogan). 

(*Not only ironic — playing Pig and Wolf — but I could have sworn all three Pigs were with the Wolf when he huffed and puffed them. Talk about talent.)

  • Rapunzel (Zoe Maish) has the strongest weave in the kingdom, which others can’t resist messing with. 
  • Snow White (Anna Williamson) shakes off the apple’s effect and, with the Prince otherwise occupied, looks for love elsewhere. Seven young students don cap and beard as the Seven Dwarves (Annabelle Breeden, Ashton Curry, Violet Kitchen, Vincent Kitchen, Josephine Meadows, Isabella Webb, and Elli Thacker) — one of which also opens the show by playing the Boy in pajamas with the storybook of these twisted tales.
  • Pinocchio (Morgan Beane) is the Trickster character of the show. Having not learned his lessons yet, he gets his long nose into all manner of mischief throughout the evening.
  • As for the Witch (Abigail Lessaris), the apple isn’t the only curse that’s failing. Her powers have fizzled, and she dances desperately to rekindle them — but be careful what you wish for.

We are also enchanted by some fairies (Zoe Hacker, Alyssa Henderson, Evangeline Meadows, Megan Webb). The supporting cast (who also act as ushers) include Stephanie Blaufuss, Allie Hanning, Audrey Holloway, Molly Kinkade, Stella Kitchen, Sophia Rice, Taylor Smith, Audrey Springer, Ava Thomas, and Rebecca Zigmond. 

This is the Hancock company’s annual cabaret fundraiser, fitting nicely into the big black-box studio of the Academy of GHDT (329 Gradle Drive, Carmel, near the Center for the Performing Arts). The students don’t pressure you too much to give, though there is a clever “grow Rapunzel’s hair” board to track giving. There is also a free treat at every seat.

The talent and athleticism are amazing to watch, with graceful and easy-to-follow storytelling through movement. This show gives a chuckle to all ages, is an easy inspiration to youth — and reminds the casual viewer that there is more to dance than “The Nutcracker.”

It’s also very popular. The final performances Saturday and Sunday are sold out, but Friday, Feb. 21, has been added. Get tickets at ghdtonceuponatime.eventbrite.com. Get company information at www.gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org.

 

‘Big Day’ for little guy at Phoenix

By John Lyle Belden

Phoenix Theatre’s holiday tradition continues with “Winston’s Big Day: A Very Phoenix Xmas 14.”

(Note the originator of the series, Bryan Fonseca, also has a holiday variety show at the new Fonseca Theatre Company, but think of them not so much as competitors as companion pieces — each with its own nice yet mildly naughty take on the winter holidays.)

The Phoenix production works on a theme developed by director Chelsea Anderson over the course of the year. It’s Christmas Eve, and elf Winston (Dave Pelsue) — who had been planning to leave the North Pole to pursue a music career, with Rudolph (Ramon Hutchins) as his manager — is tapped to be co-pilot of the Sleigh. But Santa is missing! That means it’s up to the reluctant elf and his bright-nosed companion to make the deliveries and save Christmas. 

During the night, Winston looks in on several scenes, performed by the cast of Nathalie Cruz, Andrea Heiden, Jan Lucas, Pearl Scott, John Vessels, and Justin Sears-Watson. Scenes and songs are by a diverse lot including Anderson, Pelsue, Paige Scott, J. Julian Christopher, Jen Blackmer, Riti Sachdeva, Zach Neiditch, and Phoenix playwright-in-residence Tom Horan.

There is an abundance of wonderful performances, including Lucas and Heiden as ghosts of Charles Dickens; Vessels at his manic best; and dancer Sears-Watson’s smooth moves, as well as showing his singing and acting chops. 

Perhaps one of the best scenes, showing off all the talents on hand, is Blackmer’s “The Twelve Theatrical Genres of the Totally Non-Denominational, Absolutely Inclusive Holidays…” This gentle jab at both political correctness and community theatre, when its reach goes way beyond its grasp, results in a hilarious holiday scene so “inclusive” it hardly appeals to anyone: The Misguided Mechanicals present something like, “Stella and the Zombie Cats of Thebes” (that’s my best-guess title for it; you’re welcome, Chelsea). 

And, of course, there’s Pelsue and Hutchens, doing a great job of tying this whole silly and sweet mess together, as they struggle to rush through their duties, hoping to make their stage time at Fa-La-La-La-La-Palooza. 

Also impressive is Zac Hunter’s stage design, including a turntable with pop-up-book effects, and frequent clever use of the trapdoors.

Yet another holiday tradition to add to your schedule, performances run through Dec. 22 at the Phoenix Theatre, 705 N. Illinois, downtown Indy. Call 317-635-7529 or visit phoenixtheatre.org.

A little ‘Chrystmas’ magic

By John Lyle Belden

Bryan Fonseca returns to his tradition of the holiday show he had nurtured for a dozen years, with Fonseca Theatre Company’s “A Very Bryan Chrystmas: How the Grinch Culturally Appropriated Christmas.”

(That original series is also continued at the Phoenix Theatre, but think of them not so much as competitors as companion pieces — each with its own nice yet mildly naughty take on the winter holidays.)

Bryan’s cast of Jean Arnold, Paul Collier Hansen, Jonathan Stombaugh, Phebe Taylor, and Dorian Wilson, with the help of Tim Brickley (music director) and Mariel Greenlee (choreographer), bring us 12 scenes of music, comedy and dance. The works of five local playwrights are featured: Eric Pfeffinger and Mark Harvey-Levine’s modern takes on the Nativity; John P. Gallo’s hilariously macabre holiday tradition; Kenyon Brown’s tale of new Grinch mischief; and Cassandra Rose’s bittersweet scene of family dysfunction. Music includes songs by Tish Hinojosa, Pete Townshend, and Tim Minchin, as well as a mix by DJ QueVee.

For those who remember, Fonseca brings back the ultimate Jewish Mother with Harvey Levine’s “Oye Vey Maria,” but most of the bits are new, such as Brown’s “Mistletopriation,” which acts out the show’s title statement, with Hansen as the Christmas-hating terrorist. And Taylor shows her knack for playing practically any age, especially in her sweet performance of Hinojosa’s “Arbolito.” 

Throughout, this show is a little irreverent and a lot of fun. Performances run through Dec. 22 at the new Basile Theatre, 2508 W. Michigan. Get info and tickets at fonsecatheatre.org.

Kids make a splash in KidsPlay’s ‘Mermaid in Miami’

By John Lyle Belden

Being a former writer and “Arts Editor” at the Daily Reporter in Greenfield, I have long followed and been a booster of KidsPlay Inc., the local children’s theatre featuring kids in grades 3-8 from all over the area. Under the direction of Christine Schaefer, the company puts on a high-quality show, and has helped to develop a lot of talent – a number of central Indiana performers are former KidsPlayers, and now there are alumni with their own children in the program.

Of course, I bring this up because this week is the KidsPlay Inc. fall production, the quirky comedy “Mermaid in Miami” by Wade Bradford. Directed by Schaefer with Alexandra Kern, choreography by Frances Hull and Amy Studebaker, this take on “The Little Mermaid” has a contemporary setting, yet is in a surprising way true to the Hans Christian Andersen story.

An old fisherman, Ernie (Joseph Shininger), happens to come across a young mermaid, Breeze (Olivia Greer), on the run from her tyrannical father Emperor Tropico (Matthew Hentz). As she had escaped with her mother, now missing, the angry monarch asks Ernie if he has seen two mermaids, so he honestly answers “no,” helping Breeze to escape. Grateful, she stays in the safety of the lagoon the fisherman calls home, located just a beach away from Miami, Florida.

Meanwhile, on that beach, hot Latin dancer Rico (Jaxon Brittsan) is ready for the local dance contest, he just needs a partner. The Lambada sisters (Zora Coe and Ashley Pipkin) are injured, and best friend Grace (Ella Miesse) he only sees as his tailor. But hearing of the opportunity, Breeze makes a deal with the Swamp Hag (Bella Turner) for legs so he can join Rico in the dance.

Naturally, those legs come at a cost.

The large cast also includes Anthony Stunda and Josie Joyner as dolphins Ebb and Flo, who provide a lot of the punchlines; Brodie Stout-England as Prince Dorkus, the Emperor’s goofy hand-picked fiance for Breeze; Jordan Kuker as the mysterious Spirit of the Air; Hank Lee and Ava Peters as local reporters; Abbagail Gantt and Cooper Schmitt as vendors with well-timed wares; and Jack Joyner, Grace McCaw, and Lucy Reed, as an entertaining trio of crabs.

This show has excellent performances throughout. Greer shows off some great physical comedy, as she nimbly portrays a wobbly girl who just got her legs minutes ago, right through the obligatory dance montage where she learns to move with rhythm.

Turner is appropriately menacing, and manages to keep a Caribbean accent without it slipping into caricature. Hentz is naturally haughty, while Shininger plays a good go-with-the-flow guy. Miesse stitches together a role with surprising range. Stout-England is too much of a doofus to dislike, despite his role in Tropico’s plot.

Brittsan not only manages to stay likable even while being a bit cheesey, but also he, Coe and Pipkin show off some genuine dance flair, including leading the traditional opening dance number before the play.

As usual, this show is a lot of fun, but there is some substance with the silly, especially in the way this story ends. Performances are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8-10, at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. (US 40) in downtown Greenfield. Tickets are just $5 at the door.