It was a visual and auditory feast when Dance Kaleidoscope joined the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, led by conductor Matthew Kraemer and 2017 American Pianists Awards winner Drew Petersen, to present “See the Music, Hear the Dance.” I attended opening night Friday at the Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts on the campus of Butler University.
Due to its high expense, live music is a luxury for local dance companies, so it is rare for audiences to see such collaborations, especially when it involves a large instrumental ensemble, such as the ICO. And it is not every day a sought-after soloist, recitalist and chamber musician, such as pianist Drew Petersen, is featured in a dance concert as well. Given those circumstances, I had great expectations the concert would be a special occasion and I am happy to report, I was not disappointed.
In fact, I was pretty much in rapture throughout the entire program that included two pieces choreographed by DK Artistic Director David Hochoy in “Ancient Airs and Dances,” ” George Gershwin’s iconic “Rhapsody in Blue” and an instrumental work titled “Serenade” in Act 1. Act 2 consisted of the world premiere of yet another Hochoy creation, “Ma mère l’Oye (Mother Goose).”
“Ancient Airs and Dances,” with music by Ottorino Respighi, was a revival of a 2011 Hochoy piece, set to three suites from the Italian composer’s work. Lyrical and effervescent, the piece emphasized the lighthearted attitude of the characters portrayed by the dancers. Accented by the always-evocative lighting design of Laura Glover and diaphanous costumes by Cheryl Sparks, the piece reflected the elegant, tender and sometimes sprightly nature of Respighi’s composition.
The ICO, led by Maestro Kraemer, shined next in its rendition of “Serenade” by William Grant Still, known as the “Dean of African-American Composers.” The piece, though pleasant enough, was not that memorable, but as performed by the ICO, it made for a reflective respite prior to the show-stopper that was to follow.
Up until this particular event, I had not experienced Petersen’s virtuosity, but hearing him perform “Rhapsody in Blue” certainly lived up to all my expectations. His playing was full-bodied, crisp and dynamic, doing more than fine justice to Gershwin’s masterpiece through his superb technique and artistry. Complementing him impressively was the ICO, which showed not only preciseness, but also a well-blended, sumptuous sound.
Not that I was only focused on the stunning music, but it was sometimes a challenge to simultaneously concentrate on the dancers and their flawless execution of Hochoy’s smart choreography that gleefully captured the chic style, spirit and images conjured by Gershwin’s hybrid work that combines elements of jazz and classical music and has been referred to as a “musical portrait of New York City.” Making my heart swell was the last movement of the piece, during which the women of the company, wearing blue gowns and the men, dressed in tuxedos with tails, promenaded, waltzed and lifted, with all intrinsically connected to the music until the piece’s grand, majestic conclusion. A highlight of the piece was the pas de deux, featuring Mariel Greenlee and Timothy June, that was breathtaking. Once again, the combination of lighting guru Glover and Sparks’s ingenious costumes made for a piece long on elan.
“Ma mère l’Oye,” Hochoy’s newest work, which featured characters from Maurice Ravel’s “Mother Goose” five-part suite, was the concert’s second-act attraction. With Paige Robinson as the Storyteller, the piece featured Greenlee and June as Beauty and the Beast, Manuel Valdes as Tom Thumb, and Jillian Godwin and Stuart Coleman as Laideronette and Empress of the Pagoda. Remaining company members danced the roles of sprites in the “The Fairy Garden.” Dancing with eloquence and grace, the dancers’ movement mirrored the sheer beauty and loveliness of Ravel’s music.
At the end of the program, feeling refreshed and inspired, I could not help but reflect on how special it was to witness the results of an alliance that made the evening truly memorable and one I hope will be replicated by other local performing arts groups. As a community, we can only benefit from combining art forms and, in general, the artistic resources of a market rich in creativity and talent. Hats off to DK, ICO and Drew Petersen for setting the bar high.