There is no artist in Indiana who can capture the essence of another country’s culture as effectively or wondrously as Gregory Glade Hancock, artistic director of Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre. Just as he did in 2019’s “La Casa Azul,” an original musical about artist Frida Kahlo set in Mexico, the intrepid choreographer presents yet another spectacular feat of ingenuity in “There’s No Place Like Home.” Depicting his own personal journey following the death of his beloved mother, Florence Marie Hancock, much of Hancock’s towering autobiographical piece is set in India. I took in the Saturday performance of the production, which ran October 28-30, at The Tarkington Theatre at The Center For The Performing Arts in Carmel.
Local artist Madhunchhanda Mandal, a native of India, painted the massive backdrop mural that included images of her country’s people and architecture. A note in the printed program said “India, yet it will overwhelm you, it will leave you awestruck.” The same could be said about the show itself. The combination of music, costumes, lighting, and sound in Hancock’s work made for a sensory experience that was, at times, staggering, yet left me feeling I had witnessed a theatre event that was truly astonishing in its breadth and scope.
The story behind “No Place Like Home,” which draws liberally from “The Wizard of Oz” is about a boy from Kansas, who is transported to India, where, following a series of personal tragedies, eventually finds peace and enlightenment and comes to term with his profound loss and grief. Along the way in his journey of self-discovery and closure, The Boy encounters various characters that mirror those in “The Wizard of Oz.” For instance, Mother Earth, Mother India and Mother Ganges, and My Mother represent Glinda the Good Witch. The Antagonist, faceless and dressed completely in black, represents The Boy’s darker side and is the Wicked Witch. Additional figures and deities representing other Oz characters, such as the Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow, cross paths with The Boy on his journey along the Golden Path and help him find where the cycle of death and rebirth is broken.
Dancing in nearly every scene, which numbered 25 in the two-act, two-hour-long production, was Thomas Mason. He executed Hancock’s complex choreography, which combined elements of modern, contemporary and traditional Indian dance, with passion, stamina and power. Mason displayed uncommon musicality and superb acting skills that made him ideal for a role which called for his sympathetic character to equally convey strength and vulnerability.
Deserving of recognition, as well, were dancers in supporting roles that included Abigail Lessaris as His Mother, Mother Indian and Mother Ganges, and Adrian Dominguez as The Boy’s Grief, Fear, Doubt and Cancer. Lessaris also danced the roles of Sarasati, Buddha and Hanuman. The additional 17 dancers who were in the company’s corps, were very impressive in their totally synchronized execution of Hancock’s choreography and that of Dr. Anindita Sen for the Kathak Dancers segment. As I watched the dancers perform, I could only imagine the amount of time spent in rehearsal for the dedicated company to present work that was nearly seamless.
As far as the concert’s production values, I can only rave about the caliber made possible through the contributions of lighting designer extraordinaire Ryan Koharchik, and, of course, the elaborate, stunning costumes, many of which were designed by Hancock, and the Kalbeliya costumes provided by Yusuf Kurram of India.
Though credit for sound design was not included in the program, Heather King was credited for music editing, which I must acknowledge for the superb job she did in fashioning the eclectic score, which combined traditional Indian, American music and even some Beethoven.
To say that Hancock is a risk-taker and visionary is an understatement. Add to that a cultural ambassador for all he has done to educate, inform and inspire audiences, as he builds bridges of understanding through his art, world view and sensibilities that benefit us all.