These days, I feel like I am doing a lot of catch up as far as reviewing the performances of many Central Indiana groups I have not seen for nearly two years due to the pandemic. A case in point was “Star-Crossed Lovers” presented by Dance Kaleidoscope on Friday at Indiana Repertory Theatre on the OneAmerica Mainstage. Just being in the IRT venue was, itself, a joyous experience, but seeing the DK company and modern dance again after the long hiatus was fulfilling indeed.
DK executive director Kim Gutfreund made the curtain speech, informing the audience artistic director David Hochoy was not present due to being quarantined after contracting COVID and would soon be returning to work. Later, upon inquiry, DK staff members informed me he had a mild case and was recovering well. We can all be thankful Hochoy, now in his 31st season with DK and one of Indianapolis’ most prominent artists, and therefore, a community treasure, has survived the dreaded coronavirus.
Whether it was pure coincidence or intended to coincide with the release of Steven Spielberg’s luminous re-make of “West Side Story,” loosely based on Shakespeare’s classic “Romeo and Juliet,” DK’s programming of “Star-Crossed Lovers” is a very astute marketing move. Though the film has been a disappointment at the box office, it has been a critical success and supported by performing-arts lovers who appreciate the movie’s artistic achievements and Justin Peck’s choreography, in particular. As Indiana’s premier contemporary dance company, there is no one better to showcase its homegrown dancers and choreographers than DK, through their interpretations of Shakespeare’s tragic love story in “Star-Crossed Lovers.”
Act 1, which featured Hochoy’s 2012 “Romeo and Juliet Fantasy,” began with a well-delivered recitation of the Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” Prologue by Indianapolis Shakespeare Company (IndyShakes) member Kelsey Johnson. The piece itself was set to Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Fantasy,” one of the most famous works of the classical repertoire. I had seen this work several times previously, so knew what to expect, but didn’t realize until Hochoy’s story was revealed, this piece incorporated three pairs dancing in succession as Romeo and Juliet in different parts of the story.
With each couple showing sensual chemistry and effective partnering, they included Sarah Taylor and Manuel Valdes, Emily Dyson and Justin Rainey, and Marie Kuhns and Cody Miley. Hochoy’s intricate choreography, with its blend of balletic and Martha Graham-inspired movement and architecture, exquisitely illustrated the lyrical, romantic and dramatic content of Tchaikovsky’s celebrated music, which follows the tale of the doomed lovers ending in their tragic death in a heart wrenching tableau that was totally affecting. Completing the visual elegance of the piece was the lighting designer extraordinaire Laura Glover and costumes by Cheryl Sparks.
DK dancer and artistic associate Stuart Coleman, who began choreographing for the company in 2018, displayed flashes of brilliance in “Sweet Sorrow,” his provocative work that made its world premiere in Act 2. Set to an eclectic, off-beat, collection of musical pieces by Hidden Citizens, Ólafur Arnalds, Dash Berlin featuring Thomas Gold, Luke Howard, Hans Zimmer and Jane Antonia Cornish, Coleman’s compelling adaptation was notable for its sometimes stark, contemporary treatment in all its elements—choreography, music, lighting, costumes and gender-fluid casting. The total effect was a fast-paced, exciting, dynamic treatment that made for a spectacular update of Shakespeare’s timeless love story.
Showing star power as Romeo was new company member Justin Rainey, who exhibited formidable talent and a striking presence that clearly set him apart. Holding her own and exhibiting her own substantial gifts was Marie Kuhns as Juliet. Combining to create a contemporary environment for Coleman’s fresh vision were Glover’s rock-concert-flavored lighting, and costumer Erica Johnston’s and set designer Michael S. Drury’s avant-garde production elements.
As noted previously, it was deeply fulfilling to see the DK dancers, whose technical artistry, synchronization and musicality have grown exponentially since I last saw them in February of 2020 and to be among other dance devotees in the venerable IRT house. For me, the glow I still feel, post lockdown, being among others in a darkened theatre watching a live performance, has not yet diminished. Showing my vaccination card, I.D., and wearing a mask during the performance were a very small price to pay for the enchantment and virtuosity I experienced watching the magic taking place on stage.
For tickets and information about Dance Kaleidoscope and its upcoming concerts visit dancekal.org.