Over the 32 years I have known Dance Kaleidoscope artistic director David Hochoy, I have always felt flattered when he has referred to me as “one the first friends I made when I came to Indianapolis.” Our friendship began shortly after he arrived in 1992. I was assigned to interview him by “The Indianapolis Star,” where I once freelanced as an arts correspondent. From that moment on we became friends and confidants and have remained so ever since. During that time, I have also covered Dance Kaleidoscope, seeing and writing about Hochoy’s entire body of work. Within Hochoy’s tenure at DK, I also served as a board member and had the opportunity to view the organization from the inside as well.
As the beloved Hochoy rides off into the sunset to begin retirement, who better than yours truly to enjoy a full circle moment and conduct an “exit interview” with my comrade with whom I have been through a lot.
At the same time, it is important to add the perspective of some of his closest associates. One I reached out to was DK lighting designer Laura Glover who said, “David has been my artistic partner and friend for 32 years. He has been one of the best editors of my work, seeing things within the design that needed pulling out or scaling back to create something meaningful. I am immensely proud of the work that we have created together with the dancers and other collaborators. I am also proud that we have grown together as artists. As a friend, he has been with me in the best and worst times of my life, giving me the freedom to heal, to grieve, and to celebrate without hindrance. Needless to say, but I will anyway, I love him and honor him.”
Another of Hochoy’s friends I contacted for comments about the cherished artist was local real estate company owner and former DK managing director and a DK board president Douglas Dilling, who stated, “David’s contribution to the arts community and the extended cultural environment is probably immeasurable. While we can cite a few specific highlights such as DK’s astronomic growth, the HIV/AIDS benefit, ‘Spotlight,’ and the opening up the of larger Indy arts world to collaboration and cooperation, we can never know how this celebrated ‘rabbi’ has contributed to our world through his gentle, loving, and demanding nurturing of young dancers—today’s artists—who have, themselves, already gone into the world to give others the spark that fuels our consciousness, our appreciation for the ‘other,’ and many of the things which make life worth living.”
Finally, this article would not be complete without inclusion of the following comment from, former DK managing director Jan Virgin, who retired in 2020. “I am very fortunate to have worked with David for 25 years. Together we made a strong team, respecting and recognizing each other’s efforts towards growing DK to become one of Indy’s major arts organizations. I am so proud of my many years working with David and DK and am deeply grateful for the opportunity. I truly enjoyed a great administrative career in dance. What a ride! I cherish my 25 years with David and DK.”
Below is an edited transcript of my interview with the always outspoken, fearless Hochoy, which took place following a dinner I prepared for him in my Haughville home.
Can you believe it has been 32 years since you have been in Indy?
I am incredibly happy I stayed and was able to make a difference in Indianapolis. There were some things I was able to accomplish and others I was not, but I tried hard. I am grateful to a lot of people because I could not have done it by myself. I got a lot of support from the Indianapolis public because if they did not like what I was doing I wouldn’t have had any success at all whatsoever.
Of all your accomplishments, which ones are you proudest?
I am proudest of the fact that there is an artistic standard for contemporary dance in Indy and that DK has set a bar by which all dance performers can judge themselves. That kind of quality takes a lot of challenging work, and it also takes a lot of consistency because it does not happen overnight, and it does not happen with just one flash-in-the-pan performance. It happens through this constant reiteration of artistic quality. It is like what the ISO has done raising the bar for classical music and what IRT has done for theatre in Indy. I was able to do that and am very, very proud. I am proud that I have done pieces that people are very moved by and have changed people’s lives because they saw some insight, or they saw an outlook they had not considered before.
That is the biggest compliment an artist can receive when you get that kind of feedback.
Yes, those are the most satisfying moments for any artist when someone comes up to you after a performance, saying, “My life is never going to be the same because of this performance. That was just astounding, and my whole perception has changed.” It is fabulous to hear such things.
What about the new DK studio facility? Don’t you take credit for it?
It’s a game changer. Having our own studio means that we have control of our hours, our facility, and access. We are able to have studio performances and open rehearsals which we never able to have before. Plus, we have immediate access to all our costumes and props which has been invaluable during the current rehearsals for “Sheherazade.”
How do you feel about the brand you have helped to build?
I was standing on some good shoulders. The DK brand had already been established as innovative and cutting edge. What I wanted to do was to make it consistently high quality. I also wanted to make it accessible. I did not want it to be elitist. I didn’t want people not to see it because of fears that they would not understand it. There is still that attitude, but I wanted people to walk in off the street and enjoy it automatically and get involved in it. When someone asks me what I want out of a dance performance, I always say, “I want to see a beautiful dancer, dancing beautifully to beautiful music.” That is what I want to see no matter what the show is, or the theme, no matter the dancers, or the choreographer. I always want to see some sort of beauty, and we were always successful in creating that aura of beauty. I think in today’s world to create that beauty is important because in the 32 years I have been here, the world has not gotten less beautiful. We as artists must create that beauty because if we do not, we are at a loss as a civilization without the inspiration and hope that art provides, as well as a place in the universe. Also, I am happy that I was able to start a family. So many of the DK dancers who came here stayed in Indy, either teaching or opening their own studios, and their students started teaching so we now have multiple generations of DK dancers here. In the years I have been here, I have worked with five generations.
Do you keep track of your former dancers?
I do keep track of them. Over the years there have been 60 to 70. They tell me that they learned so much here and are grateful they learned from me because, being a direct descendant of Martha Graham, I was among the last generation of dancers who worked with her. Some of my fellow dancers from the Graham diaspora are teaching in universities.
Do you ever ponder the fact that you are linked to an icon like Graham? What does it mean to you?
I was incredibly lucky to have had the chance to work with her and lucky to have had the chance to be her rehearsal director. She taught me so much. She taught me lessons in everything in aesthetics, taste, and life, making choices and how to handle people and how to manage a company. It is not easy being an organization head. Right now, we have 13 company dancers. There are always things trying to tear you down. It is very lonely at the top and nobody understands. When you must produce an artistic product and everybody is complaining to you about this and that and the other, it’s hard.
What has been your experience with DK board members over the years?
We have had some incredible board members over the years. People who were very dedicated to DK and who dedicated their time, talent, and treasure to improving the organization. I must mention Jan Virgin who was my Executive Director for 25 years and gave of herself selflessly and would spend 13 or 14 hours in the office every day working for DK. And of course, Laura Glover, who was with me from the start and who contributed so much to the artistic product. She really has been so devoted to DK. She is brilliant.
When I interviewed you that first time, you called Indy a “cute little town” and I wondered if I should keep that quote in the story. I knew some would be offended. What is your impression of Indy now?
It is still a cute little town. (laughs) It is getting bigger. It has grown a lot. There is a lot of construction going on. People are moving from the suburbs to downtown. The arts have certainly grown, and there is a lot more variety. There are lots of dance companies here now as well.
Has Indy become more sophisticated?
No. In fact, it has become less sophisticated. There are millennials who populate downtown, and they are only interested in drinking and going to Mass Ave to have an enjoyable time. They are not interested in the arts which are dying.
That’s not a very positive outlook.
No, it is not, but it is one that needs to be dealt with by all arts organizations. We must find a way to attract those millennials who are out partying on Mass Ave and get them into the theatre, and how we do that I have no idea. We have so much to compete with such as Tik Tok and Instagram and streaming television and movies.
Tell me about the personal relationships you have formed during your time in Indy.
There have been many wonderful personal relationships. You are one of them. There is Doug Dilling, who I met through you. He was my first managing director and at one time the president of the board. Of course, there also are Bob and Virgil Chan, two fabulous people.
Why did you decide to live here for as long as you have? Many were surprised you have.
Because all my friends are here, and my friends are my family. My community is here. I love where I live. I lived in New York for 16 years but do not want to go back there. I do not want to retire to Florida (laughs). Indianapolis is an easy place to navigate, and the fact that I can drive to my grocery store in five minutes, and I know everybody there and everyone is friendly, and I never have to line up. I left New York because I did not want to work just to survive.
What does the future hold for you? What are your plans moving forward?
I am looking forward to my next adventure. I look forward to freelancing. I hope I will be asked to do projects. I hope to devote more time to fundraising for organizations such as Spotlight. I also hope to devote more time to personal relationships, my garden, traveling, and seeing family.
Do you anticipate grieving once you retire?
My dancers are my “artistic children.” I will miss interacting with them on a daily basis.
What is your parting message to Indy?
Support the arts, because they teach us how to live our lives in a beautiful and fulfilled way. They are the key to humanity. That is how we know that we have evolved. When we look at the Sistine Chapel and see what Michelangelo created, that is how we know we are intelligent beings.
What are your parting words for your DK family of dancers, staff, board, volunteers, and fans?
Thank you for making the entire experience so joyful and fulfilling for me.
For tickets and information about the annual Dance Kaleidoscope Gala, honoring David Hochoy, on June 9 from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Biltwell Event Center, visit dancekal.org.