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Hansel & Gretel interpreted through visual art, opera

November 17, 2008
Perhaps it's because Disney never got its hands on it. Or maybe it's our combination of fascination and aversion with the children-threatening nature of the story. But whatever the reason, the tale of Hansel and Gretel has an interesting, amorphous place in our cultural consciousness.

That very elusiveness makes it ripe for the multi-part program that the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, and the Indianapolis Opera have put together under the banner "Hansel & Gretel: Lost in the Arts."

The main event, IO's production of Engelbert Humperdinck's opera, takes the stage at Clowes Hall Nov. 21. The IMOCA and IMCPL portions are up and running through Jan. 10 and well worth visiting — whether or not you have children in tow.

At IMOCA's "Hansel & Gretel: Never Eat a House," works originally collected for an exhibition at the Metropolitan Opera's gallery provide a wide range of reactions to the central tale of a brother and sister abandoned by their parents who find a deceptively appealing candy house. Fans of   cartoons, will recognize many of the artists, including Roz Chast, whose multi-panel piece could cause backup in the gallery, and Ed Koren with his nervous India ink squiggles.

William Wegman familiarly dresses his sad sack Weimaraner dogs in H&G garb. Joyfully twisted Gahan Wilson offers a peek at our heroes as octogenarians and Christopher Niemann takes the pudgy kids to a very different sort of edible house. And if you draw a comparison between Lou Romano's vision of the story and the animation of recent Pixar films, you are on target. Romano was Production Designer on, yes, "The Incredibles." Amusing as they are, a few pieces, such as Ian Falconer's runway witch, seem not quite on theme.

A few blocks away, at the Central Library, local artists react to the same central material. With the flat work sloppily hung on moving panels in the atrium and the 3-D pieces hidden away in a "who-realized-that-was-there?" gallery near the south entrance, it takes some effort to see all of the work. But those efforts are rewarded.

Again, some work seems tenuously connected to the story — including Kyle Ragsdale's haunting caged woman and the yin and yang of Lori Miles' tree and house in her "Borrowed Horizon." Other artists embrace the story's specifics. Emma Overman — you've seen her work on Indy Fringe posters — brings a sad sense of peace to the children sleeping in the woods in her "Dawn." Molly White accentuates the vulnerability of the kids in her cut-paper "The Candy's Not Worth It." And Dorothy Alig's perhaps undersized "Deep Thicket a.m." and "Deep Thicket p.m." give us the perspective of the lost children before stumbling onto the candy house (the house itself, from the Indianapolis Opera production, was on display at the library through Nov. 14).

Combined, the two art shows not only whet my appetite for the opera, they also made a convincing case for what IMOCA can do by using the combined forces of its small home base and other locations around the city, and by pulling together the work of out-of-town bigwigs and local artists.
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