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LOU'S VIEWS: Dance Kaleidoscope explores undiscovered country (& western)

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Lou Harry

In his pre-show chat before an opening-weekend performance of “Kings & Queens of Country,” Dance Kaleidoscope Artistic Director David Hochoy said, without apology, that he didn’t know much about country music before deciding to theme a show around it.
 

ae-aleksa-lukasiewicz-noah-trulock-1col.jpg “Kings & Queens of Country” features choreography by Cynthia Pratt, above, and David Hochoy, below, setting dance to familiar tunes. (Photos courtesy of Crowe’s Eye Photography)

It’s understandable that, in a town with two top-rated country music stations, Hochoy would embrace an opportunity to expand his audience. Stepping into such a new world can be seen as either opportunistic (see Pat Boone doing heavy metal) or embracing a creative challenge (see Elvis Costello).

What matters are the results. And, apart from one key element, “Kings & Queens of Country” (March 6-16 at the Indiana Repertory Theatre) proved a successful experiment—an entertaining, populist evening with enough shining moments and good spirits to justify the effort.


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It started and ended with expected moves—a line dance to the Charlie Daniels Band’s “Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye” and a hoedown to Asleep at the Wheel’s “Big Balls in Cowtown.” In between, the high points included first-act choreographer Cynthia Pratt’s passionate, volatile take on “Jolene,” inspired by but not slavishly following the tormented lyrics of Dolly Parton’s popular song. In it, dancers Caitlin Negron and Emily Dyson dealt with the rough, Svengali-like Justin David Sears-Watson. “Jolene” stood in marked contrast to Hochoy’s playful “Stand By Your Man,” in which a male dancer formed the apex of a romantic triangle.

The evening’s high point, “If I Needed You” (music by Emmylou Harris and Don Williams), offered a melancholy look at a group friendship filled with trust falls and graceful contact. And while we’re not used to seeing DK dancers tap-tap-tapping, Liberty Harris and Jillian Godwin did just fine clicking away—and pleasing the crowd—to Tanya Tucker’s “Oh Lonesome Me.”

But it would have been easier to appreciate the skills of the dancers and the nuances of Hochoy’s episodic choreography in the second half if it weren’t for Guy Clark’s costumes, the most counterproductive I’ve seen on any Indiana stage since the ones DK dancers were saddled with in “The Planets” in 2007. Adorned in half-tutus, fringy wristbands, and bright, bright colors, some of Indy’s most talented dancers might have been mistaken for a backup group for The Wiggles.

Country music, at its best, has grit. There’s sincerity to it. And members of the troupe have been showing greater acting strength in recent years—mining the drama and the comedic potential of their dances with increased intensity. Dressing them, without apparent irony, as if they were in an “Oklahoma!” overrun with Dream Curleys, works against that.

They deserved better.•

__________

This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming arts and entertainment events to lharry@ibj.com.

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  • Excellent fun!
    I admit that I was a bit skeptical. I'm not a huge country fan. We went on Thursday night and my group found the performance surprisingly entertaining! Modern dance to country music was executed with an exciting energy that the audience absolutely loved. The song choices and choreography were spot on. Hats off to David and all the dancers.
  • costumes
    By selectively editing my comments so that they don't include the fact that I am referencing the impact of the costumes, you--like the costumes IMO--do a disservice to the dancers.
  • negativity
    Drawing an analogy of DK to a "backup group for The Wiggles" and "Dressing them, without apparent irony, as if they were in an “Oklahoma!” overrun with Dream Curleys" does not sound positive. I don't think I stand alone in viewing your review as seemingly negative nor am I trying to turn it into one. Respectfully, David
    • negativity
      David: "a successful experiment—an entertaining, populist evening with enough shining moments and good spirits to justify the effort." As a DK board member, do you really see this as a "seemingly negative review"? You seem to be committed to turning it into one, when it isn't. Respectfully, Lou
      • definitions
        As you stated: 'What matters are the results'. The result of your backhanded compliments is a seemingly negative review that completely dismisses the art and in this case, the acting, that you had the opportunity to see. I deserve better - David
        • caustic, etc.
          David, Then you and I have very different definitions of "caustic" and "dismiss." Respectfully, Lou
          • I know how to read
            Lou - I didn't misread anything. This performance featured a lot more acting than several other shows, and in fact, stood out to many of us as a focal point (of course, second to the dancing). To merely say, "And members of the troupe have been showing greater acting strength in recent years", in my opinion, caustically dismisses the acting that took place.
            • "caustically dismiss"?
              David, Thanks for reading, responding, and supporting the company. But you seem to be misreading much of what I wrote. Where did I "caustically dismiss" the acting by the dancers? Most of your note is based on that misreading. In fact, in the piece, I noted the marked improvement over the past few years. It is one of the many pleasures of seeing DK perform. Be well, Lou
            • Are You Kidding?
              Hochoy & DK dancers left their comfort zone to provide us with different music and choreography/and the costumes fit the spirit of the dance. We loved the tap routine. David continues to challenge his dancers and we all benefit from seeing first class dance in Indiana. Bravo's to DK.
            • In response to costume choice
              The backhanded compliments undermine your column's credibility. Your readers deserve better than that. For example, you ostensibly acknowledge talent, but then insult the dancers and the artistic director with: "Adorned in half-tutus, fringy wristbands, and bright, bright colors, some of Indy’s most talented dancers might have been mistaken for a backup group for The Wiggles." That statement, followed up with the statement below displays some attempt at wit, but lacking in real critique: "Dressing them, without apparent irony, as if they were in an “Oklahoma!” overrun with Dream Curleys, works against that" In the end, you clearly do not understand or realize the amount of effort that goes into putting on a show like this (or any show for that matter). Your column, while popular, could be written by anyone with any modicum of writing ability, however, that is not the case with a dance production. Help me understand how the acting that you also caustically dismiss could have been better. Have you ever danced and acted at the same time? Your "critique" seemed more like a bad case of a monday morning quarterback. In my opinion, Emily Dyson, Caitlin Negron, and Justin David Sears-Watson displayed tremendous stage presence and acting abilities in Jolene. Moreover, Justin was more than "Svengali-like". Your readers deserve better critique than that. Beyond that, with "Stand by your man", help me understand how Tim, Justin, and Emily's acting was somehow sub-par? Was it the acting, or the theme that you found issue with? Moreover, you seemed to completely forget about Caitlin Negron and Mariel Greenlee's duet as well. To insinuate that the performance lacked sincerity and grit really wreaks of disrespect, and you should know better. There's a time and place for actual critique and a method for doing so. Backhanded compliments (or "negs" as coined by author Neil Strauss) really don't sit well with me in this instance. As a reader, i deserved better.
              • Always the costumes
                The costumes for DK are always their downfall. They are too often outlandish and dated. It's a shame that these talented dancers have to overcome (sometimes to no avail) someone elses poor taste. I often find it hard to take this company seriously strictly based on the costuming choices.

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