Photograph courtesy of Moonbug Photography

As audience members, in the moment of receiving virtual delivery from The Toby Theatre at Newfields, we lift ourselves from malaise into grasping real possibilities.

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The program opens with dancers, clothed in black, literally peeling off from the opening articulation of Bach’s Ciaconna, the last movement of his second partita [a suite], written around 1720, afte0r his wife died. Bach wrote these three dancerly pieces to be listened to — not to be danced to. Well, don’t tell that to choreographer Victoria Lyras, or the 21-member Indianapolis Ballet company as they defy defeatism in the time of COVID-19. 

Forward from the opening plaintive four-bar phrase into Bach’s explosive score, we are swept into an affirmation of life — moving forward as the way to honor those who died. This premiere work rightfully will earn cognizance as a spark of light leading out of this dark time. 

The choreography, taking its lead from the music, is Lyras’ glyphing off a French form of theatrical dance. The dancers spill onto The Toby stage as metaphors of emotions. The music’s cascading upwardness honors our own capabilities to grow despite trauma.  In split-second reconfiguring dancers are in and out of tight situations — every sports player [and aficionado] will feel at home. When you’re thrown a curve, punt.

Throughout the 90-minute program, the masks are on, the spacing is smart.  

Another premiere work, “Dixon’s Groove”, music by Rob Dixon, choreography by Ramón Flowers, flows us into a tentative testing of space as safe — or not. 

Flowers notes his “exploration of the dancer’s body as an instrument —  one that, due to the pandemic, hasn’t been “tuned” in a while.”  Choreography unfolds as an awakening, a stretching into three compositions from Dixon’s 2018 album “Coast to Crossroads”. 

A combo of six dancers is feeling its way into the music “not simply as beats to be counted, but as moods to be expressed,” offers Flowers, whose connection with Lyras goes back four decades with intersections to George Balanchine, whose one-liner: “See the music, hear the dance” is liberally borrowed throughout the dance world, and takes on full meaning here.  

Yoshiko Kamikusa and Chris Linger take the lead in program Program One along with Rowan Allegra, and Buse Babadag.  

Alexandra Hughes and Aaron Anker lead in Programs One and Three along with Camila Ferrer and Sierra Levin. 

Felipe Aragao and Joel Morin-Kensicki back all three programs.  There’s definitely shape shifting happening as bodies bond as a sextet of players. 

And something else is connecting as I’m seeing and hearing. Lyras has clothed the dancers in shades of blue and black, definitely alluding to blues and jazz…but memories of Star Trek triggered a  harder look — let me know your thoughts … or is it just me channeling the Perseverance rover touching down on Mars on Ash Wednesday 2021?  Are we not in the moment of events around us outside the theater when we are inside the theater?

Flowers, currently a member of Butler University’s Jordan College of Arts ballet faculty, has international credits as a dancer and choreographer. Find his far-encompassing biography here

To hear Dixon and Flowers riff on working together.

With Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso, BI founding artistic director Victoria Lyras continues her annual nod to the composer, beyond his iconic ballets. This premier choreographic work further advances Lyras’ exploration of Miroirs. This section from Ravel’s 1905 five-movement suite for solo piano gives shape to personal longing for a space, a place, we’ve heard about but have not been allowed to access — we are constrained. 

Suddenly, as this piece touched me, I realized, “Children growing up in this space, this place of pandemic, hear others reminisce about having gone to, been at, grown up in…”  

“Alborada del gracioso” commonly translates to Dawn Song of the Jester. It’s a work just about every symphony puts on its bill, showcasing Ravel’s 1919 orchestral version of the original piano solo. In either form, the music is the epitome of virtuosity.

No less is asked of the dancers. Jessica Miller, Shea Johnson, Mary Ann Schaefer, with Abigail Bixler, Anna Davis, Dagny Hanrahan, Jacqueline Hodek, Mackenzie Kirk and Kate Mills, in all three programs, give dimension to yearning.

Among them, we witness seamless handing off of isolation, darts into tight sectional intertwinings, interspersed with “see me” solos; nimbleness at its finest flowing from an initial feel of anxiety into a frenetic burst of energy in one long breath. This day, any day. has promise if we are open to grasping the possibilities. The ladies, costumed in easy-going sparkling swag, are a counterpoint to the heavily-burdened jacket into which the Jester is encased. 

There’s much to chew on Ravel’s thoughts at the brink of daylight —  and what about the song requires attention? You have to lean in to catch the nuances of this mini-drama.  

Familiarity with Igor Stravinsky’s 1910s, The Firebird ballet, gives no one license to put the lid down on the computer, or even get up for a drink of water. It’s not over. The Firebird echoes through centuries to illuminate now. Watch up, listen up.

What is freedom? How does it come about that one mortal can plunge other mortals into his/her mindset? What does it take for one mortal to defy the trend and set free a captured being and, thus empowered, set free an entire entity of beings?

Three different sets of lead dancers bring individuality to interpretation of inter-relationships. While Victoria Lyras’ choreography is the same — in each iteration a dancer’s approach to character development is personal. 

At the outset, how does The Firebird convey to us — as well as to Prince Ivan — her case to be set free? At the closing, why does The Firebird recapitulate for us the essence of freedom within constraints of nature and society?

Paul Vitali is the evil Kastchei in all three iterations. That’s telling, if one takes a moment to consider the cloak into which a dictator enfolds him/her/self. Is this the truism of ‘one size fits all’?

What compels Prince Ivan to wander into this space? How is he, and how are the circumstances changed? What’s in it for us — ensnared for evil, gathered for goodness? 

Is The Firebird a microcosm of possibility?

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