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Daphnis et Chloe at Clowes Hall 

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click to enlarge Jillian Godwin dances with pirates during Act Two of Daphnis et Chloe at Clowes Hall.
  • Jillian Godwin dances with pirates during Act Two of Daphnis et Chloe at Clowes Hall.

In the absence of visuals, Friday's Clowes Hall event could have been a concert. The music on the program has often been performed on its own.

But it was more than that. Enough more that it was disappointing that the hall was hardly more than one-quarter filled, especially with all those posted ads and other pre-event hype, including Rita Kohn's most excellent preview piece on this site.

We all knew about the forces involved in last weekend's performance of Daphnis et Chloe: Dance Kaleidoscope, choreographed by David Hochoy; the ISO, conducted by Krzysztof Urbański; and the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, directed by Eric Stark. But what some may not have realized was that two works preceded Ravel's ballet, making for a full, two-hour program.

In any case, those who might have come but didn't missed a first-class music-dance event -- a rarity in these environs. (The last big ISO/DK combo was in 2008 when they presented a choreographed Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade.) Maurice Ravel's only ballet (discounting his infamous, later-written, 15-minute, seldom choreographed Bolero) was commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes, written from 1909 to 1912 and cast into three tableaus. Its popularity as a symphonic work, rearranged into two suites, exceeds the ballet version (costs being as much a driver as anything).

We started by seeing the choir seated on risers upstage, then a series of curtains slowly dropping to conceal backstage apparatus. After a nearly ten-minute wait (why?), Urbański appeared in the pit, and a front translucent curtain dropped, onto which was projected a moving landscape diorama, as the music started and the dancers appeared. This was repeated in starting the succeeding two tableaus. The dominant dancers were Brandon Comer as Daphnis, a tall, muscular figure; Jillian Godwin as Chloe, diminutive, white-haired and white appareled; and Noah Trulock as Pan, wearing a "goat-skinned" skirt.

In the third tableau, which, by the way, begins the most popular second orchestral suite, our lovers have the stage to themselves. Chloe, now wearing a form fitting white body suit and bare-chested Daphnis, wearing white leotards, begin a series of hand holdings, separations and body clinches of every possible shape and angle: It was G-rated sex, accompanied by some of the most sensuous music ever written. The choir continues its wordless chanting as it had throughout the previous tableaus, ebbing and flowing in concert with our lovers' coupling. The ensuing and final "General Dance" contains Ravel's only fast pacing and brings the entire ballet corps on stage. (The music is especially distinctive for its "quintuple meter"--five beats to a measure.)

The program began with a short piece for choir only: Hymne à la nuit from a 1733 opera by Jean-Philippe Rameau as harmonized by late-Romantic composer Joseph Noyon. It was followed by Eric Satie's (1866-1925) three Gymnopédies as choreographed for ten dancers by Hochoy and played by violin-piano duo Zach de Pue and Silvia Scott. As mistakenly indicated in the program booklet, the ISO did not perform.

All parties to bringing about this extravaganza are to be commended for superlative execution throughout the two-hour program: Hochoy's 14 dancers, Urbański's player complement and Stark's full-sized choir. Next time let's try to fill the house . . . June 13-14; Clowes Memorial Hall

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