World travel is a dream for most. Sometimes it manifests itself in the open form of an eager college junior preparing for a semester studying abroad. Often it exists as a series of more casual "wouldn't it be nice" side thoughts harbored by those of us holding down day jobs, raising our children and paying our mortgages.
Gregory Hancock candidly admits belonging to a third group: working professionals fortunate enough to incorporate world travel in their job description. This month the Gregory Hancock Dance Theater will draw from the titular founder's world experiences when it presents Passport as part of its annual "up close and personal" three-week February engagement.
The program begins by transporting us to the Asian subcontinent, specifically Turkey and India. As the program continues we circumnavigate the globe making European stops in Italy, Romania, and Ireland; hitting the Far East Tibetan mountains; traveling to Australia; crossing the Pacific to Mexico; and concluding here at home in New Orleans.
"We selected the title Passport so we could highlight excerpts from the company's repertoire of ethnic inspired pieces," says Hancock. Assuming all the primary leadership roles for the event (direction, choreography, and costume design) Hancock offers a fluid mixture of styles.
"As with all my choreography, my movement is a fusion of classical, contemporary and ethnic/folk inspired movement," says Hancock. "There are 15 excerpts from larger pieces presented in Passport, all of which are extremely varied in music and movement. It provides audiences with an eclectic mix of movement styles while showcasing music from across the world.
"Passport features 'excerpts' from larger pieces," Hancock adds, "so the audience is able to experience a wide variety of music and dance."
Highlighting the efforts of seven dancers from the GHDT, along with occasional contributions from "G2," the academy's ensemble of student-dancers, when Hancock compares this year's installment to his past creations, he speaks proudly of the need to stay relevant. "It is interesting to look back on older pieces to see how I have evolved," he says. "I have continually tried to create dance that would remain current and pertinent in the future. I tend to not go with trendy, but more universal and global themes that will always remain. As an artist, I desire to continually evolve and change — exploring new ideas and music."
When asked to share which pieces appeal to him personally, Hancock hints to his answer — suggesting a preference for the Egyptian victory dance celebrating Khepri, the ancient god of rebirth, as well as the Lagaan, "an Indian-inspired piece."
"But, then I start thinking about all the other excerpts," says Hancock. "and I like them all for different reasons."
Since founding the GHDT in the late 1990s he has amassed a body of work which includ over one hundred productions — ranging from a portrayal of the story of Jesus, titled Superhero to variations on recognizable tales such The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Romeo and Juliet. Besides building on this catalogue and offering regular dance patrons variations of his artistic style, Hancock also sees Passport as an opportunity to introduce dance to novice viewers.
"For the most part the U.S. does not have a national dance form," says Hancock. "Most countries have dance as an integral part of society, both culturally and spiritually. In the U.S. most people, as children, were in a school play, played a musical instrument, sang, created visual art, etc., but not as many danced. Therefore, dance has remained a bit elusive for many audience members. Sometimes people's only experience with dance has been a long, tedious dance recital with very young children. [Consequently], many people fear dance as they think they will not understand it.
The source material for Hancock's previous shows, while powerful, are based on well known motifs, themes and narrative. Passport's greatest asset is its mystery and position to showcase an array of cultures. For Hancock that means a point of access to dance that some might not otherwise encounter.
"Passport is an excellent opportunity to experience dance at a new level," says Hancock. "This program is very entertaining and diverse. This program was designed to be entertaining and to introduce audience members to exciting world music. There are a couple more serious pieces, but many lively, entertaining and even comic excerpts."