Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre
Pike Performing Arts Center
IU Jacobs School of Music Opera Theater
Musical Arts Center
Dreams and journeys by venturesome girls form the framework of two disparate productions with a similar theme of discovery of self. Each is based on a literary work reflecting an earlier set of mores and expectations and each is imprinted with its creator’s intentions to stretch the art form.
GHDT’s Alice, based on the 1865 Lewis Carroll novel, is constructed to be a full-length contemporary modern dance ballet with spoken dialogue and an eclectic mixture of music (Nicholas Lens, Tom Waits, Richard Rodgers, Gaetano Donizetti and Jacques Offenbach).
“More a series of events than a story, we have created a dream or nightmare-like setting for Alice and a colorful array of characters,” writes Hancock, concluding his notes with this: “Alice discovers she no longer knows who she is and that she must embark on a journey to rediscover herself.”
Herein lies the flaw in this work because the intent does not materialize. Chasing after the Rabbit, Alice plunges downward, where events spin out of each other in a whirl (abetted by imaginative lighting, costumes and a succession of anthropomorphic, eye-pleasing, smile-invoking moves. But Alice, charmingly portrayed by Heather King, in no way relayed to me that at the end she was on a journey to rediscover her self. Two hours later she just reappears in the same pool of light designating a Victorian English garden.
Perhaps, if I could have understood the spoken dialogue or if Alice’s solo dances had made a clearer point, I might have gleaned some indication of Alice’s growth. As presented, GHDT’s Alice is a work-in-progress requiring focus. Hancock needs to decide whether his is a retelling that keeps Carroll’s intentions of giving pleasure or a didactic dance to teach a lesson.
Massent’s Manon, on the other hand, through his gentle melody and his innovation of spoken dialogue set against an expressive orchestral background succeeds with showing the main character’s emotional arc from pastoral innocence to hardened materialism. He creates dramatic tension between his teenage main character’s desire to follow the glitz and glamour of high society and her family’s Puritan ideology.
IU’s production benefits from crisp stage direction by Michael Ehrman (remember his dynamic Crucible at Indianapolis Opera). Manon, beautifully sung and acted by soprano Betsy Uschkrat, allows the audience to experience the transformation. Even though this is the one weak staging area, we believe her final realization that she wasted her life on pointless pursuits and caused the downfall of the only truly decent man in her life.