"Between Heaven and Earth

Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre

Pike Performing Arts Center

June 15-16

Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre restaged three works and premiered a new work for a visually colorful and cerebrally challenging program, Between Heaven and Earth, at Pike Performing Arts Center, June 15-16.

“1941,” originally created by Hancock in Riga, Latvia, where its world premiere occurred in 1996, was the most cohesive and aesthetically satisfying work. Sarah Collister’s grief welled up from within, manifesting itself into movement replacing words. Ryan Koharchick’s signature subtle lighting is particularly poignant here, working in unity with Hancock’s spare choreography set to music by John Williams. Fresh from visiting the Rumbula Forest site of the massacre of all the residents of Riga’s Jewish ghetto, Collister’s interpretation of a black-draped mother-figure rising from the still smoldering stench left one breathless, as does a first view of Munch’s soundless “Scream.” There is no way to comprehend such inhumanity, yet Collister’s sense of loss shows we must remember we are indeed capable of unspeakable acts.

The tautness of the time between emergence from and return to the blackened earth shows what Hancock is truly capable of doing as a choreographer, drawing from a deep spiritual well. What the audience needed, however, was a longer lapse between “1941” and the next piece, so as to internalize the horror and make peace with it.

The fusion of story, emotion, movement and brevity that makes “1941” memorable has not yet surfaced in the main body of Hancock’s work. He has a tendency to go on too long after the point is made. This was especially evident in “Joan of Arc,” a 1997 work that seemed to end, only to restart three times. It never seemed clear which of the phases of Joan’s life was the main point and how she did or did not reconcile her diverse identities.

This lack of true focus on a succinct narrative line is also part of the detraction in “Between Heaven and Earth” and “Every Breath Is a Prayer” (both 2000 premieres) and the new work, “The Wedding.” Each piece can be tightened to good advantage. Hancock has shown he is capable of doing exactly that, as he has with his glyph on Alice in Wonderland. Lack of inner spark equally diffused the effect of all but “1941.” (We expect, however, to witness the emotional energy of the company in the upcoming The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This will be the final appearance by nine-year company veteran Christine Colquitt.)

Bride and groom in “The Wedding” fail to communicate infatuation, love, lust, desire, whatever it is that one wants to pinpoint as the reason for marriage. Though richly costumed in the Roma traditions, there was no trace of the “hotness” one expects from this culture.

Exactly how did the sisters in “Between Heaven and Earth” change? Why should we care about them? “Every Breath Is a Prayer” is supposed to show “prayers for peace” being set free to fly across the sky, yet the sense of meaning of “peace” remained unanswered — inner peace, peace between nations, factions, families?

Hancock’s signature architecturally repetitive movement style is sometimes at odds with his flowing, rippling costume concepts. The latter are always intriguing, while the former tends to become boring. The element of surprise is what we look for in all facets of a dance.

A corps of unnamed apprentices from the company’s training wing augmented the professional company of six.

Log on to www.gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org for information on the company.