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When Splendid Dance Melds With Splendid Opera There’s Food for Thought

by Rita Kohn
November 18, 2018
Clowes Memorial Hall of Butler University
4602 Sunset Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46208
317-940-6444
Rita Kohn, member: Dance Critics Association, Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild
Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music Opera Theater brought their sparkling version of Engelbert Humperdinck’s magical Hansel and Gretel to Indianapolis, at Clowes Memorial Hall on November 16 and 17.

We all know it’s opera, but when little girls show up in their frothy versions of ballet outfits, and they float and twirl and pose around and about the lobby, we had best recognize dance is at the center. And indeed dance is seamlessly twinned into this sprightly production, conducted by Arthur Fagen, with stage direction by Michel Shell and choreography by Christian Claesens.

At the November 17 matinee, Bridget Ravenscraft as Gretel and Ashlyn Brown as Hansel were all encompassing with dancing and singing as intrinsic to their very being. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched the child a few seats from me intuitively following Gretel’s, “With your toes you tap, tap, tap; with your hands you clap, clap, clap” and her body language equally animated the turns and twirls. This is an audience member fully entranced because the production made singing and dancing seamless.

Dance and song carried Hansel and Gretel from curtain up to curtain down and, at the close of Act Two, it was their turn to be as entranced as we were in our seats as nightfall threads its way through the forest and the foliage around them rises up within the awesome interlude between dusk and nightfall. Six dancers, lithesome in leotards, are at one in the sublime music, rising and swaying, posing and reconfiguring and melting away in the shift of breeze. It’s a briefest of moments, something ethereal and precious that you want to absorb into your bones, cup into your hands, carry home to the quiet of your own bed.

Moving so beautifully on Nov. 17 were: Colin Canavan, Nicole Langway, Murray McCormack, Mairead Moore, Bradley Streetman and Alexandra Willson.

When I got home I was compelled to reach for George Martin’s The Opera Companion and re-read his Chapter X, “Ballet in Opera.” Even though Martin does not specify Hansel and Gretel, in his comments on how and when “Ballet can become even more than an integral part of an opera,” it is clear in his example of Gluck’s "Orfeo," that what I was experiencing indeed was “the opera’s action advan[cing] through the ballet.”

And though Martin asserts, at the close of his essay, that a patron in the seats does not want to be distracted with singing if one is watching ballet, or be distracted by dancing if one is hearing opera, when the parts are as intrinsic to the whole as they are in this Indiana University production, not to plunge in and come out victorious would have deprived us of a momentous experience.

Yes, I enjoyed the totality of the unfolding of this Grimm’s Brothers dark tale considerably "lightened" and yes, I applauded the character development, etc., yet what will be indelible is the synthesis of dance, music and song is a central theme that resonates as starkly now as it has over time - the ever-pressing need to stave off hunger all over the world.

For that shimmering moment in the darkness of a theater where we all were a community of caring, safely finding food seemed within reach.

When reality sets in, one’s attention is directed to a bold initiative on the Indiana University-Bloomington campus. “A Field, A Farm, and a Food-Sourcing Feat: The IU Campus Farm Wants to Change the Way the World Eats, One Student at a Time,” is described in IMAGINE magazine, Fall 2018. There’s no mention in the Hansel and Gretel playbill, but maybe someone will take note for the upcoming Nutcracker where food again drives the story. [Learn more at: imagine@indiana.edu or email James Farmer at: jafarmer@indiana.edu]

Up Next for the IU Jacobs School of Music Ballet Theater:
The Nutcracker
November 29, 30 & Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m.
December 1 and 2 at 2 p.m.
Musical Arts Center, Bloomington, IN
Tickets at operaballet.indiana.edu
Bridget Ravenscraft as Gretel and Ashlyn Brown as Hansel.

Bridget Ravenscraft as Gretel and Ashlyn Brown as Hansel.

Photo © & courtesy of IU Opera And Ballet Theater


Bridget Ravenscraft as Gretel and Ashlyn Brown as Hansel.

Bridget Ravenscraft as Gretel and Ashlyn Brown as Hansel.

Photo © & courtesy of IU Opera And Ballet Theater


Cast members.

Cast members.

Photo © & courtesy of IU Opera And Ballet Theater


Yangjunlong Li as Father and <br>LeOui Rendsburg as Mother.

Yangjunlong Li as Father and
LeOui Rendsburg as Mother.

Photo © & courtesy of IU Opera And Ballet Theater


Bridget Ravenscraft as Gretel.

Bridget Ravenscraft as Gretel.

Photo © & courtesy of IU Opera And Ballet Theater


Frances van Vuuren as the Sandman.

Frances van Vuuren as the Sandman.

Photo © & courtesy of IU Opera And Ballet Theater

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