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Ravel’s magnum opus staged by performing arts dream team

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There is a reason why Maurice Ravel’s full “Daphnis et Chloé” ballet is rarely produced. In fact, the last time it was seen locally was when the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, led then by conductor Izler Solomon, in collaboration with Butler Ballet and Chorus, presented it at Clowes Memorial Hall in May, 1968. Fast forward to Friday, when the ISO, this time teaming up with Dance Kaleidoscope and the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, presented Ravel’s masterpiece, once again at Clowes, another member of the partnership. Large and outfitted enough to accommodate the production, which included 95 ISO musicians, 102 ISC singers and the 14-member DK company, Clowes proved to be the ideal venue for a presentation of this scale and magnitude.

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“Daphnis et Chloé” also represented the singular collaboration of ISO conductor Krzysztof Urbański, DK artistic director David Hochoy and ISC artistic director Eric Stark, three of Indianapolis’ artistic giants, whose combined talents created what can only be described as a triumphant spectacle. It was made possible through a lead grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

Ravel set the story “Daphnis et Chloé,” written by Greek author Longus, about the romance between a Daphnis, a shepherd, and his love Chloé, to a ballet. He was commissioned by Ballets Russes founder and impresario Sergei Diaghilev in 1909. Described by Ravel as a “symphonic choreography” with full chorus, the 50 minute work premiered at Théâtre du Châtelet Paris in 1912.

At the onset of the three part ballet—portending that something very special was about to happen –detail from impressionistic paintings by Vincent Van Gogh were projected onto a massive screen. Displaying riots of color, they were dissolved one over another as the orchestra began playing Ravel’s, impressionistic, grandly lush and passionate score, vibrantly interpreted by Maestro Urbański, who masterfully oversaw both the orchestra, singers and the dancers.

Tall, handsome and athletic, Brandon Comer was an ideal romantic lead, dancing the role of Daphnis with the always charismatic Jillian Godwin, ideally cast as loving but feisty Chloé. Together, they were convincing as lovers and individually they showed dramatic strength as characters resisting those seeking to thwart their happiness. Their partnering as they danced Hochoy’s lyrical movement was impeccable.

Timothy June (who also played Chloé’s unwanted, ineffectual suitor, Dorcon), in one of his finest roles and performances to date, played the virile Pirate leader who abducts Chloé and takes her to his camp. It’s there where she is tied up and exhorted by the Pirate leader and his villainous cohorts to submit to him. Hochoy’s choreography of a boisterous dance engaged in by the Pirates in this, the second part of the ballet, was among the most captivating and thrilling of his entire repertoire, much of which has been seen by this writer.

Standing out was dynamic Noah Trulock in his robust performance as half goat, half man Pan, the God of nature, also associated with sexuality, who supports the love between Daphnis and Chloé and intervenes on their behalf when their relationship is threatened.

Noteworthy as well were the performances of Liberty Harris, Mariel Greenlee and Caitlin Negron as the Nymphs, and Emily Dyson who danced the role of Lyceion, who attempts to seduce Daphnis.

Offering a satisfying prelude to the main event was the ISC, led by Eric Stark, which sang Jean-Phillippe Rameau’s evocative “Hymne à la nuit.” Later in the Ravel piece, the ISC employed their exquisite blend to provide Ravel’s work with the ethereal voices that orchestrally depicted the its pastoral setting.

Also featured in the first part of the program were ISO concert master and violinist extraordinaire Zach DePue and pianist Sylvia Scott who performed the haunting “Gymnopédies,” by Erik Satie. With DePue and Scott positioned downstage, on the far left of the house and accompanying them, members of the company danced to Satie’s three pieces; Part I featured an especially moving duet with Mariel Greenlee and Timothy June.

Contributing to the artistic excellence of the entire program were the creations of costume designers Barry Doss, Michelle Hankins, Lydia Tanji and Cheryl Sparks as well as Laura Glover’s exceptional lighting. Adding immeasurably to the heightened aesthetics of the production were Jeff Gooch’s hugely effective projections.

Considering the resources and talent that it takes to stage “Daphnis et Chloé,” it’s unlikely that it will be repeated any time soon in the Indianapolis area, so those fortunate enough to be present may well look back at it as a once in a lifetime experience. But even if one were lucky enough to see it again, it will never be exactly like this particular production created by this particular group of artists. It was that rarified.

For information about the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra visit www.indianapolissymphony.org, for Dance Kaleidoscope visit www.dancekal.org, for Indianapolis Symphonic Choir visit www.indychoir.org and for Clowes Memorial Hall visit www.cloweshall.org.

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