Symphony, Choir and Dance Kaleidoscope combine forces for epic journey
By Jay Harvey
Two teenage boys, unacquainted and each coming late to his respective specialty on different continents, got smitten with recordings of the second suite from “Daphnis et Chloe” by Maurice Ravel. That’s the setting by which the century-old score the French master wrote for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes has become best-known.
Now, as well-placed Indianapolis area arts professionals, Krzysztof Urbanski and David Hochoy are collaborating on a new production of the full ballet involving both the organizations they direct — the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Dance Kaleidoscope — and the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir (prepared by its director, Eric Stark).
Just short of an hour in performance, “Daphnis et Chloe” is the longest work by one of the most popular 20th-century composers. All of Ravel’s 75 pieces are in the repertoire, with the mesmerizing orchestra showcase “Bolero,” which is probably the most well-known.
The complete “Daphnis et Chloe” takes major resources and skill to put on. The orchestra score is complex and the variety of danced expression that needs to come through is immense, from solemnly religious to orgiastic. In its original form, it’s been a rarity in performance since its Paris premiere in 1912. It’s apparently been done only once before in Indianapolis, with the ISO and the Butler Ballet under the direction of Izler Solomon in 1962. This month’s performances will involve an orchestra of 92, a dance company of 14 and a choir of 80 to 100.
How did this major undertaking come about?
“About a year-and-a-half ago, Krzysztof and I were looking for a work to collaborate on with (Dance Kaleidoscope),” said ISO artistic administrator Zack French. “He mentioned ‘Daphnis et Chloe,’ and I said, ‘I think we can do it.’”
With no stage director and Urbanski’s schedule calling for him to be out of town frequently, French became the unofficial producer and conduit between the artistic directors, he said.
Ravel’s music holds a special place in the ISO staffer’s heart. He recalls listening over and over again to “Bolero” as a high-school student to soothe the pain of recovery from wisdom-tooth surgery. His interest in “Daphnis et Chloe” in particular became strong enough that he wrote his master’s thesis on the work at the University of Connecticut.
The suite that so enchanted Hochoy and Urbanski in cassette and vinyl formats makes up just the third and final scene of the ballet. “Daphnis et Chloe” retells the third-century Greek story of the love of the two title characters, the threats they encounter from rivals and invading pirates, and their rescue and blessing by the god Pan. It ends with a whirlwind celebration, visually represented in this production as a contemporary bacchanal, or wild party.
Urbanski has an explicit score to follow, with thousands of details to render in order to follow his practice of honoring the composer’s intentions as fully as he can. Hochoy’s task was different. He knows what previous choreographers have done, but feels responsible for displaying his creative response to “Daphnis et Chloe,” inspired more by what the music says to him than by the work’s scenario.
For example: The shepherd Daphnis’s rival for Chloe’s affections, the oxherd Dorcon, is represented as somewhat oafish in the scenario. His solo dance draws laughter from the community that you can hear the orchestra imitate.
Hochoy had a different idea: “I didn’t want to make him awkward, but much more assured. I wanted the choice (between the two men) to be difficult for Chloe. In a strange way, she’s torn up choosing between the two boys.”
And, for practical and artistic reasons, the roles of Dorcon and the pirate leader are taken by the same dancer.
“What better way is there to show the community what we have here than by collaboration?” said French, anticipating growing public interest in the two performances. “Our organizational team is working with Clowes, and putting it all together is an extremely joint effort. Lots of people will come and hear it — not just for what Ravel has to offer but for seeing the culmination of three arts organizations working together.”
“Daphnis et Chloe” ● a ballet with music by Maurice Ravel and new choreography by David Hochoy ● performed by Dance Kaleidoscope, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphonic Choir and conducted by Krzysztof Urbanski ● 8 p.m. June 13 and 14 ● Clowes Hall on the campus of Butler University in Indianapolis ● Tickets start at $40 ● For more information call (800) 982-2787.