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Daphnis and Chloe: Once in a generation


Jillian Godwin as Chloe is kidnapped by pirates during a June 6 dress rehearsal of Daphnis et Chloe.
  • Jillian Godwin as Chloe is kidnapped by pirates during a June 6 dress rehearsal of Daphnis et Chloe.

"It's amazing we can do it," enthuses Dance Kaleidoscope's David Hochoy.

"It" is the June 13 and 14 world premiere of a new production of Maurice Ravel and Michel Fokine's masterful ballet Daphnis et Chloe, staged by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, Dance Kaleidoscope and Clowes Memorial Hall.

Described by Ravel as a "symphonie choréographique" (choreographic symphony) Daphnis et Chloe is abundant with trials, tribulations and temptations. The storyline includes kidnapping by pirates, attempted seductions and interventions by the god Pan and a trio of nymphs with a raucous happy ending.

It's generally described as a "tour de force" and "a beast of a challenge," which is why full productions worldwide have been sparse since the June 8, 1912 debut in Paris by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.

That we're now about to witness the love story, written in the 2nd century AD by the Greek writer Longus, has to do with a convergence of personalities and events that could well have been orchestrated by the gods.

Krzysztof Urbanski, ISO's music director, happened upon Daphnis et Chloe by accident while in high school, when he found it on the flip side of a Bolero cassette. Hochoy first heard Ravel's music during his college years. And Zack French, ISO's director of artistic planning, devoted his master's thesis to a study of Ravel's motifs and choice of instruments to create fully developed and dimensional characters.

"Ravel's combination of harmony and melody to express narrative and characterization is extraordinary," French says. "Everything about this ballet is representing one form or level of love. The audience journey leads to uncovering the mystery within ourselves."

French says the way Ravel portrays a full range of emotions and depicts landscapes and episodes is without peer: "Ravel thought deeply about every note. It is the sum of the small details impacting as a whole."

A huge part of the 'small details' is a wordless chorus. "But there is a story in the music, with very explicit stage instructions by Ravel in the score," says Eric Stark, artistic director of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir. "Ravel's musical language is pastoral, languid, quite exciting and dynamic. He's developing a sense of colors, bright and dark, and he's creating a palette for orchestral voice that's not a faithful reproduction of language. Sometimes colors are smeary, sometimes distinctive and quite contrasting. I'm not sure the audience will be aware of voices. They won't be able to distinguish between vocal and instrumental."

Fokine's balletic retelling of Longus' story unfolds in one act with three scenes, but don't expect Hochoy's choreography to follow Fokine to the letter; Ballet Russes had a company of 35 dancers.

"For a very small company of fourteen this is very audacious," asserts Hochoy, recognizing he has "to be very clever in terms of using dancers. I've listened to this music for a long time, and like Krzysztof I want to be a good servant to Ravel. I want it to be a visual treat with beautiful dancing."

Watching Hochoy's choreographic vision unfold during rehearsals, it's clear that Ravel's Impressionistic sensibilities for luscious moments of daybreak and the shimmering play of water and light have been retained, yet Hochoy digs even more deeply into what's going on emotionally with the very young and impressionable Chloe and Daphnis. Longus' narrative makes it clear they are 'inexperienced in the art of love,' and though they are drawn to each other, they're sensitive to those who disapprove of the relationship. It's a close look at what it means to be a teen-ager in any century.

"I want to bring the sexuality and the sex out," explains Hochoy. "The universe changes for Daphnis and Chloe as they mature into their love."

The ballet depicts both the awakening of consensual sexual love and the harsh experience of rape.

"In my version I introduce Pan with his traveling entourage early," he continues. "He initially puts Daphnis and Chloe together. Then Chloe has to choose between Daphnis and his rival, Dorcon, who becomes the pirate in my version as a way of asking: Is this actual or is Chloe imagining this? I want the audience to use their imagination."

Expect to be swept into the vastness and yet intimacy of Ravel's score, says Hochoy, adding, "I'm hoping the dancing will help the audience see music in a better way, with different concepts."


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