Purdue Symphonic Band collaborates in 'Echoes of Indiana' ballet
Ballet and live music should always be at the top of the “you-can’t-have-one-without-the-other” list, but in small communities where resources and money are tight, it almost never happens. That makes “Echoes of Indiana,” a first ever collaboration between Lafayette Ballet Company and the Purdue Symphonic Band, a production for the record books.
On Saturday, April 12, an original four-section ballet choreographed by Sandra Peticolas, and inspired by themes from local history, takes the stage at Elliott Hall of Music with live music provided by the Purdue Symphonic Band under the direction of Jay Gephart.
The performance is set for 7:30 p.m. Tickets, ranging from $7 to $12 can be purchased at the Purdue box offices, 494-3933, and at the door
Opening in an era where Woodland Indians were the primary residents of central Indiana, the ballet’s sustaining theme is one of “responsibility for the earth that sustains us, and the gift of natural resources and how we have viewed that differently, philosophically speaking, in different eras,” Peticolas says.
Each of the four sections bears the native name for a different month of the year - such as Blood Moon for July and Green Corn Moon for August - and each is set in a different century. Narration, which will be signed for the hearing impaired, guides the audience through the piece.
Peticolas’ Lafayette Ballet Company is mainly known for its annual presentation of “The Nutcracker,” but in “Echoes” there are no fairies and no sugar coating.
“There’s new physical movements and rhythms for the dancers, and the opportunity to do some completely different things,” Peticolas says. “It’s a powerful piece and they’re feeling it. It’s a wonderful chance not to be a puffball, and, however it may be interpreted by the audience, the dancers are making a statement.”
Through dance, Peticolas offers depictions of Indiana as the Indians knew it and the changes that happened as the pioneers moved in and settlements were created. Moods range from joyful harvest dances to moments dominated by dissonance suggesting the clash of cultures. In the final section, ghosts from past eras enter and hold dancers representing the 21st century responsible for the state of the world and the environment.
The music that partners with the dance comes from eclectic sources, ranging from themes from the movie Spartacus to religious tunes like William Schuman’s “When Jesus Wept.” The project began with Symphonic Band Director Jay Gephart handing Peticolas a variety of CDs to listen to. “My ideas always come from the music. He gave me a stack of 20 CDs. Spartacus was the trigger. That combination of strong tympani and flute just triggered something in me,” she says.
“Once I was thinking history, I wanted something that would resonate with this community. I wanted to give the audience something they could respond to. If it doesn’t touch them and they don’t respond, dance is no longer a communication tool,” says Peticolas who felt a need to root the production in local history.
Gephart marvels at Peticolas’ ability to conceptualize a story about Indiana history using music originally attached to very different scenarios, from ancient Roman times to 20th century pop artists.
“How does Andy Warhol change into sweeping and cleaning the cabin?” Gephart asks. “I don’t know but it’s a perfect fit. She’s taken music that has nothing to do with Indiana history and has created this story that’s incredible.”
Describing Peticolas’ choreography as “captivating,” Gephart sees in it, and in the enthusiastic response of his band members, the rewards of collaborating.
“There’s a lot of dancing that’s not traditional ballet and Sandra’s dancers are really stretched to explore a new styles of dancing, just like we’re stretched to explore new styles of music,” says Gephart. “The Symphonic Band has been challenged by this literature, more so than ever before.”