Hijinks in the Forest

NEW ARTiculations performs 'Hansel and Gretel' with a modern twist

Those abandoned German moppets Hansel and Gretel have been leaving breadcrumbs in the forest for hundreds of years, but they've probably never before been accompanied by the music of The Beatles, Santana, Duran Duran and "Weird Al."

That's the plan for the whimsical, newly created modern-dance production of Hansel and Gretel. NEW ARTiculations Dance Theatre will present its debut this weekend at the PCC Center for the Arts.

Drawing the details of its story from the familiar Brothers Grimm interpretation, as well as from the 1893 opera Hânsel und Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck, this "modern dansical" version of the medieval fairy tale is a collaborative effort. In the works since October, it was created by NEW ART company directors Leigh Ann Rangel and Tammy Rosen, as well as five other choreographers.

NEW ART regulars Amy Barr, Nathan Dryden, Jamie Jennette and Katie Rutterer have contributed choreography, as has former NEW ART dancer Kelly Silliman, now a visiting guest artist from Virginia.

Just in case you don't know the story, it will feature a narrator (performed by guest artist Lee Anne Hartley, from FUNHOUSE movement theater) who tells the story to the audience as if she were a mother telling it to her kids.

"The concept of the piece is that she is a storyteller who reads from a book," says co-director Rangel, who also created the libretto. "When the narrator goes to show pictures from the book to her audience, the lights fade, and then they come back up on a tableau for one of the scenes."

Using a total of 15 dancers, the NEW ART production also adds a few story elements not in either of the versions that provided its inspiration. "We converted the story in subtle ways so that it would work well for movement," Rangel says.

The movement styles of the dancers and choreographers are distinct, though complementary, she says.

"That's what's pretty neat about it, as a collaboration. There are definitely unifying elements in each of the movements, because we all dance together or have dances together, but (people) get to see the different creative personalities."

Barr, for instance, choreographed the scene during which the title characters travel through the forest, Rangel says. "That's definitely the most modern dance-like piece. She used a lot of partnering and creating fantastic shapes."

Jennette handled the section in which birds gobble up the pair's trail of breadcrumbs. "She has a really good sense of humor. It's definitely the more comedic section."

In another movement, Hansel is caged. This is depicted by a two-dimensional cage, behind which is performed aerial dancing choreographed by Dryden, "because he is the trapeze master," Rangel says.

Rangel also describes one of the sections she choreographed as "very (Bob) Fosse. That is very much a change in direction." She also performs the role of the witch, as choreographed by Rosen.

There's no grand design behind using contemporary popular music, Rangel said. "We just thought that would be a really fun way to help tell the story. So when the birds eat the breadcrumbs, we play 'Eat It' by 'Weird Al' Yankovic. In the forest section, it's 'Hungry Like the Wolf' by Duran Duran."

Also, the witch's theme is "Black Magic Woman," while the Sunrise Fairies get "Here Comes the Sun." As for the rest of the music, you'll have to attend the performance to discover it.

Rangel says one of the primary goals of Hansel and Gretel is to build a new audience for modern dance while still pleasing the existing fans.

"We want to expand our audience to include families and children," she says. "A lot of times, children don't have a lot of modern-dance exposure. Generally, most anything that we do is appropriate for children."

Not that they want to alienate the adults in the audience. Like a good animated film, the performance includes sly humor directed at parents, Rangel says.

She adds that although groups of schoolchildren are booked for the Friday matinee performance, it is still open to all. "There are still seats available. We wanted to make sure that some parents and their kids, as well as home-schooled children, know they are welcome, too."

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