Reviews of Work by Melli Hoppe

Toward an Unknown Region

April 30, 2008, By Rita Kohn, NUVO Newsweekly

Encore Vocal Arts isn’t your ordinary stand-and-sing ensemble of 36 voices. Emerging from the long-standing Indianapolis Arts Chorale, programming for the newly renamed group moves “innovation and creativity” along paths not taken. Singing starts the journey, collaborative arts are fellow travelers and the audience is motivated to savor sights and sounds from multiple points of view. Performed in the grand sanctuary of the Zionsville United Methodist Church, a feeling of reverence pervaded.

Director Chris Ludwa intends to motivate and create community between groups that might not otherwise connect, while at the same time delivering a quality vocal music experience.

The combination of adult and youth voices added a different dimension for John Rutter’s moving Mass of the Children, here featuring the 81-member Zionsville Community Schools Choir Collaborative and a 23-member orchestra. The weight of adult voices presses into the innocence of children singing of God’s glory. The effect here is of a loss, an undercurrent of mourning for that innocence. Leah Crane and Christopher Johnson, as adult soprano and baritone soloists, equally colored the intentions of the standard mass into which Rutter interweaves texts from poetry, including William Blake’s “Little Lamb.”

Ludwa added slides to illustrate the worldliness of the text.
Rutter’s Mass premiered in 2003 and since has become a favorite of children’s choruses with its melodic flow, catchy rhythms and harmonies akin to pop. It is immediately accessible despite its religiosity. In an odd turn of programming, the Indianapolis Children’s Choir presented the same work at the Hilbert Circle Theatre April 13.

For Ralph Vaughan Williams’ sweeping Toward the Unknown Region, a trio of Susurrus dancers entered from the audience, moved up the aisles toward the altar, as if coming into the music and lyrics rather than the usual “evolving out of” interpretation ascribed to modern dance. It was a seamless blending of the Encore Vocal Arts, orchestra and Susurrus, advancing into “that unknown region” as a spiritual, aesthetic journey.

Art by students from Ben Davis High School was exhibited in the vestibule.

People as poetry

I like to experience something new and unpredictable when I look at any kind of art. That's a pretty tall order in these it's-all-been-done-before days.

Portrait of the Unknown

December 14, 2007, By Jim Walker,

People as poetry

I like to experience something new and unpredictable when I look at any kind of art. That's a pretty tall order in these it's-all-been-done-before days.

But Melli Hoppe and her students and cohorts in Butler Theatre's dance program - as well as her non-profit dance group, Susurrus - are a constant source of joyful surprise for me in Indianapolis. I've enjoyed the great fortune of working with Hoppe and her students - including several in the performance I'm reviewing here. In those previous collaborations, I didn't perform, I wrote some words and they embodied them as living, moving poetry. But that connection has nothing to do with why I so much enjoy what Hoppe does.

That's exactly what I saw again Friday night at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Located in this weird Roman-columned castle area called the Clowes Pavilion in the back of the European galleries, the Butler Theatre Department's Stage Movement 3 class's site-specific performance "Portrait of the Unknown" was a reaction both to the space and to Ovid's "Metamorphoses" and Beckett's "Sans." The multi-talented Michael Burke adapted these classic works, choreographed part of the performance and was one of the lead dancer/actors.

It's hard to call this piece a short play or "modern dance" or "movement," though those are all accurate. This is really a theater piece of its own sort - a rare hybrid that is about people as bodies and voices - physical presences - versus characters we need to think of as whole people.

So the connection to the Roman-art exhibit at the IMA makes a lot of sense. Like those statues, the Butler students here were standing very still, moving slowly or quicker - sort of like breathing sculptures. But this doesn't objectify them in a negative way. Instead, it allows us to face the fact that people really are objects and that's fine. We are physical things like a tree or a stone or a painting hanging on a wall. Sometimes we are more than that. Sometimes we aren't.

And, with Hoppe's performances the spectator is right there in front of the performers, looking at the beauty of these people. They might not all be considered statuesque. But that's fine. They are lovely in their own ways, in their movements, in how they move together and alone. And it's impossible to not stare at them and appreciate this as they purposely stare right back at you.

The most unpredictable and fresh aspects of these performances comes from where they happen. By taking the show into the Clowes Pavilion, Hoppe is happily losing control of several factors. Foremost, the audience isn't corralled into their seats and placed at a safe distance back a few feet from the stage. So audience members often stumble in to the middle of he action - like Friday night when a security guard walked though the middle of the performance or when a group of surprised people arrived a bit late in an elevator that opened right behind the dancers.

Hoppe knows this kind of stuff is going to happen and she's fine with it. And she knows some people are going to be a little disoriented during her performances and may not know when to clap at the end. Most of the audience for these performances is untrained. And that means they are there seeing and doing something surprising and new. What an achievement.

The December 14 performance was the last for this two-night run at the IMA.

For more about Hoppe and her local non-profit dance group Susurrus visit .


Different Trains

August 28, 2007, By Hope Baugh, Indiana Auditions

"Different Trains," presented by Susurrus and now playing at the Indy Fringe Festival, is a different kind of theatre piece. It is almost wordless, and almost colorless, yet it is thickly layered with texture and meaning.

Five dancers (Michael Burke, Danielle Gennaoui, Laura Johnson, Kim O'Conner, and Elizabeth Kesling) wearing simple, Depression Era clothes, interact with each other and with five old, brown suitcases to tell what life was like in "America - Before the War," "Europe - During the War," and "After the War."

Behind them, old black-and-white film clips amplify the feeling of being on a train bound for a divorced parent's home with one's nanny, or bound for a concentration camp. Later in the piece, the dancers even interact with the images on the screen.

Meanwhile, the accompanying music, which was the original impetus for this show, is in itself interestingly layered. The composer, Steve Reich, took snippets from interviews that he had done with key characters in his real life and turned them into musical threads in his composition.

The overall effect is very powerful.

These artists took me with them on a bumpy, multi-tracked journey that was drenched with excitement, anxiety, sorrow, fear, and pain. More importantly, they did the impossible and brought me home safely. I had tears on my face at the end, but I was filled with feelings of joy and hope.

This piece is a little shorter than most Fringe pieces - it is about 40 minutes long - but it is packed with value.

There are three more performances of "Different Trains" during the Indy Fringe Festival: Thursday, August 30 at 7:30 pm, Friday, August 31 at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, September 2 at 5:30 pm. All are at the Athenaeum. (Go to the American Cabaret Theatre and walk down the hall past the box office.) Be sure to get a program, if you can, because it gives interesting background information about the piece.


Different Trains

August 29, 2007, By Rita Kohn, NUVO Newsweekly

Four and a half stars (out of five)

Susurrus, Indianapolis, Auditorium at the Athenaeum

Susurrus superbly connects visually and viscerally with Steve Reich's monumental string quartet performed with pre-recorded voices. Trains in the U.S. and Germany between the 1930s and 1940s carry different passengers and for different reasons with widely different consequences. David Yosha's visuals, Melli Hoppe's choreography, Michael Burke's costumes and five finely trained performers connect seamlessly with personal and historic events.



July 4, 2007, By Rita Kohn , NUVO Newsweekly

Bi-Quad, performed June 30 by Susurrus dance company at the Indianapolis Museum of Art Amphitheatre, is what I imagine it felt like to be present at a newly developed Shakespearean take on mid-summer sans spoken word: human movement in an open roof, manmade arena surrounded by trees and sounds and sights of both nature and human intervention. The audience focus is on multidimensional sensory stimulation. Music by Sally Childs-Helton is a prompt for the four discernible codas abetted by props. Costumes by Michael Burke mirrored photographic black/white/sepia tones. The audience was arrayed on what is the expected performance area.

Melli Hoppe's choreography traditionally is democratic , taking what individual dancers know their bodies respond to and creating a corps panorama much as lines build a poem both visually and contextually. That's the Susurrus way at its best.

Bi-Quad is both a response to and an extension of the IMA exhibition Nature Holds My Camera: The Video Art of Sam Easterson (see next page). One need not have witnessed the exhibit prior to the performance. Taking the nature walk both before and after deepens the appreciation for what the company of dancers accomplished.

Beginning with repose in a number of attitudes, the eight dancers responded to the call of birds leisurely, deliberately, carrying chairs to the terraced seating area, and developed movement with, on and around the chairs. Singularity melded into duality and eventually flock mentality.

The musical change-up, adding reeds and percussion, signaled another exploration with balance bars in a trio of discernments for all sorts of insects, animals and humans responding to nature. Another sound cue supplanted balance bars with rope tied to the railings. In tethered movement we felt the boundaries, the limitations, the exercises for breaking out, breaking away. At just the right moment, the straining melted into a softness not so much as acceptance but as reality recognized, another parallel to Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.

And so the interlude closed, with dancers returning to momentary repose and dispersal.

Within an hour after the performance, the full moon, veiled and so close as to be intrusive, the feeling of a camera's eye lingered and touched again on the memory of eight bi-peds interpreting their outdoor space from inner qualities.

What made the program intriguing were the open emotional qualities each dancer shared throughout. No one rushed, no one articulated beyond the truth of the moment. Everyone had something to communicate that grew from inner depth. Bravo to Nicole Gatzimos, Laura Johnson, Kimberly Martin, Nina Ryan, Ashley Nichole Saunders, Christy Stosmeister, Amanda Stover and Mollie Thomas.



May 5, 2006, By Rita Kohn, NUVO Newsweekly

Mesmerizing surrealism invokes a world of spirits moving in cycles through a 1920s structure whose original purposes were mercantile and movies. Seventeen characters whose lives would have been, could have been, enmeshed in the business of the twin buildings bring us into their snatched scenes. The audience walks past events in hallways, recesses, elevators, landings, large rooms of the Murphy Building, and congregates in the shell of The Granada, a movie theater that opened April 8, 1928, and closed March 5, 1951.

During what director Melli Hoppe describes as "a collaboration between the performers, poetry and the performance space," the audience experiences layers of perceptional transformations. What imprints do we each leave in space? How does the poem on the page morph into living matter? Why does a new activity turn the mundane into drama?

Anyone who attends a Hoppe performance walks away with a deeper appreciation of any space as a landscape of emotion/motion/memory to excavate. "The world [in the Murphy Building] is . secretive, dark and iconic," comments co-director and composer Nikki Cormaci. Costumes by Caroline Stine and sceneography by Andrew Wiskowski underscore the aura of "intrigue, murder and suspicion." Performers, all Butler University students, are splendid in their encirclement of a type. Jim Walker's poetry combined with repetitive vocalizations and choreography repel and grasp as the characters intermingle with the audience yet remain apart.



October 5, 2007, By Rita Kohn, NUVO Newsweekly

Susurrus Performance Group and the Indianapolis Women's Chorus add a unique dimension to three blocks along the downtown canal. On a rain-impending evening, foot traffic along the east greenway path is sparser than along the west residential side. The runners and walkers of the Fayette Street Neighborhood brave all weathers and don't much stop for distractions.

Susurrus Performance Group and the Indianapolis Women's Chorus performed 'Waterways' on the downtown canal over the weekend.

Those of us following along during a Wednesday dress rehearsal get a half-hour new look at what's possible along the canal. What you take away is a personal thing, depending upon where you are coming from. This reviewer first stopped at the USS Indianapolis Memorial. Reading down column after column of names as the wind whips the three flags, watching the flags move, studying the image of the ship frozen in time on a shimmering space of ocean - this affects how you interpret the four distinct parts of the performance.

White-clad dancers in poses along the bank have a feel of Plaster of Paris statuary. As the circled chorus chants, the dancers disassemble, run up the hillock to command a stream of light. Standing bodies bend and extend and eerily resemble the memorial's flags' lapping, licking, cracking. When the dancers tumble, they billow like waves. They hit pavement and run to their next post.

The chorus sings under the bridge, sounding lusty because the acoustics are changed from open space. Lights reflect and refract on the water; the encircling cityscape is misted; traffic sounds melt into the music.

Five actors command your attention. Their props are water-tied, their stories are of loss, lust, loving memories.

The chorus moves onto the terminus. Dancers climb what appear like waves in the moonless dusk. As they move you feel compelled to look back at the flags and the downed ship and you think of water and its nature to destroy as easily as it connects, to drown as lustily as it quenches thirst, to turn hateful as quickly as it promises joy.

It begins to rain, but you stay for the curtain call, realizing in looking back you missed all but one of the dancers having melted away because one-by-one they reappear, looking like bubbles where fish breathe. Your final image is of the algae and leaves clustered along the circular canal wall, heaving gently with the flow, ember red, speckled green. It's all as it never was before this night, and never will be again. Such is the art of dance and music and story. Such is the sense of place, man-made and natural.


Unreal City

April 13, 2005, By Rita Kohn, NUVO Newsweekly

Unreal City eerily populated the 1895 Laundry Building on the site of the closed-down Central State Hospital April 7-9. An ensemble of 12 dancers moved about in shadows elongating and folding into themselves, in swirls and lifts, groups and solos, silence and ramblings. Something interesting was always in motion.

The audience, walking along a Christmas tree lit runway, were voyageurs inside a Stations-of-the-Cross dream of dead and/or living souls in present/past/future time. Those attending, in essence, became part of the program, transporting their rational intellectual wares to places given over to the dark underside where pretense is exposed in simultaneously unsettling and mesmerizing postures. Commanding attention like a circus inside a rolling ball, the ensemble led the audience forth and back, made them look side to side, peer up and around, squat and stand.

Site-specific performance explores and exposes the vernacular and secret vocabulary of space, its waves of inhabitants and those who dreamed and built it into existence. These performers and designers become at one with the Surrealists across their existence, evoking fantastic dislocations of visual meaning. Unreal City is a powerful example of artists giving way to the creative subconscious and, in the process, taking both the verbal and visual exercises of Surrealism into the dimensional realm of movement. This visceral experience is as much dependent upon design elements as it is on choreography. Bravo to the ensemble, including costume, sound, setting and lighting designers and crew; to director Melli Hoppe; to Butler University Theatre for taking risks into the community.


A Mouthful of Birds

Oct 13, 2004, By Jim Poyser, NUVO Newsweekly

A Mouth Full of Birds

By Caryl Churchill

Directed by John Green & Melli Hoppe

Butler University Theater

Oct. 6-10

As often happens at a Butler University Theater play, the action is already in progress as you find your seat. In this instance, a center stage video screen displays close-up images of a parade of faces as a voiceover narrator delivers news stories of suicide, murder, insanity, the most heinous crimes imaginable. Welcome to A Mouth Full of Birds .

The play begins as the lights fade up on what appears to be an industrial-style dance club, complete with platforms and ladders and what must be one of the most visionary backdrops in my theater-going experience: a giant scrim comprised of 2,000 empty bottles of wine.

The actors dance, move in sync, deliver small scenes of dialogue and action that don't seem to be connected to each other in any lineal way. In fact, Mouth Full is a series of fractal moments, as if what we're seeing is the point of view of the birds in the play's title as they alight on a windowsill or a telephone wire, overhearing the human vignettes they've randomly come upon.

There's no traditional storytelling vectors, no typical character conversions. Lines of dialogue are at once so familiar and odd that they hang in the air, impossible to dislodge: "Look at the hole in its stomach," says one character. "Soak the prunes," says another. The images and tableaux the actors form have the arresting quality of a Max Ernst collage - or a front row seat at a Star of Indiana performance.

Envisioned by directors John Green and Melli Hoppe, Mouth Full is a portal into pain, ably realized by the cast of 11 actors. Drew Wiskowski is the androgynous Dionysus whose wicked grin is juxtaposed with an achingly gentle demeanor. Jim Senti's portrayals of a number of characters display a great spectrum of talents, including a hilarious portrait of pig. Jonah Winston, Jason Ober and Andrea Hillsamer are also strong.

For me, the play climaxed with the construction of a giant puppet, a symbol for the out-of-control appetites that ultimately link the disparate stories on stage. I understand that a third act, even in this unconventional play, had to ensue, but I would have preferred a more precipitous drop in its bell-curve narrative structure.

If my mind ever wandered, though, I could marvel at the tapestry of bottles, a customary example of brilliance from scene designer Madeleine Sobota. And, after witnessing all the pain and suffering and insanity on stage, I was surely ready for a drink .


Current and Past Works

August 25, 2004, By Rita Kohn, NUVO Newsweekly

Transforming the ordinary into extraordinary links Melli Hoppe's 10-year retrospective of four previous pieces and a new work. All explore turning sound and movements - that are embedded in restriction, repetition or embellishment - into performance. Hoppe challenges audiences to alter our view of dance, how we think dancers should look and move, and what sounds they should move to.

Hoppe equally erases the notion of identifying individual dancers for specific roles. It's a group listed alphabetically by piece. To that end, the names of the two dozen fine company members will not be listed here.

While all the pieces strive to free us from preconceived dance language and all are layered within the rhythms and events of life, for this reviewer "Beauties" and "Tides" provided the most satisfying and provocative experience. Masks become the conceit of interaction for "Beauties." The unmasking takes on heightened anxiety as the fifth, and eldest, dancer peels off seven layers from her face, as opposed to one each for the other four. The movement is fluidly executed to a variety of percussion and wind instruments played live by Anthony Artis. In its range of elevations and pairings, the story takes us beyond the question of who we are, to who we become and are perceived to be. Posture is revelatory.

While this question of identity also drives "The Secret Life of Laura Petrie," which is the most amusing of the pieces, Laura's shallowness prompts one to wish it was a tad shorter, even though the dancers deliver the floor gymnastics superbly. Boring people do not become less so on stage.

"Tides," on the other hand, is fascinating, with four figures teasing us to conjecture if it's movement, motion, motility or mobility, in their process of changing place and position. And just when they lull us into thinking they are just so many layers of waves, they play with their strips of belts and shock us into cognizance. What is gagged? Is it our love-hate relationship with nature?

"Her Turnings," based on excerpts from Grimms' Fairy Tales, is a fractured text. Jan Aldridge Clark's harp playing conjures imagery of an old-fashioned music box as five individuals move inside eerie circles of blue light that cast ugly shadows on faces mouthing inaudible words.

"Current," a new work based on the journey of exploration by Lewis and Clark, is akin to cinematic imagery in arrested motion. A corps of 10 retells the trials and wonderment of a trek beyond imagination until you got there.

That is perhaps the point of a Melli Hoppe program. It's best to be there as a witness. Throughout, the costumes by Laurel Foley and Wendy Meaden earn praise. Lighting was by Madeleine Sobota.


State of mind

April 28, 2004, By Rita Kohn, NUVO Newsweekly

Memory House, a site-specific, collaborative work between Butler University Theatre and the Indiana Medical History Museum, challenged and intrigued audience members April 22-24. Involving all the senses and plumbing layers of emotions, distance and immediacy collide as fragmented sets of events move into and out of a dozen spaces in the two-story brick structure filled with original Victorian-era furnishings and early 20th century mental health memorabilia. It's simultaneously engrossing and shame-filled, an act of voyeurism infringing upon the damaged minds and tortured souls of fellow human beings.

Directors Melli Hoppe and Michael Bachman, a cast of 20, designers and crew members succeed in evoking wholeness from shards and fragments. This audience member joined about 70 others on a pilgrimage from room to room, at one time housing cutting-edge medical research, in which actors as patients, doctors, nurses and aides projected active yet absent presence. Eerily, the very moment I glanced at the wall clock, its hands frozen at eight o'clock, it was in reality eight o'clock. My blood ran cold. Another audience member made the same connection. We exchanged glances, and moved into the library, where three nurses stood, stoic, until a nightshirt clad patient approached them, swooned, was upheld, attempted escape, was arrested, struggled, then she upheld a swooning nurse, and on and on. The time-splintered movements made it seem like we were walking into someone else's nightmare.

Equally essential to the power of the work were the candle-lit centers of focus in each room, death masks of lace propped into wooden frames, installations of clothing and other personal effects, sounds and projections. A daring evocation of place and people, practices and prescience through multiple arts, Memory House earns a place of distinction in this performance season.


The Dunes Project

September 7. 2002, By Whitney Smith, The Indianapolis Star

Three stars (out of four)

At a time when dust surrounds parts of the Butler University arts complex, what with the new Lilly Hall addition framed up and filling in, it seems natural that a new performance piece inspired by some sandy Hoosier landscape has emerged on the campus.

"The Dunes Project," playing through tonight at Lilly Studio Theatre, is a clever environmental theater piece integrating movement with live and recorded music, video, scenic design and spoken text-all inspired by the Indiana Dunes along Lake Michigan.

This is the latest in a series of "site-specific" movement pieces by the Indianapolis performance group Susurrus. It was choreographed by company artistic director Melli Hoppe, who grew up near the dunes. 

Action pivots around several floor-to-ceiling fabric panels at center stage, with the audience seated on both sides of the panels. Not only do performers weave their way around the makeshift colonnade, but video imagery by Edward Boilini is projected on and through the material.

Through the course of about an hour, eight or more segments unfold, with the actor-dancers moving through the mutable dimensions of the northwest Indiana landscape. By turns literal or abstract, various scenes introduce humans to the sandy slopes, straggly grasses, wind, waters and other elements of the dunes region.

Some segments are largely given over to movement, such as "Duet," featuring the white-clad Bodhi and Heidi Keller-Phillips. Their scene begins with their legs stretched skyward. Gradually, they embark on a sequence of angular or smooth gestures, here connecting with each other there, wending around the fabric.

In other scenes, the video takes on a larger role, but never as clear-cut as a documentary or an affectionate travelogue and seldom the same way twice.

In a lovely trio "Flock of Birds," some almost photo-realistic water imagery sets the scene for a twitter romp by Michelle Arvin, Hilary McDaniel-Douglas and Keller-Phillips. Imagery in later segments is more abstract, suggesting waves of fog as three performers strike statuesque poses. 

Also featured are primal music and freely spoken verse conjuring nature images.

The production features original music by Hoppe's sister, composer Elise Kermani, and live vocals by Carol Forbes and percussion by Sally Childs-Helton.



April 19. 2001, By Rita Kohn, NUVO Newsweekly

Four stars (out of five)

Directed by Melli Hoppe; presented by Susurrus; Harrison Centre Gallery; April 13. Starting punctually at 8 p.m. and continuing for as long as passersby, an audience, the curious, whoever, were willing to enter into the world of " relationships in tight spaces" by circling six dancers existing two-by-two within three separate, open-lidded, tall-end standing coffins of varnished plywood grouped back-to-back in the midst of Christos Koutsouras sensuous, boldly-layered paintings. Children, mesmerized by adults doing what they do inside packing crates of any size or shape, mimicked the moves, their bodies twisting, turning, bumping. The kids seemed unconcerned over what it all means. Grownups felt compelled to articulate their take. "This couple is in a sleeper car on a train." "These two are trying to get out of the relationship." "I think these are making the best of a bad situation." On and on it went. Applaud Helena Guzman for the sturdy containers, David Hoppe and Ed Boilini for pulsating sound, amazingly varied movement by Stephanie Scopelitis and Dante Ventresca, Hillary McDaniel-Douglas and Randy Strickler and Bodhi and Nina Ryan. Question: How would see-through fibre glass boxes change dynamics for audience members and dancers alike?



November 9, 2000, By Jim Poyser, NUVO Newsweekly

Four stars (out of five)

Another AMAZING collaboration between Susurrus' Melli Hoppe and theatre of inclusion's Dante Ventresca. These folks believe that the creative impetus lies in all of us. This is no bullshit, as Hoppe and Ventresca filled the stage with a spectrum of talent, from the professional to the disabled to the first-time performer. I venture not one person in the audience would have turned down an invitation to join the stage. At turns hilarious and hypnotic, games was a true celebration of community - a community where everyone belongs.


Summer Solstice at the IMA

June 21, 1999, By Rita Kohn, NUVO Newsweekly

Five stars (out of five)

A resounding success according to the sizable crowd delightfully following Susurrus dancers around the grounds to the five sites where Ursula von Rydingsvard's breathtaking sculptures are installed for summer-long viewing. Melli Hoppe's unerring match of movement and space within each sphere is celebratory. Dancers, musicians and actors in MadDog Productions' take on the woodland scene from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, performing on the Concert Terrace, again prove Indianapolis' incredibly rich cultural potential. "They should do something like this every week," said a man, happy toddlers in tow. Visitors from Sweden were equally delighted. A perfect way to build audiences and international fame.


Sacred Spaces: A Dance Pilgrimage

November 8, 1997, By Rebecca Bibbs, The Indianapolis Star

Four stars (out of four)

Annie Carpenter-White and Melli Hoppe's Sacred Spaces: A Dance Pilgrimage had a truly devoted following - as well it should.

While Sacred Spaces ran a total of about 2 hours and 15 minutes, it required a daylong commitment from those wanting to see the three acts. But many faithful made that commitment by traveling from Christian Theological Seminary to Crown Hill Cemetery ant to Susurrus Performance Space.

About 125 people mad up the audience at each of the three sites.

Sacred Spaces, a once-in-a-lifetime work was pure genius.

The program, part of the Polis Center's Spirit and place Festival, was more an examination of sacredness than liturgical dance.

The program started at CTS's Sweeny Chapel, where the cancers, including Carpenter-White and Hoppe, clung to the walls as audience members strolled in to take their seats. No place - or maybe every place- was sacred in the chapel as dancers took audience members to places they probably would not have noticed on their own.

Carpenter-White and Hoppe took a gamble on the November weather and vowed that the show would go on at James Whitcomb Riley's tomb, even in inclement weather. But the gods shone on the dancers - and the audience members. Some of whom arrived on bicycles and with lawn chairs.

This clever segment had to be seen in the round and required audience members to follow dancers- and even the dance itself- around the tomb.

It was standing room only at Susurrus Performance Space. The peaceful Asian-inspired music, featuring drums, water and bundt-cake pans, was performed live by composers Sally Child-Helton and David Kadlec. The bundt pans, interestingly, sounded much like church bells calling worshipers to church.


Calder in the Park

1996, By Rebecca Bibbs, The Indianapolis Star

Three and 1/2 stars (out of four)

Calder in the Park was a lot of fun and games.

About 30 people took advantage of the fall weather to participate in the hour-long concert put on by Susurrus, an experimental dance company.

"It brought back the kid in me," on audience member told another.

The program was one of many citywide events for Caderfest honoring artist Alexander Calder.

The dancers, wearing costumes in primary colors designed by Iris Rosa, succeeded in making a noticeable appearance among the trees. The bright colors stood in contrast to the muted browns and greens of Eagle Creek Park.

Watching the shapes move and change was a little like watching the computer game Baby Smash in which shapes are altered and colors changed at the stroke of a key.

The seven women dancers were the shapes.

Using dance and props such as balls, the dancers transformed the empty landscape until it bloomed with color and became a playground for adults and children.

One of the more noteworthy segments was Wire in which Susurrus founder and artistic director Melli Hoppe was encaged in five wire trellises, which aren't natural but harness nature. The children, who made up probably a third of the audience, were enthralled with the shapes. They could scarcely wait until the end of the program to get on the stage to play Rules of the Game, an activity designed to encourage audience participation.

The setting - including crows cawing and circling overhead - was very appropriate since the outdoors is where children often have the most fun.

The use of cutout shapes, most of which appeared to be made of indoor/outdoor carpeting, were an amusing reference to art imitating nature.

Rosa's thrifty costume design was the ultimate in versatility as a leotard, top and pants changed into four different looks.

The only natural thing about the program aside from the setting was the live, organic-sounding percussion music by Tony Artic and his son Andre Rosa-Artis.


Dances of Fact

March 7, 1994, By Rebecca Bibbs, The Indianapolis News

Susurrus, Indianapolis' new experimental dance group, will be a refreshing addition to the local dance scene, if Saturday's performance is any indication.

About 75 people attended the 1 1/2 hour performance of "Dances of Fact" in Caleb Mills Auditorium, Shortridge Middle School. It was a loss for other Central Indiana dance lovers.

The program, mostly choreographed by Susurrus founder and artistic director Melli Hoppe was a well-balanced composite of images and ideas contained in several note worthy dances.

While experimental dance may sound intimidating to the uninitiated, Susurrus presented pieces that, even without explanation in the program, easily touched even the youngest members of the audience.

The dancers are a multicultural group of athletic women of varying ages and body types.

While the pieces did not appear overly challenging, the dancers concentrated on movement, rather than contortion as much contemporary dance does.

Saving the best for last, Susurrus' most impressive performance was in a dance with the ironic title "But How Did It All Begin," a surreal piece set to poetry by the same name.

Most intriguing was the use of plastic tubing as part of an unusual landscape and as props by set designer Carolyn Art. Equally fascinating were the creative lighting, the recitation of the poetry by dancers and the fact that the dance was not contained entirely onstage: at one point, dancers rolled into the auditorium.

One of the highlights of the program was "Rhythms in Life" a humorous piece choreographed by Iris Rosa, associate professor in the department of Afro-American Studies at Indiana University.

What appeared to be the walking of an invisible dog set off nearly unstoppable laughter in the audience, particularly by the children.

Kimberly Martin's sassy demeanor helped define the urban aspects of the piece, set t urban and reggae music. The real treat was the live African rhythms in "Beauties" presented by Anthony Artis, who plays with Drums of West Africa, Fire, and his own ensemble, Sankofa. Live music is a rarity in local dance.

While it is difficult to say how Susurrus will be in the long run, the group is off to a great start.