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Beauty and energy: 'Knowing Good and Evil' ballet tells creation story in music, dance

Albert Ibsen, left, and Emma Welsh, will dance the leads in “Now,” says Frederick Hanna, DMA, “we play.”

Hanna is here envisioning what comes next after the Creighton University professor of music penned his first ballet score — a musical treatment of the Genesis Story — over the summer and handed it over to his collaborator, dance instructor Patrick Roddy, to create the choreography.

And this first time out in the genre, Roddy and Hanna are not playing around. The performance, titled Knowing Good and Evil, harkens to that original powerful play: Creation — told via the visions of Creighton professors through the instruments of 40 musicians and the motions of 30 dancers, all Creighton students.

“It’s going to be exciting,” Roddy says. “It’s going to be beautiful. There’s an energy that’s surrounding this that the students are feeling. To have confidence in the performers and to have the performers trust the faculty to create something fun, engaging and challenging, it’s what you hope to accomplish as an artist and a teacher.”

With a wide range of musical styles and dance including classical ballet with flourishes of jazz, tap and modern, the production is also being pared down with simpler costumes and sets. In one scene, dancers thrust a Lycra sheet to the sky to embody the birthing of mountains.

Hanna says the rhythms of the church calendar were an inspiration in alighting upon the creation story and the production’s title, which aims at the human stain on God’s perfection, provided a point of crisis in more ways than one.

“The passage of ecclesial time has been moving to me throughout my life,” he says. “And I wanted to look at original sin — the very original sin, not just that we all fall short, but the actual sin that sets it off. An important inspiration for me was the verse, Genesis 3:5, ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ It’s where we got the title of the ballet.”

Knowing Good and Evil is the culmination of more than a decade of conversations between Hanna and Roddy about putting their collective talents together. Time finally lined up last summer and fall, and the results will find the Mainstage at the Lied Education Center for the Arts April 25 through 28.

Both Hanna and Roddy are no strangers to big, original productions. Hanna has penned several symphonies and worked in collaboration with visual artists and Roddy has led the Creighton Dance Company through ambitious works like Giselle, this fall’s production, and the biennial staging of a Creighton favorite, The Nutcracker.

“Fred and I have always talked about doing something together,” Roddy says. “This became the moment and it’s quite a moment.”

While the stage overflows with flowering plants and animals, sun, moon and stars, the full orchestra and dance company, Hanna says amid it all are the devil’s wiles, opening questions of just what this figure is and what it looks like.

“Does the devil wear red with horns and carry a pitchfork?” Hanna says. “Or could the devil look like anyone else sitting next to you? Is this just everyone’s feel-good production number or is there some torment? And that’s the second act.”

Writing the score in large chunks of time over the summer, Hanna says he turned eagerly to the work and saw it unfolding in dance in the theater of his mind. He shared bits and pieces with students, who continue to anticipate what the full production will look and sound like.

Roddy, on the other hand, has kept some of his choreography a bit nebulous, hoping to tease out of students new and different reactions to the music and movements.

“I like to be a little dramatic,” he says. “That’s where the confidence in our dancers comes in. Confidence to see it, to feel it and be moved by it without my input. We’re going to have the planets coming into existence on stage. It’s a lot. How could I possibly explain that?”

For performance times and ticketing information, click here.

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