Gregory Hancock pays homage to “The Wizard of Oz” and his own past in his latest production.
“There’s No Place Like Home” is an autobiographical piece. The story follows a boy from Kansas who sets out on a journey down the Golden Path to India. Like the fictional Dorothy, Hancock is from Kansas originally.
Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre will perform the premiere of “There’s No Place Like Home” Oct. 28 to 30 at The Tarkington at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.
“It’s a very personal piece, and those are sometimes scary to do to make yourself vulnerable, but the dancers are trusting me with my vision,” said Hancock, who is the GHDT executive artistic director. “It’s my journey through life and what we’re looking for and why things happen the way they do. I’ve gone to India several times and I’ve always found a lot of enlightenment, peace and chaos, too. It’s a very spiritual place and, hopefully, that’s infused into the piece. Everybody can relate to it because we are all on a spiritual journey and a journey through life. I think at some point we all wonder what we’re doing here and why we’re here.”
Company dancer Thomas Mason portrays Hancock.
“It’s challenging because I want to honor his story and do the best I can do,” Mason said. “It’s also challenging physically. I’m on stage the majority of the show and dancing to the most of my ability, so it’s very tiring, and I’m still trying to build stamina for show after show.”
Hancock said technically it’s a challenging role.
“Thomas’ character is the one who remains the same through the whole piece,” dancer Abigail Lessaris said. “He doesn’t change costumes or morph into a different character. He rarely leaves the stage.”
Hancock said it is unusual to see himself portrayed on stage.
“It’s weird to watch and weird to think about sometimes,” Hancock said. “It’s weird for both of us. It’s easier to portray someone you don’t know or someone who is gone, a fictional character. We don’t often play someone we work with.”
Lessaris, who is Mason’s fiancee, portrays several characters including Mother India, Mother Ganges, Saraswati, Buddha, and Hanuman. They all represent Hancock’s mother, Florence Marie Hancock, who died in 2014.
“Anyone who knows Gregory knows his mother was so important in his life,” Lessaris said. “These three characters he meets throughout are like the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the (Cowardly) Lion equivalent. I portray all of those parts. It’s really about that person in Gregory’s life who gave him compassion, courage and all those things his mom provided for him. I dance all of those parts. I get to wear a lot of fabulous costumes.”
The characters he meets dispense knowledge, compassion and courage rather than seeking it like the characters in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Lessaris, Mason and Hancock all live in Carmel.
“I see Gregory in every piece he creates,” Lessaris said. “I can see and feel how personal this is.”
When the piece was first explained to the dancers by Hancock, Lessaris said she and the other dancers became emotional. Hancock, who had kidney cancer, has been cancer free for seven years.
“Pretty much everyone in the room was crying. That’s when I knew this piece was going to be special,” Lessaris said. “We hadn’t even learned the choreography yet. We just had a brief description and music and we were already crying. You can tell right away when a piece is going to be special. I think all the pieces Gregory creates are fun, beautiful or meaningful, but this is one you can tell will be special.”
The performance was originally scheduled for June 2020 before COVID-19 pandemic forced postponement.
“This has been waiting to be born,” Hancock said.
For more, visit gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org.