Dancer takes on challenging role in ‘EXODUS’

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Olivia Payton performs in the lead role of The Chosen in “EXODUS.” (Photo by Lydia Moody)

Olivia Payton has always had her sights set on the role of the Moses character in “EXODUS.”

“I wanted it because it is so challenging and the opportunity to push myself,” Payton said. “I like that it is challenging physically from a stamina standpoint and also emotionally. It’s a lot of dancing but I feel the whole ensemble does a lot of dancing as well.”

Payton performs in the lead role of The Chosen in Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre’s production of “EXODUS,” which is set for 7 p.m. shows April 7-9 at The Tarkington at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.

“The story is a test for all of us emotionally,” Payton said.

The story is inspired by the Old Testament book of Exodus but adapted to the modern world.

“It’s a contemporary retelling of the story,” said GHDT Executive Artistic Director Gregory Hancock, who created the show.

Hanckock said “EXODUS” is a cautionary tale of hatred and ignorance. Instead of frogs and locust, the 10 modern plagues are desecration of the Earth, gun violence, racism, war, poverty, crime, social media, government, selfishness and death of the first born.

“Sadly, all these modern plagues are worse now than even when we premiered in 2019,” Hancock said. “It’s not a good sign when the world is not headed in the right direction even more now than when we were ready to do it in 2020 because of all we lived through with the pandemic and where our world is now. It’s an important piece for our audience members to see. It’s those lessons we never seem to learn.

“We just keep repeating history and making these same horrible mistakes. We hope, in some small way, a piece of art can when you look at things a different way can maybe heal the world a little bit during this time.”

“EXODUS” debuted in 2019 and was set to return in April 2020 before it was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a small victory for us to get this piece back on stage,” Hancock said. “It’s the piece that got disrupted and the timing worked well this year. It’s the week before Passover, so it’s a really nice pre-Passover event. It will be good to have it come back to the stage.”

Abigail Lessaris, who plays one of the tribe members of The Chosen’s adopted family and plays the voice of God, said it feels like things have come full circle.

“Two years ago on March 13, we did a full run of ‘EXODUS’ start to finish (in rehearsal),” Lessaris said. “We knew there was a chance we wouldn’t be doing it again. We got sent home (for the lockdown). The past year-and-a-half since we’ve been back has been our journey back to this stage. This one feels like the stamp we made it back because it’s the show that got taken down. It feels like a real triumph to bring it to the stage for a second time.”

The show features the entire dance company and 23 extra dancers from other dancer theaters across the state. It also features six children.

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