Martin Casanova's lead role as Jesus of Nazareth in the Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre's SUPERHERO production has been decades in the making. Raised Catholic, the longtime GDHT dancer has admittedly strayed from his religious upbringing as he's grown older; nevertheless, he acknowledges the advantageous expertise that his deep-seated familiarity with the church has equipped him with in portraying Christ.
"It kind of seems like it's been 20 to 30 years in the making, because I grew up Catholic," Casanova reflected. "I don't go to Catholic church anymore, but I went to Catholic school for grade school and for high school, so I grew up with that story, and we studied it endlessly in school. So I feel like I've had a little bit of a leg-up, so to speak, in that area."
On April 4 and 5 at the Tarkington, Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre will present "SUPERHERO, the story of a man called Jesus," a full-length modern ballet chronicling the last week of Jesus' life. Told through the perspectives of Jesus, the women surrounding Him, and His complicated relationship with Judas Iscariot, the contemporary retelling portrays both large and small events in Jesus' final days in a setting of "anytime" and "everyplace."
Created by Gregory Hancock, founder, artistic director and primary choreographer for Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre, SUPERHERO is consistent with company's vast array of exuberant productions, fusing color, light, movement, and sound in this refreshing account.
"It is a challenge to tackle a story such as this, but the choreography and concept came together very quickly for me," said Hancock. "Finding the right music for each scene was essential, and I wanted to create an arc in the piece where it would open with an almost 'rock-concert' feel and progress to a more classical feeling piece by the end."
Often productions rooted in religion can be off-putting to those unaffiliated with the moral content presented -- something Casanova is entirely aware of. For this reason, he admires Hancock's interpretative approach to the timeless story of Christ, saying, "It can be anything, but at the same time, it's also one thing."
"We try to not be didactic in our pieces, but leave interpretations up to the audience," Hancock explained. "I simply chose to present my vision of this story while staying true to historical events."
Incorporating imagery from several other faiths into the production, Hancock's one-of-a-kind presentation of this globally significant piece of history is carefully aimed at being engaging for all audiences. He explained further, "I believe religion and faith can be represented very well through art, when interpretations are left to viewers and research has been done to make an attempt to be respectful to different ways of thinking."
Considering his religious heritage, Casanova is truly appreciative of the unique storytelling approach that Hancock takes with this timeless account of Jesus' final week of life, fueling his utter love for the production as a whole.
"In my opinion, it's a revolutionary production of the story just because the people are presented as they are and there's no schmaltzy, preachy overtone that a lot of times people that grew up with that story were presented with," Casanova said. "I grew up Catholic, and it's totally refreshing."