Theatre preview: Columbus Dance Theatre’s “O. Twist” updates Dickens with RJD2

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From the May 29, 2014 edition

To close out its season, the Columbus Dance Theatre is presenting its largest production in “O. Twist,” a contemporary rendering of the Charles Dickens’ classic “Oliver Twist” using the music of RJD2 and taking place in modern-day New York City.

Once Columbus Dance Theatre artistic director Tim Veach selected the tale, he began searching for the right music. Serendipitously, RJD2’s father, David Krohn, is playing the role of Fagin.

“When I started thinking about music, I wanted something that was kind of gritty and urban, contemporary,” Veach said. “I went through [RJD2’s] music and it’s so interesting and has such range. And it’s got the kind of energy that’s forward-driving, which is perfect for this piece.”

Veach said he prefers to choose stories audiences will be familiar with for the season’s closer because it creates a “narrative ballet.” “Oliver Twist” was specifically chosen because many Dickensian-era topics still have resonance today.

“I started thinking about how pertinent some of the issues in that story still are; child labor and poverty, income inequality, violence against women — all kinds of things in that story that are pretty dark,” Veach said. “Unfortunately, those still exist today. And I thought that would be interesting as a way to connect the story immediately [if we] set it in contemporary time.”

“O. Twist” will utilize the company’s professional dancers and students from its affiliated School of Columbus Dance Theatre. Three boys will take on the titular role of Oliver, and more than 90 students will be involved, playing orphans and street kids; others will make New York’s sewers come to life as dancing rats, mice, spiders and snakes.

“They’re getting this amazing education that’s like an [apprenticeship]. The kids in our school get to truly model a professional person,” Veach said.

Rounding out the present-day aesthetic in “O. Twist” is the innovative set design — dark and dingy monochromatic cityscape pierced by vibrancy.

“It’s going to look very dynamic. The scenery is sort of gray and black, but there’s going to be a lot of color in front of that — this urban landscape with outbursts of color,” Veach said.

Photo by Wes Kroninger