Posted on May 6, 2013
4 out of 5
The Kansas City Ballet is wrapping up another season at the Kauffman, and in grand style. These last couple of years at the new venue have been ones of experiment, and the season closers have been time for the troupe to step out of the ordinary, to present new and interesting ideas. For the programs on display Friday night, they have gone with three fascinating and nicely executed pieces.
First on the program is Energy Made Visible, a performance in six movements by Karole Armitage with music by Bobby Watson. Mr Watson is a busy man just of late, having just come off of a short run of "Kansas City Swing" at the UMKC Theater. There as here he provides the music onstage, accompanying himself in his own compositions. He plays in full jazzman kit, a porkpied piper whose music sends the dancers through their frenzied movements. The transmutation of jazz into other mediums is a tricky business, and one fraught with hazards. Fortunately, there is confident skill at the helm, and the dancers move with the improvised music, seemingly letting it pull them along.
Some interesting business throughout the performance involves a giant "canvas" at which the dancers hurl imaginary "paint", slowly recreating some of the works of Jackson Pollock. The effect was quite interesting, albeit the animated splatter didn’t always line up with the throwing movements, hurting the illusion. Nevertheless, it was an interesting experiment and sound and visualization with excellent small and large group choreographies and of course Mr. Watson's wonderful score.
After the first intermission, the mood changed significantly with Common People, Margo Sappington's tour through William Shatner & Ben Folds' 2004 collaboration "Has Been" (this is the same ballet that was featured in the 2009 documentary "William Shatner's Gonzo Ballet", which is entirely recommended). Taking us through seven of the featured songs, Sappington gives us an interesting if occasionally uneven experience, with choreography that matches the eccentric, offbeat yet strangely engrossing nature of the material. Highlights are the title track at the beginning, the surprisingly dreamlike "Together", and the final two parts: a frenzied interpretation of "I Can't Get Behind That" and "Has Been", in both of which the choreography was seasoned with just the right amount of wit, making a good solid finish to the set.
Finally, we had Donald McKayle's Hey-Hay, Going to Kansas City, in which some of the great jazz classics that shaped this city are brought to life. We start off with Euday Bowman's "12th Street Rag" and proceed through the works of Jesse Stone, Charlie Parker, Count Basie and other memorable performers. The dancing here is interesting; something about the looseness of the movement put this reviewer in mind of a Hart Benton painting come to life. Vintage recordings were used of the originals, adding more to the atmosphere and bringing us back to a time and place that looms almost legendary in the annals of our city. Here dancing as storytelling was given its strongest push, each song a vignette. The dancers performed strongly as indeed they had all through the night, and all in all it was a decidedly enjoyable performance.
A few months ago, announcements were made regarding the upcoming 2013-14 season. It will be a solid return to the classics, starting with Jerome Robbins and finishing with Prokofiev's "Cinderella". It should be a good season, but the experimentation of the ballet's first two Kauffman seasons will lie long in this reviewer's memory. And dance aficionados wishing to see and hear something truly creative and interesting are highly recommended to catch this show before its closing night on the 12th.