February 11, 2011

A Modern Night at the Folly
Review by David Ollington

A male soloist dances fluently to the accompaniment of live East Indian music. Brightly adorned dancers wiggle amongst a mailbox and a festively painted tire. A trio of women moves onstage as a poet passionately delivers his creation. City in Motion Dance Theater’s eighth annual concert A Modern Night at the Folly (Feb. 5) undeniably offered a wide selection. The dances ran the gamut both in tone and quality, resembling a variety show. 

City in Motion strives, according to their mission statement, “[T]o foster the development of high-quality contemporary dance programming and expand the dance audience in the greater Kansas City Metropolitan area.”

Most of the pieces demonstrated excellence and innovation, true to the mission statement. Each choreographer last fall submitted a DVD of his or her work. City in Motion engaged a professional adjudicator, an anonymous dance professional, who viewed and selected the dances for the show.

Patrick Suzeau composed and performed the opening dance “Invocation,” a delightfully spiritual offering. Reflective, joyful, and rhythmic, Suzeau hypnotized us with generous sweeps of the legs, solid turns and specific hand gestures. Equally engaging were the live accompanists, Maria Anthony on sitar and vocals, Clark Jamison on tabla, udu, and vocals, Deborah Pine on vocals, and Geeta Tiwari on tanpura and vocals.

“Ark-eology,” choreographer Suzanne Rieger (photo by Ann Dean)

Contrast that with Tara T. Glaus’ “The Nudibranch Ranch and the Poke-Her-Chips-N-Failures,” the second dance. (Contrast and dance were constants of the evening.) Glaus adorned eight dancers in brightly colored tights and leotards. They stumbled around the stage working with three surrealistic props, a mailbox, a painted tire, and a trash can to music by the Knife. Glaus created surprising formations and group relationships. 

In several pieces, dancers bobbled in their balances. This was not a problem in Glaus’ piece, as she created a wobbly dance by choice. The awkward quality of the movement served the humorous nature of the piece, but she ended her dance with an unnecessarily bawdy choice, unfitting with the cleverness of the piece as a whole.

The 940 Dance Company of Lawrence, Kansas provided two works, one by 940 dancer Justin Hundley and the other by Artistic Director Susan Rieger.

Hundley titled his duet “Back to You.” Dancers Michaela Sherman and Ashley Trullinger executed Hundley’s intuitive choreography with calm commitment. Slashing movements gave way to extended stillness, making for a sensitive exploration of relationship.

Rieger’s dance “Ark-eology” incited laughter with quirky movement choices, unexpected partnering, and a remarkably democratic group dynamic. One dancer in this piece, Bobbi Foudree, wore a cast on one arm, clearly not a costuming choice, and the dance seemed notably unaffected by the injury. Rieger used “Bacchanale” by John Cage for accompaniment, repetitive, quirky, and rhythmic music offering gaps of silence, which Rieger filled with motion.

Tiffany Sizemore created the dance “Our Story Has Always Been Told Through Beats,” to poet Glenn North’s work of the same title. Leila Dilmaghani, Tuesday Faust, and Ann Shaughnessy danced beautifully to North’s impassioned words, centered on the African American experience.  “Beats break like the bones of four little girls disintegrate after being blown up in an Alabama church,” North relayed into a microphone, and later said, “Government subjugates, prisons proliferate, immigrants assimilate, global economy inflates, earned wages dissipate.” Registering both the words and Sizemore’s choreography was challenging; a section with dancing in silence might have allowed the dancers to more effectively respond to North’s powerful text.

“Invocation,” choreographer Patrick Suzeau (photo by Earl Richardson)

M. Suzanne Ryan’s dance “The Disappeared” explored issues of longing, grief, and the challenge of dealing with the disappearance of a loved one.  Emotion-laden motion of the piece included the pinning of photographs to the dancers’ leotards. Unfortunately, one of these unintentionally fell off onstage. The dance ended with a powerful image of a much larger photograph, held by one dancer center stage, confrontationally pointed towards us.

Stephanie Whittler set a lush and satisfying octet on the City in Motion Dance Company, an effective finale. The company looks great, executing the dance together with some smooth partnering, like when one dancer ran up the backs of the rest of the group.

Two duets made up the weaker offerings of A Modern Night at the Folly. 

“Givin’ Up” by DeeAnna Hiett brought the house down with flashy choreography, but belonged more on a dance competition reality show than in a concert of art dance. Maggie Osgood Nicholls’ inconsequential “Lover’s Spit” seemed out of place in this concert also, rudimentary and lacking impact. These two choreographers both titled their dances after the same title of the music they chose. Hiett chose to reenact the lyrics of Donny Hathaway’s music. Nicholls’ dance ended before the ending of Broken Social Scene’s song, forcing an early cessation of the music.

Every year, this concert has grown in attendance and the professionalism of the work. The atmosphere was festive, the applause, generous.

City in Motion will present their company concert April 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. and April 3 at 2 p.m. at the H&R Block City Stage in Union Station. Visit www.cityinmotion.org for more information.

David Ollington can be contacted at Ollington@aol.com.