The Wiz What Is

  February 25, 2012

KC Stage

Witness to an artistic community
by David Ollington

With regrettably only one performance, the ninth annual A Modern Night at the Folly, on Feb. 18, buzzed with the energy generated from a show that serves as both opening and closing night.


“The Game,” Erin Muenks, choreographer (photo by Mike Strong)


City in Motion Dance Theater has built undying community support since its 1985 inception, and the audiences during the nine years of this particular concert have notably grown. Last Saturday night, the Folly Theatre hosted a dance concert on the stage, and heartfelt reunions and networking in the lobby. We gathered to not only witness artistic works of integrity but to join in community. A Modern Night at the Folly testified to a populous, local commitment to this important, groundbreaking, and empowering dance aesthetic.


Every year, City in Motion engages an adjudicator, a qualified dance professional from outside of the area, to select the works contained in Modern Night. Dances are shown to the adjudicator anonymously. City in Motion holds excellence in dance performance as a central value. Their mission statement claims that the organization strives “to foster the development of high-quality contemporary dance programming and expand the dance audience in the Kansas City metropolitan region.”  Ten selected dances by ten different choreographers made up the two-act dance concert.


Illuminating the dances, having worked with the City in Motion organization for decades, Lighting Designer John “Moose” Kimball made an indelible mark on the eye with lighting design that delineated space, set mood, and made the dancers glow. Each dance had its own look thanks to both the expert dance makers and to Kimball. 


Jennifer Owen choreographed the opening dance “Canned Heat.” A trio of fit women executed athletic and lush movement to the playing of virtuoso percussionist Mark Lowry. The program credits Lowry as “Musician” with no mention of a composer. How exciting to imagine Owen creating the movement in tandem with Lowry, two artists in step-by-step collaboration. In past Modern Night concerts, Owen has presented work more appropriate to a ballet event than modern. This trio marked a departure for her. The movement clearly resided in the earthy, undulating genre of modern dance. Unfortunately, one of her dancers moved in a far more balletic manner than the other two, failing to match the grounded nature of Owen’s choreography.


University of Kansas professor Janet Charleston staged a light, quirky octet to silent accompaniment. The piece commenced with a single dancer spinning onstage and stopping to stare at the audience in stillness.  Kimball made this event both stark and significant by focusing a single spot of light for her on an otherwise darkened stage. The defiant and ironic opening set the tone for the entire work. With a task-like execution of movement, the eight women randomly intersected, with an occasional dancer balancing on one leg and brandishing a smile. At one point, all eight faced us, standing in the same teetering, grinning pose, and garnishing giggles from us. The choice of silence instead of music fit the dance well, and a crying infant in the audience made clear the need to set an age limit for attendees.


Including works in a concert by a variety of artists sustains attention through contrast. Whereas a dance company under singular artistic direction often performs an evening of dances all in the same style, A Modern Night at the Folly runs a gamut of approach and tone.  Contrasting the objectivist, abstract nature of Charleston’s work, two dances on the program used literal stories as subject matter, “The Game,” and “The Triangle Factory Fire.”


Choreographer Erin Muenks inveighed against sexual exploitation with her dance “The Game.” Into the musical accompaniment she infused quotes from women of Veronica’s Voice, an organization dedicated to ending commercial sexual exploitation in the U.S. We heard a young woman bemoan being “used as a commodity.” The dancing further clarified the nature of the subject matter with a single male physically manipulating a woman. Later, the most powerful image in the dance, the same man stood in one corner of the stage witnessing a line of women dancing through a trio of men, each man having his “turn” with each woman. The pimp watched his work in action.


The historic and deadly 1911 fire at New York’s Triangle Factory inspired Maggie Osgood Nicholls’ dance “The Triangle Factory Fire.” Six women in period costumes executed expressive movement in myriad formations.  Nicholls included some daring partnering work.


Stephen Plante and Nichole Rabb collaborated on their duet “Le Couer,” possibly the most satiating visual feast of the evening. They hung from a large ring suspended from the fly gallery, sculpted the space with exquisite lines, took risky dives to the floor, and related with integrated investment. Behind them, colorful projections on the cyclorama seasoned their dancing without overwhelming. Part of the background visuals included video images of the dancers themselves, shot and projected simultaneously.


Jennifer Medina’s “Poetry” evoked images of the 1950’s Beatnik movement with seven dancers all in black, performing entrancing, geometric formations.


City in Motion Artistic director Dale Fellin created a triumph with the closing dance “Anudu,” performed by the City in Motion Dance Company.  Physical, musical, and thrilling, “Anudu” brought down the house.  Stephen Plante thankfully returned to the stage for this, particularly stunning in some of Fellin’s turning patterns. Plante dances with focus, ease, and elastic facility. 


City in Motion Dance Theatre’s next production will be Sacred Geometrics at Union Station, April 27, 28, and 29. (City in Motion, please put Fellin’s “Anudu” on this concert’s roster.)  For more information, visit


David Ollington can be contacted at