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
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
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 www.cityinmotion.org.
David Ollington can be contacted at Ollington@aol.com.