April 16, 2010

25, a celebration of artistic achievements
Review by David Ollington

City in Motion Dance Company Artistic Directors Andrea Skowronek, Dale Fellin, Penelope Hearne and Stephanie Whittler titled their recent concert 25. The Kansas City-based professional modern dance company generously danced 25 at the Gem Theatre in the historic Jazz district at 18th and Vine last weekend (April 10-11). Aptly named, the concert celebrates the 25-year anniversary of City in Motion’s Kansas City presence.

The company, one branch of the umbrella organization City in Motion Dance Theatre, is one of the oldest continually operating professional dance companies of the metropolitan area, second only to the Kansas City Ballet.

Through changes in personnel, upheaval, triumph and loss, CIMDT has maintained some notable constants. They have always nurtured the talents of local dancing youth, establishing the Children’s Dance Theatre, which provides opportunity for kids enrolled in the CIMDT school to study and perform modern dance.

CIMDT has consistently operated with collective artistic direction, with not one but two or more artistic directors. When other similar dance companies (aha! dance theatre, Contemporary Dance Forth Worth) made progressions from plural to singular artistic directors, CIMDT has stood by the principles behind communal leadership.

Congruent with this, they take actions supporting a community network in the local dance world. CIMDT has maintained a deserved, open reputation. The City in Motion Showcase Series provides forums for area choreographers to present their work, annually with the late summer event Dance in the Park and winter’s Modern Night at the Folly.

The lighting design work of John “Moose” Kimball has also remained a constant component of City in Motion. Decades ago, Kimball made some unusual and bold artistic choices illuminating dance in more makeshift performance spaces. Last weekend, he showed perspicacity with specific lighting choices, particularly in the use of the cyclorama, in a formal, traditional theatre space.

Stephanie Whittler, Kat Kimmitz and Amanda January in “Having a Ball” (photo by Mike Strong, courtesy KCDance.com)

Skowronek’s “Having a Ball,” the strongest work of the evening, opened 25. An ensemble of dancers manipulated large, blue physio balls. The dancers moved the spheres around in alternating orbits; they bounced on and off of them, and pressed them to each other. In the second section, a duet with Fellin and Whittler, the dancers left their two balls and moved with each other in manipulative partnering, clearly similar to the physio ball dancing of the other two sections of the piece. The dancers served as substitute physio balls for each other. Skowronek may consider renaming the dance. “Having a Ball” implies a more child-like playfulness than the piece offers. Her work is more hypnotic than buoyant and more visually stimulating than comic.

Whittler choreographed a sensitive and provocative dance titled “What Will Be” . . . Skowronek began the piece, dancing on, over and around a bench. A trio followed. Dancers Ann Shaugnessy and Amanda January joined her, the three dancing to the familiar song “Que Sera Sera.” Whittler’s movement choices with the three dancers held emotional truth, particularly in relation to the builds in the music. Without making obvious and literal reference to the song’s lyrics, “What Will Be,” accessibly explored memory and destiny.

HeartACHES, the smaller singing ensemble from the Heartland Men’s Chorus, provided the accompaniment for Tracie Davis’ dance “Growing Young.” The men sang songs by Fleet Foxes. The lyrics contained imagery of country life; the ensemble of female dancers wore work dresses and aprons.

The men from the chorus performed with expressive musicianship. Davis’ choreography failed to equal their strong stage presence. “Growing Young” falls short of a full-bodied, spatially electrifying piece. The dancers ran small, and the movement choices stayed safe and dynamically beige. Perhaps Davis made this as a deliberate choice, as the quality of the movement reflected the actual color of the dressed they wore.

Kat Kimmitz in self-choreographed “Vonlenska” (photo by Mike Strong, courtesy KCDance.com)

Kat Kimmitz danced her own solo “Vonlenska,” a kinetic journal in which she danced with black tables of different sizes to music that somehow resembled the sound of squeaking balloons run backwards through a sound system. Dale Fellin’s duet “The End Where We Began” included some seamless partnering and seemed to convey a reluctant sexuality. When Fellin and dancer Joanna K. Des Marteau got close to an intimate move like a kiss, they darted away from each other.

Hearne made extensive use of some effects for her group piece “Longing, Fleeting, the End.” For the opening section, the dancers performed in front of some breathtaking projections. Kimball shined here, particularly when on screen we saw a searchlight, and onstage we saw a spotlight in direct relation to the one projected. Tracie Davis slowly crossed the stage space for the final section, draped with a long, seemingly endless sheet of black fabric that appeared to melt into the black curtains that contained the stage space, a moment gripping in its intensity. Hearne included a middle section in bright-colored unitards that seemed out of place with the darker overtones of the first and last sections.

Two high-energy, larger group pieces completed the show, “Babel” by CIMDT former Artistic Director Donna K. Frogge, and “Rush,” a brisk and perhaps too brief a dance by Fellin.

Every piece showed integrity, thought, experimentation and professionally precise execution. The dancers moved beautifully.

For more information about City in Motion, the company, school, and performance series, visit www.cityinmotion.org.

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