January '04


A creative year in theater and dance
By David Ollington

Our city possesses a thriving, active cultural life, evident in the past year's accomplishments in the areas of dance and theatre. Kansas City's actors, directors, choreographers, designers and dancers continue to strive for quality and to fearlessly risk the unconventional. Following are some 2003 highlights in the fields. (Please keep in mind, I didn't see everything; this isn't comprehensive.)

The Unicorn Theatre reliably mounted new works, maintaining its vanguard position in the professional theatre community. A summer revival of their 2002 hit Bat Boy the Musical may make for an exception to the rule, but KC audiences hungered for more of this hit; we deserved to see this provocative production repeated.

Cheryl Weaver and Cheryl Weaver in the Unicorn Theatre's production of The Mineola Twins.

Unicorn Artistic Director Cynthia Levin drew upon the local talent pool to cast several noted and expert actors to breathe life into the progressive scripts. Lynn King as Libby Price in Bee-Luther Hatchee made an elusive ghost of a role into a believable archetype. Henry Vick in Lobby Hero (the production which launched the Unicorn's 30th season) performed so hilariously he might someday rank among the great comics of our time. Cheryl Weaver has marked her place as one of the most poignant and versatile actors in the area. This year ended at the Unicorn with the zany The Mineola Twins. Weaver played two different roles — twins, identical physically (except for their bust sizes) but drastically opposed emotionally and politically.

Levin directed The Mineola Twins with broad theatricality and slapstick humor, which made for many laughs but maintained the darkness inherent in playwright Paula Vogel's words. Weaver met the challenge of this style and triumphed. (She also survived some arduously quick costume changes without missing a beat.) After her realistic performance in 2002's Spinning Into Butter (Unicorn), Weaver's broad and demented work in The Mineola Twins shows a remarkable ability to shift artistic gears.

Weaver can also play witty and erudite repartee, evident in the Neil Simon creation The Dinner Party that played at the American Heartland Theatre in January and February. Weaver played the role of Mariette in a show that began a creative and impressive year for the Heartland. April and May's Smokey Joe's Cafe rocked musically, choreographically and visually. A Christmas Story at Yuletide brought to the stage a successful rendition of a classic film.

Donna Thomason directed both The Dinner Party and A Christmas Story. Audiences know her as an actress and singer. She's donned a new hat and demonstrates remarkable directorial skill.

The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival made a wise choice placing Sidonie Garrett in the position of artistic director. In past summers, the Festival has produced two Shakespeare works and, unfortunately, 2003 saw only one, Hamlet. But Garrett managed to electrify audiences with a stunning and often funny rendition of the bard's classic. She coached out of Jason Chanos a passionate and physically sensitive Danish prince.

Late Night Theatre made welcome renovations to their Storefront theatre on Grand though the construction work interrupted the run of their summer production, The Importance of Being Three's Company. They continued their exploration of gender-bending, popular television and film and 20th century mainstream music with their rendition of Dangerous Dirty Little Liaisons. With extraordinarily detailed 17th century costumes and satirical staging of classic rock songs, the ensemble of Late Night performers celebrated the 1989 film Dangerous Liaisons by finding humor and camp in the labyrinthine story.

The Kansas City Ballet's 2003 hallmarks include a visit from the genius of abstract modern dance, Merce Cunningham, and an expressive rendition of the 1842 romantic ballet Giselle. Appropriately, the ballet company's highlights make homage to works of the past. Cunningham attended the KC Ballet's rehearsals of his work Duets. On Feb. 11, a select group of dance professionals and members of the press were invited to attend a studio run-through of the dance with Cunningham present. The ballet's rendition of Giselle in October successfully told the tragic folktale with impeccable detail and lush dancing.

With the 2002 resignation of Michelle Diane Brown, aha! dance theatre continued their commitment to quality, innovative contemporary dance under the sole artistic direction of choreographer Susan Rieger. In April, they performed at the Folly Theatre in a concert titled Jump, Fall, Catch. Their work consistently challenges dance conventions and explores athletic, sweeping motion.

Tuesday Faust danced and choreographed for years with aha! and, sadly for KC audiences, has left the area to launch a career in Europe. Her choreography, primarily solos she sets on herself, surrealistically explores opposing imagery and dynamic, athletic dancing.

Probably the most daring dance event of 2003 was Body Cartography, a collaborative venture with aha! and City in Motion Dance Theatre, an environmental piece performed in Mill Creek Park Sept. 20. A group of movers explored the park with childish play and avant-garde integrity. The audience followed them through the park, and the dancers garnered spontaneous applause when they became a mass of undulating motion on a set of concrete stairs.

Congratulations are due the performing artists of the metropolitan area. The coming year should bring more exploration, creation, hard work and a distinctly midwestern commitment to excellence.

David Ollington can be contacted at or



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