October 14 , 2005


Dancers of quality and contrast
By David Ollington

Kansas City Ballet dancers Matthew Powell and Kimberly Cowen (photo by Steve Wilson)

The lure of the Kansas City Ballet resides in the quality of the dancers. Some Kansas City dance companies innovate and experiment. Others focus on building community and reaching out to the dance-illiterate. The Kansas City Ballet sculpts an ensemble of artisans, and the generosity of these dancers make the ballet a metropolitan treasure with a devoted following. Two dancers in particular, Logan Pachciarz and Kimberly Cowen, dance with such virtuosic skill, they rank as two of the finest performers in our city.

Three substantial dances made up the Ballet's Fall Performance at the Lyric Theatre, Oct. 6-9. George Balanchine's "Stravinsky Violin Concerto" opened the concert.

Balanchine originally set the piece in the ‘40s, but in 1973 he finalized the version we viewed. The ‘70s, the "Me" decade, gave rise to books such as How to Be Your Own Best Friend and the classic if narcissistic musical A Chorus Line, where singers and dancers bemoan their plight. True to the decade of its completion, "Stravinsky Violin Concerto" presents dancing about dancers. He attired the dancers informally — rehearsal clothes, tights, leotards, heavy on the black, with clean lines and little sparkle except for subtle earrings on the women.

With a spirit of freedom and flow, Balanchine assembled movement patterns that alternated between classical ballet vocabulary and unusually undulating and thrown motion. He choreographed with loose brush strokes, splashing movement on the stage. The dancers performed with somber faces and physical precision, giving the visual patterns and the music, not their expressions, emphasis. Balanchine matches the drama of Stravinsky's sounds not with theatricality but with dramatic visual shaping.

In one section of "Stravinsky Violin Concerto," the youthful, compact dancer Matthew Powell supported Cowen in a pas de deux. His endearing playfulness lent a balancing contrast to Cowen's long, sinuous undulations.

Live musicians infuse life into any dance concert, and instrumentalists (rather than recordings) accompanied the Fall Performance. The bow following "Stravinsky Violin Concerto" appropriately included solo violinist Gregory Sandomirsky whose nimble, expressive playing demonstrated technical and passionate expertise.

Paula Weber, associate professor of Dance at the Conservatory of Music at University of Missouri at Kansas City, choreographed the second offering of the evening, "Toccata e due canzoni" to music by Bohuslav Martinu. Weber relied heavily on the balletic conventions of even spacing between couples dancing, unison movement and symmetry.

More about technical feats than content, "Toccata e due canzoni" lacked originality. Though Weber occasionally strayed from the classical idiom, adding a fall or a displaced hip, she returned to and relied on classical ballet choices. The program notes claimed that the dance explored relationships but the dancers rarely looked at each other or made personal connections. They focused their attention on matching bodylines in space, a relationship based on uniformity, missing the give and take of interpersonal behavior.

Though dry choreographically, "Toccata e due canzoni" gave the lovely dancers opportunity to do what they do well. Pachciarz' strong, graceful dancing made a lasting impression. He generously partnered dancer Chelsea Teal in several duets, giving her strong support in addition to grandly executing his occasional solo work.

Artistic Director William Whitener has assembled a dancing company of physical diversity. The KC Ballet body types range from small and solid to long and extended. Some dancers have served the company for more than a decade; a few are fresh out of high school. Margot Sappington, with her "Zuzu Lounge," the third and final dance of the program, used the variant bodies and consequent movement styles effectively by creating a dance dependent upon characterization, a dance about sentient insects.

Where Weber crafted a ballet using mostly traditional steps with an occasional unique move, Sappington employed predominantly quirky, character-driven motion with a rare insertion of material from the ballet lexicon. She developed a story without words, about an outcast, wallflower ladybug (named "Coccinella" and danced by Deanna Hodges) wanting acceptance into a world of cocktail-lounge insects.

The sultry music by Juan Garcia Esquivel provided an appropriately smoky environment. Using falls, gestures, wiggles, bizarre lifts and a gigantic set-piece martini, Sappington found a distinct movement style that fit the preposterous plotline. She also took risks with the use of the stage space, employing curtains to designate and reveal locations. She crowded the ensemble together, almost squashed, to suggest an exclusive discotheque clique.

The KC Ballet sets itself apart from much of the professional ballet world by engaging dancers of such contrast. Many companies strive to present row upon row of practically identical dancers, but Whitener's company employs a range of types.

There are, however, no dancers in the Kansas City Ballet of proportionately large size. Could the Kansas City company break ground on this ballet taboo? Would a ballet of true diversity engage a sizable, round, more voluptuous dancer of skill, thereby operating with a more inclusive variety?

The ballet's next performance will be (you guessed it) The Nutcracker Dec. 3-24 at the Midland Theatre. Call 816-931-2232 X 375 or visit

David Ollington can be contacted at



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