May 14, 2004


Dancers' talent reigns
By David Ollington

The Kansas City Ballet's recent Spring Performance, May 6-9 at the Lyric Theatre, was an expressive, technically accomplished performance, where the artists demonstrated versatility and onstage generosity. The artistic staff of the ballet chose choreography of striking variety, visual musicality and a vigorous measure of humor.

The most triumphant work opened the concert. "Lambarena," choreographed by Val Caniparoli, successfully combined movement of African dance forms with ballet. Caniparoli, with sensitivity and texture, had the dancers gyrating, shaking, twirling, leaping and falling to music that reflected the dual disciplines of the choreography: Bach and traditional African music.

Chelsea Teel in Link performed in May 2004. (photograph by Ken Coit)

At the hands of less accomplished dancers, this work could have faltered. Uniting such disparate aesthetics could spell disaster, but the skilled performers and the well-crafted choreography made it work.

Caniparoli created two sets of dancers, a sextet—three men, three women and a seven-member ensemble. On the surface, the sextet appeared to dance leading roles with the seven dancers supporting them. But Caniparoli composed the dance giving equality to the groups while maintaining a division, a dual arrangement that reflected the hybrid nature of the work.

Logan Pachciarz, Francis Veyette and Christopher Barksdale comprised the male component of the three main couples. They appeared shirtless after the first section of the dance, displaying chiseled physiques and accenting the ethnic undulations of the choreography.

Gorgeously echoing the texture of the choreography, the upstage cyclorama shifted color and illumination slowly and subtly throughout the dance, evoking images of twilight, noon, dawn and nighttime, as if the dance traveled through the hours of the day.

Kimberly Cowen and Paris Wilcox danced the pas de deux "Lento a Tempo E Appassionato" by Vincente Nebrada, a pleasing duet. Pianist William Marsden provided the only live accompaniment of the concert, playing as Cowen and Wilcox danced. The dancers executed the sensuous and sculptural movement smoothly except for an occasional, forgivable fumble. The piece was divided into three sections and the lights faded completely after the first two. The connections between the slices of choreography would have connected more seamlessly had the dancers remained lit.

In 2001, choreographer Alan Hineline set an original work on the Kansas City Ballet, "Link." With this, like all the concert's works, the dancers delivered well; but Hineline created a dance that exists somewhere between a satire and a traditional ballet, and it fails to achieve either. Costume Designer Sebastian St. John, however, created remarkably humorous attire for the dancers. A classical tutu extends away from a ballerina's form and often makes an embarrassing "panty" shot whenever a female dancer faces away from the audience. St. John accented this common ballet convention and created red tutus that point away from the dancer at an almost right angle, the dancers' pelvic regions adorned with bright red bicycle shorts, a hilarious sight gag.

Hineline's composition, though, doesn't maintain enough of the satirical element to clearly manifest a humorous dance. He interrupts the occasional laugh (the appearance of the costumes, the male dancers running into a slide between the women's legs) with lengthy executions of balletic movement, unoriginal, traditional and dry.

Hype for the concert surrounded the work of contemporary dance celebrity Twyla Tharp whose “Nine Sinatra Songs” served as the show's finale. True to the title, Tharp's piece makes visual nine songs sung by Frank Sinatra. A large, mirrored ball rotates throughout the piece, scattering beams of light across the dancers and audience. Fourteen dancers in evening attire dance to the songs. Images of ballroom dancing, disconnection, deliberate awkwardness and passion swirled about the stage.

Particularly humorous were Aisling Hill-Connor and Josh Christopher dancing to "One More For My Baby (and One More For the Road)." Christopher's tuxedo necktie dangled undone from his collar, and the two failed to connect because of apparent intoxication. Holly Zimmerman and Matthew Powell endearingly executed a clumsy cha-cha to the lovesick music of "Somethin' Stupid." Chelsea Teel and Logan Pachciarz to "Forget Domani" and Kimberly Cowen and Francis Veyette to "That's Life" provided contrast to the more slapstick couples and danced with elegance and passion.

Tharp's choreography includes enormous variety. We watched the dancers begin to explore one idea, and then they abruptly changed drastically. Many find this aspect of Tharp's work delightful and alive. On the other hand, she failed to complete any of her ideas without shifting creative gears too soon, a choreographic attention deficit disorder.

Ballroom dance movement was briefly touched on, rather than deepened into. When more than one couple danced onstage, each executed such disparate movement that the eye suffered from over stimulus. Tharp designed her movement to be danced with nonchalance, cool, reserve and a laid-back attitude, reflecting the very perspective with which she composed. What she lacked in substance and depth, she made up with multiplicity and jarring transitions.

All the dances in the concert were long. Perhaps length of work represents choreographic success, but a pattern of drawn-out dances, each in several sections, gets tiresome. A shorter interlude or vignette would have cleaned the audience's visual palette. Perhaps someday we can witness from the ballet a full-length concert of more concise compositions, a refreshing notion.

The company's dancers performed with classy versatility, impeccable technique (that keeps improving), and thorough preparation. Of all the accomplishments of the concert, the dancers' talent reigns.

Spring Performance
was the ballet's final offering of the 2003-2004 season. The Kansas City Ballet's next performance will be Ballet in the Park that will take place at several different parks in the metropolitan area on Labor Day Weekend. Call 816-931-2232 X375 or visit for more information.

David Ollington can be contacted at



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